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Monday, December 30, 2013

Curse of the Faceless Man

For a bit of digression, we return to 1958 and a film more on the horror / occult side of the sci-fi / horror hybrid genre. Curse of the Faceless Man (CFM) is something of a rehash of the 1932 classic, The Mummy, but with just a dash of science mumbo-jumbo qualify as a fringe sci-fi. CFM was “Thriller No. 2” to It! Terror From Beyond Space, itself also a production of Robert E. Kent Productions. Richard Anderson stars as Dr. Mallan, the handsome hero scientist, skeptical of mystical things. Elaine Edwards, in the Marilyn Monroe style, co-stars as the woman of interest.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Morris Ankrum narrates a bit of the backstory of Mount Vesuvius and the burying of Pompeii. Flash forward to a worker excavating the ashy ruins, who finds a chest of gold and treasures, and a white stone man. While driving the stone man to the Museo Di Pompeii, the stone man stirs and kills the truck driver. The police are baffled. The museum curator calls upon Dr. Paul Mallan to help research the stone man. A bronze medallion in the treasure chest has inscriptions in ancient Etruscan, telling of a curse on anyone who tries to get between Quintinus (the stone man) and his love. Paul’s fiancĂ©, Tina had been having odd dreams, so she painted what she saw — a faceless slave in bonds. She wants to sketch the stone man, to help finish her painting. Quintillus come to life, kills a guard and sends Tina into shock. Quintillus pins a brooch on unconscious Tina. This, we later find out, is how Etruscan men marked the women they loved. A Dr. Emmanuel provides more backstory via hypnosis of Tina. She gives regressed memories of being Lucila Helena, a Roman aristocrat in Pompeii, who was loved by a slave gladiator named Quintillus. Tina must somehow be Lucila, reincarnated and Quintillus is still trying to rescue his beloved from the volcano. Paul and the curator do a bit of lab work, then figure out that Quintillus must have been in the temple of Isis when the volcano blew up. He was apparently trying to steal the betrothal brooch for Lucila at the time. The high priest of Isis must have kept big vats of embalming fluid in the temple, which splashed over Quintillus  The high heat of the volcano then ‘cooked’ the fluids in such a way that Quintillus's body was preserved in some state of life, inside the stoney shell. Radiation must be the energy that sustained the cells. The museum’s x-ray machine must have given the body new life. Tina, in a reincarnation trance, cuts free the straps restraining Quintillus  He kills a guard, then carries off the swooned Tina. Everyone eventually pursues Quintillus to the sea where he is trying to carry his love to safety from the volcano. However, when he wades into the sea, his stoney crush dissolves into powder. Tina is dropped in the surf, but Paul rushes in to carry her out. Morris narrates about the eternity of love. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
CFM offers simple B-movie entertainment. There are a few well done creepy scenes, but otherwise progresses predictably. Somehow, that predictability has a nostalgic comfort. No deep thinking. No moralizing messages, or pessimism (as in many 70s sci-fi). There is enough blue-sky science blather to amuse veteran sci-fi fans.

Cultural Connection
Targeted B Films — The movie distribution market was such that producers received a better fee for “A” feature films and a lesser amount for “B” films. Producers who marketed just one film would, (or at least strongly suspect) that theater owners were saying their lone film ran as a B feature, and so paid less — whether or not it ran as the A film. Some producers would create an intentional B film to accompany the other film. This sacrificial B film would ensure that their A film collected revenue of an A film. Given this sacrificial intent, such deliberate B films were produced as cheaply as possible. CFM as the sacrificial B film for It! Terror From Beyond Space.

Retread Mummy — Part of saving money was to reuse an existing story, rather than pay for new material. The story in CFM amounts to a retread of The Mummy, Universal’s 1932 classic, starring Boris Karloff as the mummy. Instead of bandages, the ancient one is encased in stone. Instead of being Egyptian, he’s Etruscan, but the writers were careful to include many Egyptian references. (Temple of Isis, embalming, the “egyptian quarter” of Pompeii, etc.) Clearly, the writers were banking on riding the coat tails of The Mummy.

Pseudo-Italy — Filmed in California, the “Museo Di Pompeii” is actually the Griffith Observatory, relabeled. This location shows up in other sci-fi films, such as The Amazing Colossal Man. To make things look more european, the director made use of several small european cars. Most of them, however, were English — Ford Anglia, Ford Squire, Ford Zephyr, Ford Zodiac, etc. There was one VW Type 2 pickup, and a few (French) Renault Dauphines. But curiously, no italian cars.

Good Ol’ Radiation — Like many a film in the 50s, the writers of CFM turn to that handy workhorse of a Dies ex Machina — Radiation. What somehow kept Quintilus’s “cells” alive for 2000 years, was radiation coming up from the ground. Modern radiation then, somehow, continued to ‘feed’ him. While it seems absurdly thin to modern audiences, in the late 50s, “radiation” had a magical aura to it. It could grow a man into a giant (Amazing Colossal Man, or Godzilla), it could shrink a man, (The Incredible Shrinking Man, or The Puppet People). It could turn a man into liquid (The H-Man) or shift him in time (The 4-D Man). Radiation could create monsters, and kill monsters. It could do just about anything. So, why not keep a roman slave’s body alive for 2000 years?

Bottom line? CFM is pretty thin in the science part of a sci-fi/horror hybrid. It’s essentially a low-budget remake of the The Mummy. There is a bit of amusing science blather tossed in to “explain” this monster. Viewers looking for more science, or aliens, etc. will probably be disappointed in the traditional horror nature of CFM. Fans of the old horror genre will not be impressed with CFM, but may find it a mild homage to greater films.

1 comment:

Randall Landers said...

I always love how the water dissolves the faceless man. A nifty and cheap! solution to the premise.