Curse of the Faceless Man
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Curse of the Faceless Man

There was a time back in the more carefree, youthful days many of us lived through when we would sit watching the classroom clock count down the infernally long minutes until the weekend. This was before television offered 24-7 programming geared to please every imaginable demographic so for us preteen boys the weekend meant one thing; Saturday afternoon matinees at the local movie theater. Now this was not the boxy little showrooms that populate malls throughout the count. These were well appointed theater, albeit some past their prime. There was a sense of being in a special place as we watched the flicks presented to us each week. This was the cathedral of cinema were each weekend we would gather to rejoice in the latest showings. These were not the main studio movies that later that night would be on display for the adults with more refined appreciation of film. For us all that mattered was to forget the world of chores, homework and tests band have fun for a couple of hours. Our criteria for how well a flick worked depended on a limited number of factors that boiled down simply to a monster out of control or flights of adventure through the uncharted vastness of outer space. In recent months MGM/UA has been releasing some classic movies under a manufacture on demand release set. Typically the series includes some little gems or ‘B’ movies that held some significance in movie history. Thankfully, the masterminds behind the selection of which movies are included appear to be one of us; the grown up versions of those matinee kids. As such the term classic has been expanded to include movies like the one under review here; ‘Curse of the Faceless Man’. I not only remember watching this during one of those afternoons long ago I also recall seeing it on one of the parentally forbidden ‘Creature Feature’ TV shows we would sneak up to watch while the parents were asleep. This movie may be considered awful but that is a matter of perception. As I watched the screener for this flick I was transported back in time to that dark room and felt the same rush of joy.

My friends and I have a household motto ‘Do not awaken the ancient evil, you moron’. Largely it is due to the influence of s close friend who is an archeologist but there is as strong contributing factor from years of watching films were the plot was predicated on the characters ignoring this simple, life saving advice. If you uncover an object, especially one with general humanoid morphology, do you poke it, stay in s room alone with it over night with it otherwise do anything that might be construed as annoying to it. A warning like this was offered by Italian archeologist, Maria Fiorillo (Adele Mara) to her American colleague Dr. Paul Mallon (Richard Anderson) but he was reticent to the concept. The artifact initiation the disagreement was a recent discovery of a petrified body is discovered at the site of the ancient Pompeii volcanic eruption. The form, a person trapped in the volcanic ash, was apparently a gladiator whose armor was decorated with a medallion bearing Etruscan writing. The instigating factor leading to the trepidation expressed by Dr. Fiorillo was the disturbing fact that anyone left with the form overnight is killed by a crushed skull by morning. Adding fuel to the conspiracy a psychically sensitive young woman, Tina Enright (Elaine Edwards) begins to receive visions of a ‘faceless man’. The main trope employed here is a classic one found in hundreds of movies similar to this with a wide degree of variation defining the genre. The mindless humanoid killing machine can be found with Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy or the dreaded Golem found in Jewish mythology. The fright is derived from the creature having a form like ours but completely devoid of any amount of control, morality or purpose that defines us as sentient beings. These creatures are compelled by the most visceral, primitive components of our psychological make-up. They are a dark, mindless mirror of us capable of brutality offensive to our moral sensibilities.

Those expecting a well crafted motion picture are going to be disappointed here. However, if you sat in those matinees than you are more likely to relish in the amateurish production values presented here. These movies were as much about the laughter as the fright sort of a predecessor to Mystery Science Theater 3000. The acting is as stiff and lumbering as the titular creature. The movie is relatively brief and made on the slimmest budget possible so you can well imagine luxuries like rehearsals, re-takes and post production clean-up were not exactly in the cards. You might notice the American scientists as the actor who would eventually be featured simultaneously in TV series on opposing networks as Oscar Goldman in ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ and ‘The Bionic Woman’. Like many actors flicks like this paid the bills while waiting for that big break. Another crew member missing behind the scenes here was a continuity manager. Props change not only from one scene to the next but occasionally in the same shot. The dialogue is right out of a community college writing class but it has to be kept in mind it was the first feature length screenplay from Jerome Bixby. He would go on to far greater scripts including several of the best received episodes of the original ‘Star Trek’ series and Sci-Fi masterpiece films; ‘Fantastic Voyage’ and ‘The Man from Earth’. This is another added value to the inclusion of movies like this in a classic release set; it gives fans the opportunity of enjoying the early works of artist that helped shape our love for cinema.

Posted 06/25/11

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