CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN (1958)
Director: Edward L. Cahn
MGM Limited Edition Collection

Yet another low budget quickie which is an absolute must for anyone even remotely intrigued by 1950s “Creature Features”, CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN harkens back to Universal’s own series of mummy movies. Written by notable sci-fi scribe Jerome Bixby (who would go on to Fox’s big budget FANTASTIC VOYAGE and would become best known for his teleplays for the original “Star Trek” series), CURSE is yet another black and white monster movie favorite released theatrically by United Artists, and now unleashed from the MGM vaults as part of their ever growing Limited Edition Collection.

During an archeological dig in Pompeii, the body of a centuries-old stone-encrusted man is found, along with an Etruscan bronze medallion. The seemingly petrified man (who has no facial features, no eyes and no mouth) comes to life in the back of a pick-up truck, killing the driver and then mysteriously turning back to its rock-like solid state. When the stone man is brought to an Italian museum, curator and archaeologist Carlo Fiorillo (Luis Van Rooten) believes it has some life in it, while young American medical researcher Paul Mallon (Richard Anderson, later immortalized as Oscar Goldman on “The Six Million Dollar Man” series) is in total disbelief. That is until he (along with a number of other interested parties, including the police) sees the crusty thing lumbering around with their own eyes. The faceless stone man (played by heavily concealed stunt man Bob Bryant) was once Quintillus Aurelius, who perished during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and now perceives Paul’s blonde fiancée Elaine (Tina Enright) as his long lost love from 79 A.D.!

The legendary B movie director Edward L. Cahn (who also gave us such 1950s sci-fi favorites as INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN and IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE), is able to inject a lot of low rent entertainment value into CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN, making its 66-minute running time never seeming more than that. The stone-encrusted menace, who is basically just a variation on your classic 1940s mummy, is pretty creepy when he is lurking around, knocking around security guards and police officers, or carrying off with the pretty girl (when he’s not up and about, he’s usually laying on a dais with his knees slightly bent up and his arms extended as if he was asking for a hug). The scenes of the Faceless Man stalking around what’s supposed to be the streets of Italy or carrying Tina Enright in the woods (actually, Griffith Park) allow for some effective, shadowy cinematography and not only does the film remind us of the Universal horrors of the past, it also resembles (in plot, characters and execution) the throwback black & white Mexi monster pics that were being produced in quick succession around the same time (and into the early 1960s).

Anyone who has watched the classic “39” episodes of “The Honeymooners” over and over again will be more than slightly amused to see bald Luis Van Rooten (he played Ralph Kramden’s annoying landlord, Mr. Johnson, in several unforgettable episodes) especially when he’s attempting an Italian accent and sporting a goatee. Aged character actor Felix Locher has a good part as another doctor who tries to discover more about the Faceless Man through the transgression of Tina, but he’s not nearly the riot he is in FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER, released the same year. The campy, Ed Wood-esque narration is by none other than Morris Ankrum! Composer Gerald Fried also did the scores for such other UA 1950s horror classics as THE VAMPIRE, THE RETURN OF DRACULA and I BURY THE LIVING. Producer Robert E. Kent also did THE WEREWOLF and the 1962 TOWER OF LONDON.

A company called Cheezy Flicks released an unauthorized disc of this title (booted from the old Image laserdisc) which Amazon somehow managed to offer on their website, but this MOD DVD from the MGM Limited Edition Collection is now the real deal. The film was shot at 1.85:1, but like most of MGM’s DVDs of 1950s horror and sci-fi titles, it’s presented here full frame 1.37:1. The open matte presentation never really looks too awkward, and the transfer renders the black & white picture very nicely with an extremely sharp image, excellent detail and adequately deep black levels. There’s only minor debris and fleeting grain on the print source, and the mono English audio is smooth as can be expected. There are chapter stops at ten minute intervals.

Where can you purchase these MGM Limited Edition Collection releases? So far they can be found for purchase online at Deep Discount DVD, Oldies.com, Movies Unlimited, Amazon.com and Screen Archives Entertainment. (George R. Reis)

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