Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Fiend Without A Face

"The Thought-Monster" [1930]
Written by Amelia Reynonlds Long

Fiend Without A Face [1958]
Written by Herbert J. Leder
Directed by Arthur Crabtree

When legitimate critics deign to examine the gutter genre of science-fiction, they are often interested with the examined text's political undertones. How would Robert Heinlein vote based on Starship Troopers? What does Star Trek's multiculti Federation say about 1960s liberal social optimism? Battlefield Earth---what the fuck? The journey of Fiend Without a Face from page to screen serves as an interesting footnote to such investigations.

Long's short story, originally published in Weird Tales---the greatest of the sci-fi pulps, has do with mysterious deaths in a small town. Thanks to the title, we know that they are being caused by a (get ready for it) THOUGHT MONSTER! The titular beast is an invisible being who is scaring people to death. A psychic investigator comes to town to investigate. He starts getting close, so the scientist who unwittingly unleashed the creature decides to sacrifice himself in destroying it. Trapped in a room with violet lights, the thought monster is destroyed, but not before robbing the poor scientist of his sanity.

So far, nothing special. The story reads like second-rate Lovecraft. By the time a film was made, atomic energy was all the rage. Radiation was waking up dinosaurs (The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Godzilla), enlarging invertebrates (Them!, Tarantula), and luring spacemen to our planet (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Plan Nine From Outer Space). Oddly enough, there's an odd sort of ambivalence that runs through many of these pictures. When blame is placed, it's usually on the scientist...and most of the time it was an accident. The problem isn't atomic power, we just need to be more careful with how we use it next time. Coming towards the end of the 50s radioactive monsters cycle, Fiend Without a Face reads almost as an apologia for nuclear power.

We again have the scientist and his attempts to make thoughts flesh. He begins siphoning energy from the local radar station (built in Canada to spy on the Russkies). The atomic kick proves enough to solidify his thoughts, but they become "evil" (his stated scientific opinion) and start murdering townsfolk (by sucking out their brains and spinal cord through two holes in the back of the head...neat!). The "superstitious" (the film's description of them) locals think that fallout or something to do with radiation is causing the rash of mysterious deaths. And maybe it's also affecting the cows and their milk production. No, no, the US Army assures the local Canuck bumpkins, it's nothing atomic, you uneducated fools. You would have to be superstitious to think anything bad could come from the atom! (Well, the atom in freedom-loving American hands, at any rate. Not to sure about those atheist Commies though....)

This drags on for about fifty or so minutes. There's a love interest and a great sucking noise whenever one of the invisible monsters is about to attack. Finally, the fiends take over the power station and overload the system, making them visible. And they're BRAINS! Brains that creep along using their spinal cords as tails. The hero Army Joe has the brilliant plan to BLOW UP the reactor as a means of stopping the monsters. (Apparently blowing up a nuclear power plant wouldn't cause some sort of nuclear disaster...whew...someone tell Homeland Security not to worry about that one.) The plant is blown and the monsters melt into goop and the Army Joe gets to kiss the girl while everyone looks at him and knows he's totally gunna get some hot Canadian poon. The End.

You really need to see Fiend Without a Face. The final attack of the stop-motion brains is jaw-dropping. Our heroes shoot them, causing them to rupture and gurgle out something the consistency of Smuckers jam. And there's an absolutely revolting noise that accompanies said gurgling that is too wonderful for words. And this is all part of The Criterion Collection, the people who restore and present definitive editions of Kurosawa, Bergman, and other respectable directors! It's Psychotronic Heaven---rent this now!

1 comment:

A girl running for fun said...

You have not updated your bloggie in a long time.