Thursday, 30 March 2017

Fiend Without a Face (1958)


More than just another atomic cautionary tale that is saved by a rip-roaring climax with a pretty nifty use of stop motion animation.

Directed by Arthur Crabtree
Produced by John Croydon & Richard Gordon
Written by Herbert J. Leder
Music by Buxton Orr
Cinematography: Lionel Banes
Edited by R.Q. McNaughton
Production company: Amalgamated Productions
Distributed by MGM (USA), Eros Films (UK)
Running time: 77 min.
Budget: £50,000 (estimated)
Box office $650,000 (on double bill)



Cast


Marshall Thompson: Maj. Cummings
Kynaston Reeves: Prof. R.E. Walgate
Kim Parker: Barbara Griselle
Stanley Maxted: Col. Butler
Terry Kilburn: Capt. Al Chester
James Dyrenforth: Mayor
Robert MacKenzie: Const. Gibbons
Peter Madden: Dr. Bradley
Gil Winfield: Dr. Warren
Michael Balfour: Sgt. Kasper
Launce Maraschal: Melville
Meadows White: Ben Adams
E. Kerrigan Prescott: Atomic Engineer
Lala Lloyd: Amelia Adams
Shane Cordell: Nurse





Trailer






U. S. Air Force Interceptor Command Experimental Station No. 6 is a long-range radar installation located in Winthrop, Manitoba, Canada. Its function is indicated by the periodic overhead slicing of the sky by supersonic jets and the demented electronically choreographed nodding and swivelling tracking motions of the radar antennae.

As darkness slowly and silently slides over Air Force experimental station 6, a sentry stops to light up a smoke when suddenly he hears strange sounds emanating from the nearby woods. A scream from the woods brings the sentry running to investigate where he soon finds the body of a man with a hideously distorted face.


Read on for more......




The following contains imaginative adaptations but accurately conveys the film's plot and characters. Spoilers do follow below;]






Commander Major Jeff Cummings’ Personal Journal Entry

Discussed the death today with base security officer Al Chester. “Brother, I’ve had some tough nuts to crack!” This one’s got me so stumped I’m keeping upright on nothing but coffee and Benzedrine. The FBIs report on the dead man, Jacques Griselle, indicates no criminal record or associations. Maybe Chester’s right and that we should hand over the incident to the local authorities for investigation.

No such luck. This case seems determined to grab me by the throat and not let go. Checked in with Doc Warren who was going to perform an autopsy on Griselle. But he told us that Mayor Hawkins and Dr Bradley from the local county coroner’s department claimed the body before it could be examined. Now why do you suppose they did that? “Probably blame the death on our atomic reactors!.......Bunch of backward people.”

*************************************************



Col Butler’s Report to Washington: Military Intelligence:


Called Major Cummings to a meeting with Mayor Hawkins and deceased’s sister, Barbara Griselle.

Miss Griselle and Hawkins refused permission for military to conduct autopsy.

I attempted to reassure Miss Griselle and Mayor Hawkins as to the nature of our base’s presence, being primarily for the “joint protection of our people.”

Miss Griselle was then shown her brother’s diary which was found where he was killed.

When questioned as to why her brother was keeping such “interesting notations” in the form of a meticulous “timetable schedule” of “take offs and landings” at the base, Miss Griselle expressed outrage at the invasion of privacy and my perceived selective reading of the diary.

Miss Griselle then pointed out the pages in the diary containing notes where her brother was attempting to correlate falling milk production with the increasing incidence of aircraft activity. In other words, the diary notations consisted of nothing more than a record of the “daily reaction of each cow.”


******************************



“We’re not monsters from outer space”

Major Cummings drives Barbara home and apologises for what happened at the meeting with Col Butler and explains that he was just doing his job. Need it be pointed out that these two will eventually form a relationship?



Colonel Alexandrov delivering intelligence report to Marshal of the Soviet Union, Suslyakov:


Suslyakov: So, our operatives have successfully infiltrated this American facility…. U. S. Air Force Interceptor Command Experimental Station No. 6 in… Winthrop, Manitoba, Canada?

