Follow TV Tropes


Film / Fiend Without a Face

Go To

"All of my notes about its creation and how I thought it could be controlled were destroyed. I knew now that I had created a fiend."
Professor Walgate

A 1958 British Sci-Fi Horror film directed by Arthur Crabtree, based on the Weird Tales short story "The Thought-Monster" by Amelia Reynolds Long.

At a base in Canada, the U.S. Air Force is conducting long-range radar tests to try and get a leg up on those pesky Russians. The people living near the base don't like how the aircraft spook their animals, and the churlish Mayor Hawkins (James Dyrenforth) is spreading nasty rumors about the possible side effects of radiation from the atomic reactor powering the American radar equipment.

One night, people hear a mysterious thumping, schlurking noise, followed by a blood-curdling scream and the discovery of a corpse with a look of frozen horror on his face. More victims follow. This gives the locals, led by Hawkins, the ammo they need to bring grievances to the feet of base commander Colonel Butler (Stanley Maxted) and his second-in-command, Major Jeff Cummings (Marshall Thompson). Butler tasks Jeff with solving the mystery to restore good relations with the Canadians. He starts seeing Barbara Griselle (Kim Parker), the sister of the first victim. She works as a typist for a scientist named Professor Walgate (Kynaston Reeves).

Eventually Hawkins himself falls victim to the unseen menace. "Something" leaps onto him and he dies after a prolonged struggle with an invisible enemy. An Air Force doctor autopsies the victims and discovers that each person has had their brain sucked clean out!

Jeff theorizes that a "mental vampire" is at work. And when he discovers that Barbara's boss Professor Walgate has written several books about the "materialization of thought," he begins to suspect that the reclusive scientist is somehow behind it all.

It was released on DVD as part of the Criterion Collection.

