FIEND WITHOUT A FACE
Fiend Without a Face is very much a product of 1950s science-fiction Cold War paranoia nuttiness there is its milieu of American-Soviet tension, and it also manages to squeeze in the obsession with the dangers of atomic power. Most fascinating is the amazing strand of anti-intellectualism it manages to crudely symbolise. It may seem fatuous to describe a film about the military shooting down hopping, disembodied brains as the most rigorously anti-intellectual of all science-fiction films but the film cannot help but beg it. In its own way, Fiend Without a Face is as important in the cinema of American Cold War subtext as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and its ilk are. The 1950s were a time when any type of thought that did not conform to very conservative lines was treated suspiciously and intellectuals were thought to be dangerous. Thus it is interesting to watch the progression the film makes wherein disembodied (ie. unrestrained) thought automatically develops a will of its own and becomes evil and monstrous. If one can make the imaginative leap to substitute student radicals for the hopping brains being shot down at the climax then the film becomes appallingly prophetic of the Kent State student riots in the 1960s and what they represented.
Aside from its subtext, there is little that is worth watching in Fiend Without a Face, despite the minor reputation it has which all rests on the climax. Arthur Crabtree directs in a flat and dreary style, and the film is devoid of any real drama. The budget is evidently very low the fact that the monsters are invisible for much of the film must have been considered a blessing. The scientific earnestness the film hopes for results in a number of unintentional howlers a book on Cybernetics spells it Sibonetics and a nuclear reactor manages to continue operating, even go into the danger level, despite having its fuel rods removed.
There are only two parts where the film in any way transcends its dreariness. One is the scene of professor Kynaston Reeves in his laboratory trying to trigger telekinesis and finally after much effort being able to turn the page of a book a sequence that conjures a fervid and obsessive atmosphere among the films otherwise drab approach. The climax is a moment where the film reaches a kitsch lunacy. The truly bizarre image of the military besieged in the house by stop-motion animated brains hopping around on their spinal columns and being shot down in a series of (for then) quite gory b&w meltdown effects reaches a real pulp science-fiction intensity. This sequence even looks forward to Night of the Living Dead (1968) in its own way where the scenes of the brains battering at the boarded windows, even wielding hammers in their spinal columns, manages to capture some of the paranoid siege mentality that George Romero did. These scenes almost make the rest of the films dreariness worth sitting through.
The hopping brains later made a reappearance in Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003).
Full film available online here:-