Alexandrov: Da! The intelligence report covers a most recent experimental radar test at the base supervised by an American Major by the name of Cummings. The purpose of the test was so that they could increase the range of their surveillance equipment and directly monitor our air activity in Siberia.

Suslyakov: How so, Colonel?

Alexandrov: Apparently by means of the amount of power they can run through their system. For this to happen they have constructed a small atomic reactor!

Suslyakov: This is indeed troubling, Colonel! We must obtain the plans for this new technology and replicate it.


Alexandrov: As usual, we will, comrade Marshal. But all is not well with their technology. It was reported to our intelligence service that during the test Major Cummings called for more power to be delivered. An order was given to remove 10 additional rods from their reactor No.3. A warning was then issued that they were in danger of overloading their reactor. Their scope was set at 500 miles range initially and brought all the way to 2500 miles. Just as they were achieving results and were on the threshold of being capable of monitoring us 24 hours a day, a sudden power drain occurred. It seems that the Americans are producing enough power, but cannot deliver that much power to the system.

Suslyakov: So, what does this mean, Colonel?

Alexandrov: It means, Comrade Marshal, that “it’s almost as if the power’s being drained off” by some unknown force.

Suslyakov: It also means, Comrade Colonel that we still have a chance to get our hands on a type of over-the-horizon radar technology which we can copy and perfect even before the Americans! If we leave it too long, who knows, perhaps even a very minor country like…… Australia…. might come up with such an idea!

Alexandrov: Ha! Ha! Ha! Da, Da, Sure, Sure….At least they would sell away the technology together with ownership rights and any potential future profit to the highest bidder. Oops! Did I say “profit?” Don’t tell our friends, I mean, comrades in KGB!

Alexandrov & Suslyakov: (latter looking sideways at the colonel & making a reminder note): Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!




*************************************************





Excerpt….
The Winnipeg Tribune


Mystery deaths frighten farming village!
US base blamed!


…..the two bodies were discovered at a nearby farm owned by Ben and Amelia Adams. The bodies of the two deceased persons have been identified as being that of husband and wife, Ben and Amelia Adams.

The deceased husband and wife were found inside the farm property’s barn.

Post-mortems have revealed that both victims were murdered by an unknown attacker or attackers.

There have been no details provided regarding the manner or method of the crime’s commission.

It is rumoured that locals are convinced that radiation leaks from the U. S. Air Force radar installation's nuclear-power experiments in Winthrop, Manitoba are the cause of the mysterious deaths.




******************************







Joint autopsy conducted by Dr. Bradley & Dr. Warren

Summary Conclusions:


  • Victims show evidence of two small holes at the base of the occipital region of the skull. 
  • The entire brain along with the spinal cord is missing.
  • Brain appears to have been “sucked out like an egg” through the holes.
  • No evidence of radioactive fallout or radiation as being likely cause of deaths.


***************************





With talk of “mental vampires” ringing in his ears, Col Butler is determined to lower the cone of silence, secrecy and “discretion” concerning the doctors’ findings. He then leaps into action and contacts the top medical and scientific personnel in the Pentagon and instructs Major Cummings to mingle with the local natives (I mean – villagers) and find out what they know.




Who better to start with than……..Barbara. Any bloke who blunders in on a gorgeous young lady who’s having a shower is bound to eventually develop a relationship with her, right? We just know they will from our diet of such movies! But first, there’s got to be a couple of bumps in the road.

First bump: Cummings the cad plays on Barbara’s growing emotional attraction towards him in order to gain the information he wants. After all, she works for Professor Walgate, a retired British scientist transcribing his notes for his scientific papers.

Major Cummings knows about Walgate’s interest in paranormal activity as revealed by the presence of his publication: “’The Principles of Thought Control” by R.E. Walgate.”’ Walgate is an authority on psychic phenomena and something called “Sibonetics?”

Second bump: Howard Gibbons erupts on the scene with anger management issues. He accuses Cummings of “Tom-cattin’ around here” – Eh? and suggests that he would be better off hunting for the killer. Such cutting Canadian insults just can’t go unanswered so a fight breaks out between the two men. Before a result is achieved, Barbara breaks up the fight and orders Major Cummings from the house. This has become a staple of films today which often depict men resorting to flailing at each with their fists only to have more sensible females intervening and putting a stop to it. It just ain’t …. natural!




