Only Criterion does them THIS well
Mark Shanks | Portland, OR | 03/06/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Is there ANY fan of science fiction or horror movies who grew up in the 60's and *doesn't* remember this midnight snack? The odd thing to me is that someone at Criterion seems to have the same taste in odd genre movies from the 50's as I do - and anyone ensuring that movies like this, and even more especially "Carnival of Souls", deserves a round of applause. (Let's face it, this movie used to be found in the "Drive In Flicks" section of the rental places if they even HAD it.)The video quality is as good as we can expect. It is certainly sharper and brighter than other recent presentations of the film, but unfortunately, there ARE sequences where the scratches and wear obviously could not be spirited away digitally. I sincerely doubt that any fan of the movie will mind; this isn't Bergman or Fellini we're talking about! (In the opening scene, an Air Force office is suggesting to his fellow officer that perhaps "sleep would be better than all the benzedrine you're taking." The other fellow proceeds to slam down another few bennies....only in the movies, folks!)The extras include trailers from several other movies produced by Gordon, stills, production notes, and a full-length commentary by Gordon (executive producer) with Bruce Eder. There's a LOT of discussion about American actors in England, aiming for the American market, working with the German special effects duo, and even some very interesting background on the original "Weird Tales" story that was the basis for the film. Unfortunately, this is less a "commentary" than an interview - the discussion between the two is interesting, but almost NEVER has anything to do with what is happening in the movie, and frankly I can't recommend trying to watch the flick while listening to this track. This is quite a bit different from ANY other "commentary" I've come across, and I thought it really needed to be mentioned. Once again, Criterion has set a gold standard for quality and value in a release. Oh, HOW I wish they could release Wise's "The Haunting"...."
A mutant brain eating monster brain mondo cliche movie
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 11/02/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Forget the title, "Fiend Without a Face" is the one with the brain monsters. That is all you have to tell people for them to go, "Oh, yes! That movie! I remember that movie!" This 1958 British horror film might not be beloved, but is certainly memorable because of the stop-motion animation that is used to have the monster, which look like big brains with horns and a spinal chord tail that they use to move around and strangle their victims (these must have been partially responsible for inspiring the face-huggers from the "Alien" series). This is also one of the goriest films of that decade, which was probably a way of covering up for the fact that you had actors screaming and writhing in pain with a big fake brain monster taped to their heads sucking out their brains.Our tale is set at an American military base in Canada (interesting to see a British film play about American-Canadian tensions like this). The locals start dropping dead, screaming in horror, and the thinking is that it has to have something to do with the base, maybe that "atomic radar" thing they are working on, but probably just some sort of psychotic American G.I. (and this years before Vietnam, please note). But Major Jeff Cummings (Marshall Thompson), second in command at the base, has his suspicions about Professor Walgate (Kynaston Reeves), a retired expert in psychic phenomenon. But a visit to the Professor's house reveals one of those great experiments gone horribly wrong that we so often find at the heart of films like this one. The title "Fiend Without a Face" comes because for most of the movie the monsters are invisible (Steven Spielberg used this same approach with more success in "Jaws" and in both cases the rationale was more special effects problems that artistic sensibilities). I am not arguing this is a great horror film, but for a B-movie it does try to deliver for the final act. Yes, the killer mutant brains being invisible is problematic (a polite way of saying stupid, boys and girls), but there is something inherently appealing about the little killers once they pop up and starting hopping around in their cute little feeding frenzy. You can also have fun trying to figure out what there are more of in this film: horror movie clichés or killer brains (okay, clichés is the correct answer, but have fun counting both anyhow)."
Fifties SCI-FI at its very best
mr_inferno | UK | 04/24/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"What a trully fantastic little movie this is, a real SPFX shocker in its day, and a great story with some fantastic character acting. TV in the UK used to show this a lot in the 1980's but it has been missing for a few years, and it is one of my faves, so now thanks to the team at Criterion I can own this peice of trully bizarre sci-fi cinema history. The extras are great and the commentary is very informative, also there is an essay a sort of potted history of UK sci-fi movies from this era. The transfer is crisp apart from a few scratches on the stock film used, particularly the old plane shots and the radar base, but this is mere trifle compared to the overall mastery involved in the plot and effects, which are for the time pretty incredible to say the least. If you want any more proof of sci-fi from the golden age being intelligent, thought provoking and damn right scary then go and buy this movie, and be very very impressed...."
"Colonel, I've lived in these backwoods all my life, and I c
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 07/27/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I gotta figure doing PR for the gooberment's atomic energy program in the 1950s must have been one hell of an uphill battle as it seemed every other horror or science fiction thriller released in the day involved something either getting embiggened, shrunken, or just plain mutated and messed up in general, as depicted in this classic British made feature Fiend without a Face (1958), due to radiation derived from our relatively new found ability to smash them atoms. Directed by Arthur Crabtree (Horrors of the Black Museum), the film stars Marshall Thompson (It! The Terror from Beyond Space, First Man Into Space, "Daktari"), Kynaston Reeves (RX for Murder), and Kim Parker (Fire Maidens from Outer Space). Also appearing is Terry Kilburn (Swiss Family Robinson), Peter Madden (Dr. Terror's House of Horrors), and Stanley Maxted (Strange Awakening).
