Few 1950s creature features deliver in the way Fiend Without a Face
does. The first hour is all build-up as tension grows between an Air Force research base and a small Canadian town (this is one of those British B films that pretends to be set overseas) as a series of mystery deaths are blamed by the superstitious on weird military experiments. It's not a spoiler to give away the big revelation, since every item of publicity material, including the DVD cover, blows the surprise: the initially invisible culprits turn out to be a killer swarm of disembodied brains with eyes on stalks and inchworm-like spinal cord tails. These creatures have a nasty habit of latching onto victims and sucking out their grey matter.
The finale is a siege of a house by the fiends, which swarm en masse making unsettling brain-sucking sounds, and are bloodily done away with by the heroes. Using excellent stop-motion animation, this climax goes beyond silliness and manages to be genuinely nightmarish. The orgy of splattering brains stands proud among the cinema's first attempts at genuine horror-comic glee, setting a precedent for everything from The Evil Dead to Peter Jackson's Braindead. Marshall Thompson is a bland, stolid uniformed hero and most of the rest of the cast struggle with "anadian" accents, but Kynaston Reeves is fun as the decrepit lone researcher whose fault it all is.
On the DVD: Fiend Without a Face on disc comes with a montage of scenes from other films in this batch of releases (The Day of the Triffids, The Stars Look Down) that plays automatically when the disc is inserted, but otherwise not even a trailer, much less the commentary track and other material found on the pricey but luxurious US Region 1 Criterion release. The print has nice contrasts but is pretty grainy. --Kim Newman
An American airbase in Canada provokes resentment amongst the nearby residents after fallout from the nuclear experiments at the base are blamed for a recent spate of disappearances. A captain from the airbase is assigned to investigate, and begins to suspect that an elderly British scientist who lives near the base and conducts research in the field of mind over matter knows more than he is letting on about the unseen killer.
Running time: 74 minutes.