Cummings sets about gathering factual acorns with which to fill his rather empty bag of suspicions. He calls on the ever-reliable Captain Chester to locate everything Walgate has published in order to determine if any of his previous work can be linked to the recent deaths.




Later that night in a scene reminiscent of the approaching ID creature from Forbidden Planet, Mayor Hawkins finds himself being approached by an invisible entity in his own house. The presence of the entity is indicated by its knocking over and disturbing various objects, as well as by its leaving impressions in the soft loom of the carpet. Shortly, another death is added to the growing tally of mysterious murders.



********************************


Excerpt….


The Winnipeg Tribune

G.I. Gone Wild!

………In the wake of the suspected murder of Mayor Hawkins and with the townspeople on edge, the local police officer, Constable Gibbons attempted to bring some order to a dangerously chaotic situation.

Instead of radiation being considered as the cause of the recent deaths, Gibbons is convinced that a rogue maniac soldier is responsible and is hiding in the woods.

Constable Gibbons has organised a posse to go into the surrounding woods in search of what he believes is a US soldier who has “gone wild.”



**********************************************


Federal Bureau of Investigation
Confidential Report
Summary


Recipient: Maj. J. Cummings, US AIRFORCE INTERCEPTOR COMMAND EXPERIMENTAL STATION No.6, WINTHROP, MANITOBA, CANADA.

Subject: Prof. R.E. Walgate:

  • retired British scientist 
  • publisher of numerous scientific papers
  • interested in paranormal activity and an authority on psychic phenomena and Sibonetics 
  • believed to be presently engaged in experiments involving thought projection and telekinesisConclusions: “Highly eccentric” genius


**********************************************

Commander Major Jeff Cummings’ Personal Journal Entry


Paid a visit to Walgate today, to discuss the problems associated with the recent deaths. It seems that Walgate was able to “surmise” the nature of the work being carried out at the base as well as the need for its own nuclear reactor. Of course, I could neither confirm nor deny anything concerning the base’s purpose and operational matters.



The professor didn’t seem to appreciate the secrecy surrounding the base’s activities which according to him didn’t help matters especially since, also according to him, “these people (the locals) are simple, one might say.”



Walgate then, strangely enough, began to take an interest in the deaths, especially in the facial expressions of insane “horror’ and “fright” of the dead. Suddenly, at the mere suggestion of the possible involvement of psychic phenomena, the professor became very agitated and screamed out, “It can’t be!”



Oh boy! And didn’t I luck out with Barbara again! She stormed into the room and threw me out on my ear once more! She sure is feisty. 



****************************************

The Posse Picnic Song

If you go out in the woods today,
Be sure to sweep them clean;
If you hear something odd in the trees
It’s sure to be something mean.

For if you go off to investigate
And choose to split up and separate
You’ll never be the same again, Constable Gibbons!


*******************************

The Wheels Of Official Civic Action Slowly Turn

“No point in searching any more. I reckon we ought to call a council meeting...
and decide what we're going to do.”
“What about it, Bradley?”
“ Well, let's get Melville.”
“He's the deputy mayor. I suppose it's up to him.”
“I think that's a good idea.”

****************


Council Meeting


Excerpts from Council minutes

Attendance

Melville: Deputy Mayor & Chair
Miss Barbara Griselle
Maj. J Cummings: invited to explain the Air Force position………..

Discussion Topic

Determine whether recent deaths / murders are “connected with the new air base.”

Comments

………….. blame experimental air base, fear of radiation and distrust of military’s reassurances.

Maj. Cummings: no radiation involved and no missing military “mad GI” personnel to explain the reason for deaths.

B. Griselle: jet noise and not radiation has been affecting the milk output. Cows are used to noise.

Maj. Cummings: “We’re trying to protect our country from a guided missile attack.”………….

Proposed Resolution / Course of Action 






[………Suddenly proceedings are abruptly interrupted up when Gibbons stumbles into the meeting. His face is horribly disfigured and he is obviously severely mentally affected.]
After the meeting, Cummings informs Barbara of his suspicions concerning Walgate and his responsibility for what has been happening. He then decides to do some investigating at the cemetery.


