Ten years before Duane Jones boarded up the windows of a deserted house in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and two decades sooner than Ken Foree blasted bloody holes into the heads of zombies in DAWN OF THE DEAD, this film gave us Marshall Thompson shooting bullets into flying brains with attached spinal cords that threatened to invade an unsecured room of terror. When a slug or an ax was fired into these faceless fiends they sputtered and oozed a gory, jelly-like substance. It was pretty gruesome in its day, and still later when it was broadcast as a television standard. The special effects were first-rate for the times, and they remain the main ingredient which this movie has to recommend it. This film has never been out of the public's reach, dating back to an old NTA video tape and of course the later Republic cassette and laserdisc.
According to producer Richard Gordon on the full length commentary track, this 74 minute edition is the complete version, taken from the original negative. There's positively no footage missing, yet some may argue whether or not that's such a good thing today. What I mean to imply is that the grand climax mentioned above occurs during the last fifteen minutes of the picture, and the rest of it tends to be slow going.
We start with strange killings at a military base, as people are found dead and staring with blank expressions on their faces. Amidst the eerie sound of thumping heartbeats, an invisible enemy latches itself around the neck of its human target, and sucks the brain and spinal cord out of its victim. After a lot of talking and yes, a moment or two of well-staged attack scenes, we eventually do discover that an old professor has been experimenting with thought patterns, thus resulting in these unseen parasites.
The grand finale of the movie has the slithering and leaping brains with their spinal cord tails finally becoming visible, and as described earlier, they launch an attack on people trapped in a room. The final moments of this film are not to be missed, as those gray matter creatures multiply one by one and make their way in, only to be stopped by guns and an ax, spewing gelatin blood.
Criterion has done another remarkable job with this DVD, using the best possible print which looks sharp and smooth the majority of the time. It is letterboxed at 1.66:1 (16x9 enhanced). There are imperfections now and again, but nothing that can turn you off to the enjoyment of the film. We can put this one to bed in the security that it has been well preserved for all time.
The fine-sounding audio is in Dolby Digital mono, and English Subtitles are included.
Special Features include trailers for not only FIEND WITHOUT A FACE, but other gems from Gordon Films: THE HAUNTED STRANGLER, CORRIDORS OF BLOOD, FIRST MAN INTO SPACE, and THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE. We also get an essay on British sci-fi/horror, vintage advertisements and lobby cards, still photographs, and the full length commentary featuring Richard Gordon and horror historian Tom Weaver.
The commentary track gives us a great feel for what went on in the production back in the 50s regarding this type of picture (a lost art, I'm afraid). Gordon comments on the cast and crew from FIEND, and mentions that the feature was shot back to back with Boris Karloff's THE HAUNTED STRANGLER. One interesting story from Mr. Gordon tells of FIEND's leading lady Kim Parker and how she was prone to shall I say "questionable" antics. Boris Karloff used to share a car with her during the shooting of these two films, and one day he approached Gordon and told him that although Kim was a nice girl, she had a habit of saying strange things and using outlandish language, and could Gordon find him someone else to ride with him! This could just be the first thing close to a "negative" reaction I've heard from Karloff, who was always known never to be one to bellyache! (Joe Lozowsky)
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