FIEND WITHOUT A FACE
FIEND WITHOUT A FACE ($40) is another sci-fi favorite from my misspent youth that I watched every time it played on television. Of course, when you are a kid, you are can't help but love any gory science fiction movie that features monsters that resemble disembodied brains and spinal cords, which slink along like deranged inch worms hunting down their human prey. In the terms of gore, 1958's FIEND WITHOUT A FACE was certainly years ahead of its time, especially for a science fiction offering. I think the only other English movies that gave FIEND WITHOUT A FACE any form of competition in its gore quotient, were the blood soaked Hammer horror classics, which had started to appear at roughly the same time. As I grew older, my fondness for FIEND WITHOUT A FACE remained firmly in place, which lead me to securing a copy of the movie, when it was released on Laserdisc several years back. While the Laserdisc was a bare bones affair, it did offer the best looking edition of the movie that I had seen up until then. A few years further down the road, we find this minor 50's science fiction classic being recognized for its importance to the genre. This recognition of FIEND WITHOUT A FACE has taken the form of a very classy release on DVD, courtesy of The Criterion Collection.
FIEND WITHOUT A FACE is set at a remote US Air Base in Canada, where the military are conducting experiments to increase the range of their radar system with vast amounts of power that they are generating at a nuclear power plant on the base. Since the base is out in the middle of nowhere, the unsophisticated local farmers begin blaming all of their woes on radioactive fallout from the base. Despite all their complaints, the farmer's biggest problem turns out to be the reduction in the amount of milk that their cows give. The situation quickly turns serious, when a few of the locals that live close to the military instillation die under mysterious circumstances. Of course, the farmers immediately suspect that contamination from the nuclear power plant is responsible for the deaths. While autopsies confirm that radiation played no part in the deaths, the actual cause proves to be almost too fantastic to believe. The autopsies reveal that something has bored two holes into the back of each victim's skull and sucked out their brains and spinal cords. While the military launches an investigation to find whatever unseen thing is responsible for the strange deaths, the townsfolk start looking for something more tangible to blame than just a fiend without a face.
FIEND WITHOUT A FACE is a tight and well-acted little science fiction shocker that features good special effects work that actually produces more blood and gore than one generally finds in a movie from this period. The stop motion special effects deployed in FIEND WITHOUT A FACE are something of a rarity for this genre, especially since they are so well done and far bloodier than anything Ray Harryhausen ever came up with in his sci-fi films (was there ever any blood in a Harryhausen's special effect?). Letís face it; the special effects are a whole lot of fun and one of the big reasons that folks keep coming back to FIEND WITHOUT A FACE. Sure, even Iíll admit that there are some gaping holes in the filmís logic, however Arthur Crabtree's fast paced direction and the earnestness of the central performances, keep the viewer from questioning the movie as it is unspooling. The cast of FIEND WITHOUT A FACE features Marshall Thompson, Terence Kilburn, Michael Balfour, Gil Winfield, Shane Cordell, Stanley Maxted, James Dyrenforth, Kim Parker, Peter Madden and Kerrigan Prescott.
The Criterion Collection has done a truly impressive job with their release of FIEND WITHOUT A FACE. Not only is this the first time that FIEND WITHOUT A FACE is presented in wide screen, the DVD presentation also features the anamorphic enhancement for playback on 16:9 displays. FIEND WITHOUT A FACE is framed at 1.66:1 and the black and white image on the DVD looks quite good. Footage shot specifically for the movie is very sharp and well defined; however all instances of stock footage appears a bit softer. The film element used for the transfer displays a few scratches, as well as blemishes. Again, the stock footage shows most of the film's imperfections. Film grain creeps up in a few places, but it is never bothersome. Blacks are purely rendered, plus the picture boasts excellent contrast and solid whites. There are no noticeable signs of digital compression artifacts on the cleanly authored DVD. The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is crisp sounding, with clean dialogue reproduction. Although there are the expected frequency limitations on the soundtrack, distortion and hiss are not a problem. Subtitles are provided on the DVD in English.
Full motion video; animation and sound have been deployed to enhance the interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the DVD's nice selection of supplements. FIEND WITHOUT A FACE includes an excellent running audio commentary with executive producer Richard Gordon and genre film writer Tom Weaver. The commentary is handled almost like an interview, with Weaver asking questions about specific aspects of the film, which Gordon answers in great detail. Weaver also brings a lot of factual details to the table, showing that he was well prepared for this commentary track. Also included on the DVD is an illustrated essay on British science fiction filmmaking by film historian Bruce Eder. The essay is presented as a series of still frames that can be navigated one at a time via the remote control. A theatrical trailer for FIEND WITHOUT A FACE is provided on the DVD, as are trailers for THE HAUNTED STRANGLER, CORRIDORS OF BLOOD, FIRST MAN INTO SPACE and THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE. Additional commentary by Gordon and Weaver is presented over a selection of still images and ephemera. Vintage advertising and lobby cards fill out the disc's supplements.
I am a big fan of FIEND WITHOUT A FACE, and can honestly say that I am excited and pleased by The Criterion Collection DVD release of the film. The DVD looks great and includes some very cool extras. If you are a fan, don't hesitate in checking out this fine the disc.
One final note, HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM is mentioned several times in the DVD's supplements. One can only hope that Criterion or someone else will be releasing this horror classic sometime soon on DVD. I know I'd love to see HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM in 16:9 enhanced wide screen presentation, along with an audio commentary by it star, Michael Gough.
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