Commander Major Jeff Cummings’ Personal Journal Entry



Once at the cemetery, I entered one of the vaults and followed a passage that took me deep underground. At the bottom in a crypt I located the body of the Mayor as well as a distinctive-looking pipe. I knew that at last I had confirmatory evidence when all of a sudden, I heard the sound of the vault door closing!



With a sense of horror, I realized that I was trapped. Quickly collecting myself, I got hold of two candles and set about exploring my surroundings in hope of finding a way out of my potential and bizarrely convenient final resting place.



With the slowly diminishing candle being my only means of marking the passage of time, realisation began to set in that my own time was beginning to run out as the candle’s air-starved flame began to ebb and die.



With my last ounce of strength and spark of consciousness, I began pounding on the door of the vault with the candle sticks in the hope of attracting someone’s attention. Was it the sound of my beating on the door that reached my ears through the thick envelope of darkness, or was it Death rapping on the door in the hope that I would open it wide and let him  in to claim me?





Soon after the door to the vault opened, light and life-giving air entered my subterranean prison. As I quickly revived, my eyes also opened to distinguish the familiar forms of Capt. Chester and Barbara. Not today, Death and Darkness!

****************************


Cummings later confronts Prof. Walgate over what has been happening. He believes that Walgate has developed a form of mind control. Walgate can no longer refuse to confirm Cummings’ suspicions when he refuses an offer of a cigarette and searches for his own pipe, only to be have his pipe revealed to him by the Major who had retrieved it back at the vault.




Prof. Walgate appears to have suffered another stroke and mutters, “shut down your atomic plant” before slipping into unconsciousness. It is then decided to put the plant “on ice” but something has smashed the atomic fuel rods. Replacements are quickly ordered.




“I knew now I had created a fiend.” 



Col Butler’s (Post-Incident) Report to Washington: Military Intelligence:




Attachment No.2 


Background

Professor Walgate admitted the following;

He had been developing his own mental ability, and in the process, had succeeded in creating thought projection or a “thought materialization” process.

He had realized there was a need to stimulate the brain and give consciousness a separate entity on its own.

An instrument was constructed to free thought.

Lightning gave the necessary “violent charge of power” to (at least initially) turn the page of a book.

A new form of power was needed.

Unknown to Walgate, the new atomic plant and radar experiments being performed at the U. S. airbase helped to enhance his mental abilities.

A point was reached whereby Walgate’s living thought projection had become “like thought itself…invisible.”


Situation

Hostile and invisible new life forms had escaped from Walgate's laboratory and were killing civilians and military personnel while drawing on the base's atomic power. 


Action Undertaken

  • Discover a way to render the creatures visible and attempt to neutralize them
  • Cut off their source of powe
  • Utilize Prof. Walgate’s expertise



Major J. Cummings

US AIRFORCE

INTERCEPTOR COMMAND

EXPERIMENTAL STATION No.6,

WINTHROP, MANITOBA,

CANADA





Post-Incident testimony excerpts from;


US Joint Intelligence Inquiry into (--)/(--)/(1958) Incident at US AIRFORCE INTERCEPTOR COMMAND EXPERIMENTAL STATION No.6, WINTHROP, MANITOBA, CANADA


Panel member 1: What happened while this was going on?

Col Butler: Meanwhile, I attempted to call the base but to no avail as the line had been cut. The invisible creatures had been attacking and killing the military personnel at the airbase in order to take over control of the radar station's atomic reactor. As the danger of attack increased, I organised for the room I and the others were in to be barricaded.

Prof. Walgate surmised that the creatures could be rendered visible with sufficient power from the atomic pile. 




With unlimited power at their disposal, the creatures were able to attain full visibility. We could see that they consisted of a brain attached to a flexible spinal cord with a few tentacles or tendrils protruding from the brain stem. They moved along the ground much like an earthworm but could leap for some distance when attacking.

Panel member 2: Major, describe the attack that the creatures launched on the professor’s house and your response to the attack.

