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Fiend Without a Face (The Criterion Collection)

4.3 out of 5 stars 103 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

A scientist's atomic-powered thoughts materialize as deadly flying brains with trailing spinal cords.


Fiend Without a Face contains one of the most indelible images to emerge from sci-fi/horror movies of the atomic age: malevolent human brains, creeping like caterpillars on spinal-cord tails, choking the life out of their helpless victims! If that weren't enough to make any genre enthusiast drool with sick delight, the movie's also got an above-average plot (as B-movies go) and made genre history as an international success, independently produced in England, set in Canada, starring an American (Marshall Thompson), with magnificently grotesque special effects created in Germany!

The mystery begins near an American Air Force base in Manitoba, where unexplainable deaths are somehow connected to the base's atomic reactor, which is being used to power an experiment in advanced long-distance radar. Thompson (who later starred in the TV series Daktari) plays Major Cummings, who discovers that the lethal monsters--slurping, unseen "mental vampires"--are actually the horrific byproduct of thought-control experiments conducted by hapless, retired professor (echoes of Forbidden Planet's "monster from the Id"). Once visible, the fiendish brains are everywhere, attacking our heroes from every angle (in a scene that may have inspired Night of the Living Dead), and sputtering puddles of blood when riddled by bullets. This climactic scene--a triumph of latex rubber fiends, eerie sound effects, and stop-motion animation--was a gory breakthrough in 1958, and it's still a worthy precursor to every gross-out monster movie that followed in its trendsetting wake. Beware the faceless fiends! --Jeff Shannon

Special Features

  • Production stills
  • Illustrated essay on British sci-fi/horror filmmaking by film historian Bruce Eder

Product Details

  • Actors: Marshall Thompson, Kynaston Reeves, Kim Parker, Stanley Maxted, Terence Kilburn
  • Directors: Arthur Crabtree
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Anamorphic, Black & White, Closed-captioned, NTSC, Special Edition, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • DVD Release Date: January 30, 2001
  • Run Time: 74 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00004Z1FN
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,836 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Fiend Without a Face (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mark Shanks VINE VOICE on March 6, 2001
Format: DVD
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.
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Format: DVD
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...
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Format: VHS Tape
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).
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