Director: Edward L. Cahn
Kino Lorber Studio Classics

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 is now unleashed on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.

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, THE BIG CLOCK) 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 stuntman Bob Bryant) was once Quintillus Aurelius, who perished during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and now perceives Paul’s blonde fiancée Tina Enright (Elaine Edwards, THE BAT) 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, IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE and INVISIBLE INVADERS), is able to inject a lot of low rent entertainment value into CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN, making its 67-minute running time never seeming more than that. The stone-encrusted menace, who is basically just a variation on your classic 1940s mummy (with a bit of "Golem" tossed in), is pretty creepy when he is lurking around, knocking around security guards and police officers, or carrying off with the pretty heroine (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 pretty Elaine Edwards 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 short, 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) and more recently, MGM offered a manufactured-on-demand DVD through their Limited Edition Collection line. Kino Lorber now uses MGM’s HD master for their 1080p presentation, and this is the very first time the film has been presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio on home video (previous releases have all been open matte) and the compositions definitely improve the film’s appearance. The black and white image is satisfying overall, with the gray scale being fine, and black levels are good, with whites being crisp. Detail is generally sharp, especially on close-ups which offer consistently impressive textures in facial features. Spots and speckling, unlike in the previous DVD transfer, are minuscule and the grain structure is filmic and well-rendered. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track has clear dialogue and music, but the more obtrusive sound effects (such as footsteps, car doors slamming and a few screams) have a noticeable reverb, as if the movie was playing through a drive-in theater speaker (this isn’t such a bad scenario, considering the effect it gives). No subtitle options are included on the disc.

Horror cinema historian (and former Fangoria editor) Chris Alexander gives his “mad musings” on the film in an audio commentary, where he admits the film’s shortcomings (he rightfully declares that in close-up in HD, the monster’s hands look like nothing more than gloves) and states that he doesn’t adhere to the MST 3000 practice of unnecessary mockery. As he converses about the cast and screenwriter Bixby and director Cahn, Alexander sees CURSE as an effective movie for what is, and he definitely has a fond appreciation for this piece of low budget cinema. Trailers for INVISIBLE INVADERS (available soon on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber) and THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD can also be found in the “Bonus” section, but there is no trailer for the film itself. (George R. Reis)