Maj. Cummings: The creatures pretty soon launched an attack on Walgate's home and the room in which we were barricaded. Some of the brains managed to gain entry by breaking through a boarded-up window using their tendrils. Some of them even gained access by sliding down the fireplace's open flue.

I had a go at shooting the creatures and managed to kill one straight off easily enough while the colonel made short work of a few of the others. 




Deputy Mayor, Melville started to panic and lost his head until one of the creatures dropped down through the chimney and killed him. Poor fella…




I soon realized that we had to shut down the power at the plant. I volunteered for the job seeing as I knew the layout of the control room. Professor Walgate also went out to try and distract the creatures and improve my chances of succeeding. The decoy plan worked as I was able to escape to safety. Unfortunately, the professor wasn’t so lucky.




I managed to reach the airbase and the plant and narrowly avoided becoming a victim of one of the creatures. As I made my way to the control room I came across a number of dead air-base personnel.

Panel member 1: Explain how the situation back at the house was resolved, Colonel.




Col. Butler: It all seemed hopeless. We were almost out of ammunition and the creatures seemed to be organising themselves for a final attack. Just as our final defences collapsed, each remaining creature began to fall to the ground and dissolve into a goo-like effervescent puddle and disappear.

Panel member 2: That was at the point when Maj. Cummings shut down the control room with a bomb?

Col. Butler: Yes it was. That signalled the end of this new form of life – an evil form of life – a ………


“Mental Vampire!”



**************************************


POINTS OF INTEREST


Inspiration

The film Fiend Without a Face was based on the story, "The Thought-Monster" by Amelia Reynolds Long, which was published in the classic American pulp magazine "Weird Tales" in 1930.


Personnel

Screenwriter Herbert J. Leder was to direct the film, but could not obtain a British work permit in time due to being American. Arthur Crabtree replaced him as director. However, he stormed off the set and didn’t return for several days after an argument with the producers and claiming that the film was not what he had been hired to direct and that he did not do "monster" films. In the meantime, lead actor, Marshall Thompson directed the film.



Being a 1950's sci-fi regular, Marshall Thompson also stars in the sci-fi classic, It!, the Terror From Beyond Space which will soon feature in this blog. He also appears in a very obscure short-lived series, World of Giants [WOG] which ran for 13 episodes in 1959 – 1960. You’ll find a couple of episodes on YouTube.



Setting

Fiend Without a Face was made entirely in England. It was decided to adopt a Canadian setting to appeal to both American and British Commonwealth movie audiences.

U. S. Air Force stock aviation footage was also used for the military base setting .


Special Effects

The brain creatures appearing in the climactic battle scenes were created using stop-motion animation. The impressive stop-motion animation was done in Munich by German special effects artist K. L. Ruppel.

This aspect of the film is what made it memorable. The climactic last fifteen minutes is quite action-packed, over-the-top and nightmarish.

During the sequences depicting the approaching and attacking invisible brain creatures, one cannot help but think back to Forbidden Planet (1956) and the creation of Dr. Morbius’ ID creature. The scenes featuring the visible version of the creatures almost reminds us of the later sci-fi face-hugging and neck- strangling creatures that featured in the Alien films.


Publicity & Release





Fiend Without a Face was teamed as a double feature with The Haunted Strangler. Together, both films earned $350,000 in the U. S.






For the July 1958 opening of Fiend Without a Face at the Rialto Theatre in New York City's Theatre District, the film's producers placed an outdoor exhibit near the sidewalk consisting of a "living and breathing Fiend" in a steel-barred glass display case. Its spinal cord tail moved and it made menacing sounds by means of a concealed electrical device. Due to large numbers of people gathering to watch the exhibit, the NYC police ordered the display case removed as it was creating a public disturbance.


Reaction


"What is the British film industry thinking by trying to beat Hollywood at its own game of overdosing on blood and gore?"

This question that was raised in the British Parliament, highlights the controversy surrounding Fiend Without a Face and its horrifying special effects when it was released in England. The British Board of Film Censors demanded a number of cuts before its release. The film was eventually granted an "X" certificate.










©Chris Christopoulos 2017