Plot: What’s it about?
After all the mishaps and screw-ups, you’d think those darn scientists would learn, but it never seems to happen. As a scientist works on a secret experiment, he uses the presence of a nearby nuclear power plant to enhance his subject, which he plans to bring to life. The process of creating a new species is no walk in the park by any means, but this is one smart cookie and he is able to do just that. As time passes, this new creature seems to gain intelligence, which of course, is good news to his creator. But when the creature escapes, that means bad news, as it is smart enough to evade capture and cause some trouble. In most cases, the scientist could simply track down the subject and return it to the lab, but that plan won’t work as easily in this instance. You see, this being is invisible and thanks to the power from the nuclear plant, it has started to multiply, which is real bad news. As people begin to vanish without a trace, a military officer is sent to see what is happening this small town. But will he be able to discover the connection between the scientist and this invisible killer before things go too far, or will he simply be the next victim?
I never expected to see this one turn within The Criterion Collection, but they’ve worked wonders with this disc, so I am pleased the film found a good home. I was glad to see Criterion branch out here, as I miss the varied selection present in their laserdisc catalog, most of which is unavailable to them to release on DVD. So this might not fit in with some of the others in the series, but I for one am pleased to see it given such a proper treatment. As far as low budget science-fiction flicks go, this is a good one, but don’t expect to be blown away, especially if you’re not a fan of the genre. There is some very effective suspense, but after a major plot point, things become on the corny side, although the film is still loads of fun to watch. The special effects are cool to look at and I love the gore work here, very tasty indeed. I know some people will expect more from this film, since is was issued by Criterion, but in the end, this is just a B movie with some nice bells & whistles. If you’re a fan of 1950s low rent sci/fi, then by all means, this is one you will not want to miss. I love the work Criterion has done with this title, so rest assured the disc is well worth the cash.
In most movies of this type, instead of the director as the main focus, the producer is often better known and such is the case here. And as was usually the case, if you liked a couple films by the producer, then you might like them all and again, this pretty much holds true in this case also. The executive producer here is Richard Gordon, who served that post on more than a few low grade pictures, most of them very fun to watch. Now not all of the Gordon produced movies were good more than once, but I have seen most of them and on the whole, I think they’re all worth a look, if you like flicks of that ilk. Other pictures produced by Gordon include Tower of Evil, Horror Hospital, Inseminoid, Cave of the Living Dead, Tomb of Torture, and Corridors of Blood. The cast here includes Michael Balfour (The Hellfire Club, Batman), Shane Cordell (Girls At Sea, Carry On Nurse), Gil Winfield (Operation Murder), Terry Kilburn (National Velvet, Black Beauty), and the wooden, one dimensional Marshall Thompson (Command Decision, Battle Taxi).
Video: How does it look?
Fiend Without A Face is presented in a 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. As usual, Criterion has supplied a very nice transfer and though some print issues arise, I am still pleased with this presentation. As I said, the print used here shows some debris, marks, and lines at times, but given the circumstances here, I think the print is acceptable. The problems never become too severe and in the end, this print is cleaner than most films of this ilk, so real complaints. The black & white image here look good as well, as the black levels seem well balanced and allow for a solid amount of detail. I think this transfer is very good and Criterion’s restoration is appreciated, an above average presentation overall.
Audio: How does it sound?
This movie has little need for extensive audio, so the included mono is more than adequate. I found no real problems with clarity or harshness, which is good for a film of this nature and age, so I was pleased from the start. The music and sound effects are clean and come off well, even if not as rich as a full surround track would be. I heard no issues with the vocals either, which sound crisp and are always at a proper volume, no trouble arises there. This disc also includes English subtitles, which are always welcome.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This has some cool special features, such as a series of still photos and ad materials, complete with commentary from Gordon and genre film writer Tom Weaver. This was much better than the normal processions of materials, as the commentary sheds much more light on the goods, instead of just letting us view them. You can also browse some lobby cards and vintage ads alone, which is also a worthwhile inclusion. The theatrical trailers for Fiend Without A Face and four other Gordon produced flicks have been packed in to, which are fun to watch also. A terrific text essay on British genre pictures is also included, which is supplemented with stills and such from the films. I know these text essays can be hard to read on these discs, but this one is well presented and I hope will serve as a model to future ones. The main supplement here is an audio commentary with Gordon, which is moderated by Weaver, who supplies questions and directions for Gordon’s comments. I liked this track a lot, as Gordon discusses this film, as well as his career as a whole. I wish this was more focuses on this picture, but it was still a treat to hear Gordon’s various comments.