As the film begins we're at a U.S. Air Force base in Canada and we see a lone guard at night on the perimeter. After hearing some strange noises from the nearby woods followed by a blood curdling scream, the guard investigates and finds a corpse of a local man with a terror-stricken expression on his face. Major Jeff Cummings (Thompson) wants an autopsy performed on the deceased, but the man's sister, Barbara Griselle (Parker), is unwilling which causes problems as the local population isn't too keen on having an atomic powered military instillation in the area (there's quite a bit of fear about radiation). If that wasn't enough, there's also an issue with the experiments being performed at the base, those involving boosting radar capacity (to spy on those evil Reds) through the use of atomic energy in that every time they juice things up, there's a mysterious power drain...hmmm...anyway, after a couple more deaths, the rubes get even more antsy, and an autopsy reveals the victims perished as a result of being de-brained, i.e. having their brains sucked out of their heads. Eventually Jeff's investigation leads him to a reclusive, eccentric scientist in the area, one Barbara works for named Professor Walgate (Reeves), who's an authority on psychic phenomena with his current research involving thought materialization. Turns out the professor is involved with not only the bizarre deaths but also the mysterious power fades at the base's reactor, eventually spilling the beans and warning those in charge they must shut down the atomic plant immediately, as he's accidentally unleashed an invisible menace straight from a nightmare, one that feeds on atomic energy and apparently gray matter, and also has the ability to multiply and become more intelligent...crikey! Soon the town and the base are under siege, threatening not only the lives of everyone in the area, but also Jeff's chances to pitch woo at Barbara...
I enjoyed this film a lot as it has a tight story and wastes little time on extraneous material (the film runs about 74 minutes). One aspect of the story I really liked was how the creatures weren't actually a direct result of radiation, but more so a nasty by product of someone using atomic energy within his own fantastic experiments...it might sound like I'm splitting hairs here, but to better understand what I mean you really need to see the movie. We don't actually get to see the creatures until about an hour in, but when we do, it's worth the wait. I won't go too much into what they actually were or look like, but they're pretty hideous along with being very agile. The characters are fairly cut and dry, as are the performances. I thought most all the actors did well, and Marshall Thompson, who's got about the biggest forehead I've ever seen, seemed a suitable choice for the lead along with the beautiful Kim Parker, who left the biz not too long after the release of this film. I was kind of annoyed with the character of Professor Walgate, the guy ultimately responsible for the `ghastly business'...first off he steals power from the atomic reactor and subsequently screws up their experiments, then he creates something which escapes his control, ends up killing a whole mess of people and allows the blame to be directed elsewhere, and finally he himself nearly kills someone (inadvertently, so he later claims) who gets too close to his secret...once the beans are spilt, through an extensive expository sequence, he does seem to show remorse for his actions, but it seems like the remorse of someone who's only remorseful after being caught. Nice guy, huh? I suppose one could argue he eventually paid the price for his folly into the unknown, but for me his penalty was hardly equal to that which he wrought...my favorite scene in the film comes near the end, as a small group fortify themselves in the professor's home against an onslaught of creatures, one of those among the group the deputy mayor, who has a most excellent freak out one the creatures manage to get in...there was one aspect of the story that felt really screwy...near the end it's decided the only way to stop the horror is to shut down the atomic reactor. The problem I had was the method in which they decided to do so, which involved using high explosives. Now I'm no expert in atomic sciences, but it seemed to me they were taking a mighty big chance in doing what they did...if something like that was tried in real life I'd expect catastrophic results (does anyone remember a little thing called Chernobyl?). Ah well, the 1950s were a much simpler time in that things were generally more cut and dry, or so I'm assuming since I wasn't even alive back then. All in all this is a fun, better than average 1950s sci-fi horror flick, one that I'm glad I own and watch on a fairly regular basis.
This fully restored and remastered Criterion Collection DVD release of Fiend Without a Face features a very clean and sharp widescreen (1.66:1) transfer, one that exhibits the occasional minor flaw. The Dolby Digital mono audio comes through very well, with no complaints. There's a slew of extras including an audio commentary track with an informative interview between executive producer Richard Gordon and writer Tom Weaver, along with an illustrated essay on British science fiction and horror by film historian Bruce Eder, still photographs w/commentary, vintage advertisements and lobby cards, liner notes by Bruce Kerwin, and English subtitles. Also included are theatrical trailers for this film, along with others for The Haunted Strangler (1958), Corridors of Blood (1958), First Man into Space (1959), and The Atomic Submarine (1959).
I feel I should mention things do get pretty gooey once the action really kicks in, so if you're squeamish, you've been warned...