Tropes Without a Face:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: Walgate is one, although in his case it's apparently because of a stroke he suffered in the recent past.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The bulk of the deaths in "The Thought Monster" happen in relatively quick succession at the beginning. Screenwriter Herbert J. Leder spaces them out more here in the film to pad the story out.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Psychic Michael Cummings from "The Thought Monster" is now US Air Force officer Major Jeff Cummings.
  • Accidental Pervert: Jeff, when he walks in on Barbara having just gotten out of the shower.
  • Angry Mob: Gibbons leads one to try and catch his imaginary "rogue American soldier."
  • Antagonist Title
  • Artistic License Nuclear Physics:
    • Walgate uses atomic power to amplify his own psychic powers, as well as give thoughts physical form, creating the "fiends." Not to mention that repeatedly subjecting himself to large doses of radiation in this fashion shouldn't create mentally projected monsters - it should just flat out give him the worst case of brain cancer in history.
    • Jeff stops the "fiends" by blowing up the base's atomic reactor, without any fallout or other negative impact on the people or the environment.
  • Asshole Victim: Gibbons. Hawkins may also count, depending on how one feels about him. See Jerkass Has a Point.
  • Brain Food
  • Brain Monster: The film featured invisible monsters that when revealed are actually slimy crawling human brains. Said brains strangle victims with their spinal cords.
  • Canada, Eh?
  • Canon Foreigner: Barbara Griselle. The closest thing Walgate has to an assistant in the short story is a housekeeper, Mrs. Jenson. Ditto the Air Force characters, who weren't present in "The Thought Monster."
  • Colonel Badass: Colonel Butler, who blasts "fiends" with his sidearm left and right during The Siege like nobody's business!
  • Cool Plane: Several are seen coming and going from the base. If you like vintage 50s American jet fighters, then this is the monster movie for you!
  • Cultural Stereotypes: The Canadians as backwoods yokel types.
  • Cut Phone Lines: How the heroes discover It Can Think.
    Butler: [trying to call for help] Professor, what's wrong with your telephone?
    Walgate: Nothing should be the matter unless they've got enough intelligence to cut the lines.
  • Dangerous Windows: "Hey, what's goin' on out there? .... Hey, look!" CRASH! "Aahhhhh!"
  • Death by Adaptation: Walgate. He survives in "The Thought Monster", although he goes insane.
  • Dies Wide Open: Everyone who's a victim of the "fiends."
  • Dirty Coward: Melville. During the siege of Professor Walgate's house, everyone helps out except him. He stands around blubbering and whining until he gets killed.
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Walgate smokes several. In fact, it's what gives him away as the guy who locks Jeff in the crypt when he accidentally leaves his very distinctive pipe behind.
  • Driven to Madness: This would appear to be what befalls Gibbons after he gets lost in the woods. He goes missing and then returns the following day a total mumbling idiot.
  • Eagle Land: The locals (especially Mayor Hawkins and Constable Gibbons) think the Air Force personnel are America, the Boorish. They're not entirely wrong. Despite publicly going out of their way to be friendly and accommodating to their Canadian hosts, the Americans privately talk about them as being "simple" and "backwards."
  • Flashback: Walgate's explanation of his work and how he created the creatures is told in a rather lengthy extended flashback towards the end.
  • Foreshadowing: A mild (and probably unintentional) one. Atomic engineer Peterson says, "Okay, but it's your funeral. .... Mine too, probably." He's the guy getting brain-sucked in the page image.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Walgate wanted to create beings made of living, physical thought, and he succeeded. He just didn't realize they'd survive by eating people's brains.
  • Gorn: In a rare case for The '50s, the film contains a tremendous amount of brain gore in its climax that would not feel out of place in an R-rated horror film. James Rolfe even commented on this and believed that it was perhaps the goriest film of its time.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The heartbeat-like thumping and grotesque slurping that precedes the creatures' appearance. It's especially effective as an auditory indicator of their presence before their become visible.
  • Horror Hunger: Braaaaains...
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: The Air Force officers sure are crack shots with their sidearms, especially considering the "fiends" are roughly the size of the human brains they resemble and leap all over the place.
  • Invisible Monsters: What the "fiends" are for most of the film. An overload with the atomic reactor finally renders them completely visible - and killable.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: It's easy to dismiss Hawkins' opinions because he's an anti-social jerk. But just because he's a jerk doesn't mean he isn't right, and he does make some good points about how the locals don't like the American planes constantly spooking their animals and disrupting their way of life.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Gibbons is fond of antagonizing the Air Force personnel attempting to conduct their own investigation into the deaths by insisting they've got no business snooping around Winthorpe.
  • Mad Scientist: Of the milder, more laid-back variety.
  • Mayor Pain: Hawkins is (more or less) the incompetent variety.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Barbara Griselle. She appears in nothing but a towel at one point, which was a studio mandate so they could show her being menaced on the poster dressed like that.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Hawkins. The mayor didn't have a name in "The Thought Monster."
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The fiends are very effective when invisible.
  • Nuclear Mutant: The "fiends." The more atomic radiation they absorb, the more visible they become.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Mayor Hawkins. The guy just will not cooperate with the Americans under any circumstances.
  • Picky People Eater: All the creatures want to eat is human brains and spinal cords.
  • Police Are Useless: Gibbons brings new levels of utter stupidity to the law enforcement profession.
  • Power Source: The Air Force is using a powerful atomic reactor to run their radar experiments. Walgate leeches off the reactor to power his own experiments.
  • Psychic Powers: What Walgate originally wanted to do.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Jeff, not that the locals make it easy for him.
  • Red Shirt Army: Most of the Air Force personnel are just there to get their brains sucked out by the fiends. By the end of the film, the base is littered with their brainless corpses.
  • Say My Name: "Gibbons! Where are ya? Gibbons!!!"
  • Sexy Secretary: Barbara.
  • Science Is Bad
  • Scream Discretion Shot: Used for the first victim.
  • Screaming Woman: Barbara.
  • The Siege: Similar to the later Night of the Living Dead, the movie's final act sees all of the principal characters hold up in Walgate's country house fighting off the (now visible) monsters.
  • Splatter Horror: One of the first examples of this trope. Unlike other horror films of the time where the defeat of the monster is bloodless, here the monsters are outright hacked into pieces or blown to bits resulting in fountains of blood. The gore was so bad in fact that the film had to be given an X rating by the British Board of Film Censors.
  • Start to Corpse: The first victim is found before the movie's title even comes up.
  • Stop Motion: How the fiends are realized most of the time when they're visible.
  • Ultimate Authority Mayor: Apparently there's no one in the Canadian government besides Mayor Hawkins that the Air Force can deal with.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Walgate is more this than an actual Mad Scientist.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: A lot of the "Canadian" accents are pretty suspect.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: The creatures are the result of Professor Walgate's own thoughts made physical by liberal doses of radiation.