If you’re old enough and recall camping out in front of the TV on Friday or Saturday nights long after the sun went to sleep (Chiller Theater or Creature Features, anyone?), you probably saw a ton of horror and sci-fi flicks from the 50’s and 60’s. For some reason, Hollywood’s “B” movie makers were brain-obsessed during this period, churning out films good to terrible with titles such as Donovan’s Brain, The Brain From Planet Arous, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and so forth and so on.
All those brains on screen and yet, in my opinion the best one wasn’t even made in the USA. For years I always thought Fiend Without A Face was a US-made “B” flick, but I just found out recently that it’s British. Oops. Granted, that doesn’t make it any “classier” at all – it’s just yet another reason you should check out this classic 1958 sci-fi/horror gem.
Like a lot of cheapo genre flicks of the era, there’s an element of camp to the film (some of the acting here), but for the most part, director Arthur Crabtree and his cast take everything dead serious, which works to chilling effect when things get nuts in the last reel. I can recall being scared half to death watching this as a kid, but finding it hard to look away when that final part of the film got going with all the early gore effects. I recall seeing this as a kid once on a Saturday and the next Monday, everyone at school who stayed up late to catch it was still talking about how scary the film was.
Of course, we had zero concept of stop motion animation at that age, so all sorts of theories on HOW those brain/spine creatures moved was the subject of conversation for a while. I think that outside of the bigger budgeted Charles Schneer/Ray Harryhausen fantasy flicks, there wasn’t a whole lot of decent stop motion in “B” movies (other than the ones Harryhausen did: The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Twenty Million Miles to Earth and Earth vs. The Flying Saucers), so it took me a few viewings to “get” that those weren’t all life-size models with wires making them crawl and jump like that. Even today, the film still packs a freakish punch thanks to the shots of the creatures in close up on furniture, floors and wrapped around the necks of some unfortunate victims.
Another cool thing about this one – it’s really short and doesn’t take long to get going with the weirdness. At a tidy 77 minutes, team this up with a second brain-themed flick for a double feature that will set your head spinning Personally, I’d go for the uncut version of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, as it’s hilarious, sexy and gory simultaneously. Yes, you can indeed see this for free over the internet (cheapskate!), but if you’re a true film fan, you’ll want to dig up the out of production Criterion Collection DVD from somewhere and check it out in a MUCH better looking print. I recall reading about some sort of remake, but I’d like to think that all that CGI won’t even touch the original when it comes to dealing out the chills. Anyway, that’s it for now – back next time with something else completely random…