Cinemagraphe

Fiend Without A Face - 1958

Human thought "unleashed" becomes a nightmare in a Canadian town

Paranoia and the concept of human thought manipulating physical form using strange science (via huge surges of atomic electrical power) is the sci-fi element of Fiend Without A Face, showing traces of influence from the earlier film Forbidden Planet (1956) and a bit of of Hawks' The Thing from Another World of 1952.

At the American "Intercepter Command" in Manitoba, Canada, which we are told is "a thousand miles from the nearest decent-sized city," the local Canadians are less than pleased about the atomic-powered radar experiments happening at the local air base where fighter jets are taking off and landing all the time. Farmers complain that their cattle aren't producing milk like they were before, and then there's the peculiar tragedy of people in the area inexplicably dying at random. The more worried of the locals believe it's the result of nuclear fallout, but an investigation by Major Jeff Cummings (played by Marshall Thompson) discovers the bodies of the dead are missing their spinal cords and brains.

Cummings goes to talk with local Professor Walgate (played by Kynaston Reeves) who puts a whole new spin on what's happening: the deaths correspond to when the nuclear power plant is running at peak strength and the phenomenon is related to his personal work on "a theory of thought materialization." He chronicles for us how through the use of mammoth levels of electrical power he was able to devise a way to move objects purely through thought. This was only partially showing any promise until he tapped into the atomic-power radar frequencies the base was emitting. Then, to his shock, he discovered that his thoughts went from being able to turn the pages of books and to move objects around on his desk to then showing independent attributes. This was disconcerting enough but then it culminated in his returning to his lab one evening to find all of his notes on how to use this power and more importantly, how to control it, had been destroyed.

"You ought to think about trying some sleep instead of Benzedrine, you know you might like it," a soldier tells Major Cummings near the start of the story, and a big part of Fiend Without A Face is Cummings' race against time as the thought creatures begin to manifest physical form (they start off invisibly attacking people). It is their invisibility which helps the various groups in the area to cast blame on others, especially holding to the idea there must be a crazed American G.I. on the loose murdering people. Major Cummings' task becomes getting all the paranoid people involved to work together, especially the Professor's assistant Barbara Griselle (played by Kim Parker).

The stop-motion special effects in Fiend Without A Face look dated by 21st century standards, but the tension of the story and the final swarm attack of the creatures with the main characters under siege in a building is effective and probably influenced later films as disparate as Hitchcock's The Birds and the 1968 zombie movie template Night of the Living Dead.


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Original Page March 18, 2024