Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Curse of the Faceless Man (1958)


JLP: OK so I'm going to kick this one off by saying that for some reason I quite like it. I'm not sure why but I am a bit of a sucker for horror movies set in museums. Hammer's THE MUMMY'S SHROUD is another - in that one the head-crumbling climax takes place in a museum. Peter Hyams' THE RELIC is fun as well. But back to CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN. I think it's a fun way to open the film by showing you the monster. He's not an especially clever or imaginative creation, but the whole faceless thing works for me - a man made of stone with no face chasing you around. That's scary, isn't it? Finally for now - the credits. The only actor I recognise is Oscar Goldman himself, Richard Anderson, who ended up in a lot of US TV in the 1970s, including Dan Curtis' second Kolchak movie THE NIGHT STRANGLER. Otherwise screenwriter Jerome Bixby was famous for writing IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, the 'It's a Good Life' episodes from TWILIGHT ZONE, and some STAR TREK episodes. Director Edward L Cahn made some amazingly watchable tat, including FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE (another JLP favourite), Alex Gordon's SHE CREATURE & VOODOO WOMAN, and of course IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE.

GA: Well, of course you quite like it, your sense of taste is shattered, a cracked crystal goblet you would as happily drink meths from as Sauvignon Blanc. But then, mine's broken too so obviously I'm in full agreement (so far, I'm only twenty five minutes in).

Still, what's not to like about this "startling narrative" that begins ‘seventy-nine years after the birth of Christ’ and finishes at quarter to Fidel Castro's revolution in Cuba?

It certainly doesn't miss a trick in keeping its viewers on track with Richard Anderson assuring us that the strange body they've found is Very Worrying. After all, it must be 2000 years old and he explains that 'it's been scientifically proven that something that old couldn't support life.' Wise words. It's words like that that make a woman fall in love with a man as his old flame proves, turning up with her new boyfriend and assuring him that her feelings are old news before promptly grabbing Anderson's arm and dripping poisonous insincerity all over his news that he's engaged to Tina Enright, an artist.

And what an artist! She's been chalking-out Mapplethorpe-lite sketches of male torsos, dreaming of a Faceless Man who will Do Precisely What Has Happened Thus Far In The Film. Still, Anderson is not convinced, 'it's an odd coincidence' he insists. Why don't they just run off and get married instead?

Thankfully the voiceover reassures us that Anderson is suspicious and that the rest of the movie will not be a wedding reception in Florida. You know, this is a cunning move on the production's part, the voiceover tells us what the characters are feeling while the actors tell us the plot in painstaking detail. Is this Greek Tragedy?


(Guy returned to the movie, chewing thoughtfully on his digestive biscuit and wondering who would be murdered next)

JLP: More like Roman tragedy, or possibly even 1957 Hollywood tragedy (there was a lot of it about then, you know). The voiceover is quite a peculiar addition, beloved of movies of that period that Made No Sense to try and Bloody Well Make It Make Sense. But if you replay the movie with the mute button on, or ignore the voiceover, it's still pretty obvious what's going on. Perhaps United Artists' main audience was the hard of thinking? Anyway, yes I love the little model of Pompeii that opens this - I wonder if it's stock footage from something else? I also love the little box that gets pushed out of the earth in front of the Cheech Marin lookalike chap who's digging there before we get to see the hand.

Yes - Tina Enright is painting pictures of a bloke all tied up. Richard should either be pleasantly surprised or studiously worried. Instead we discover that it's all the work of the curse of a Roman slave called Quintus Aurelius. I remember many years ago an interview with Jerome Bixby where he said he was acutely embarrassed about that. That's the sort of name a member of the ruling class would have you see - slaves didn't have surnames and were called things like 'Lurcio', 'Acapella' or 'Frank'. But the producers didn't think his original choice of name was Roman enough (who knows? Perhaps he went for the last one) so they forced him to change it. I think it's rather charming that you could write something like this and that's the bit you're embarrassed about.

GA: He's constantly trying to explain how the creature can 'see' too! 'Bats can see without eyes! The blind have a kind of sight that's not like ours... but is a bit... Erm...'

It's a two-thousand year old fossil, man! The science of how it can see where it's going is the least of our questions!

JLP:Well yes - if his nervous system is stone then so are his muscles so how's he bloody well walking around then?

I liked the bit where Richard hit it with the axe and it bounced off, by the way...

GA: Anderson gave it more welly than anything else he’s thus far done in the movie.

JLP: But...wait! Is QA moving again?

GA: Moving? He's on a rampage (at least he was until he mysteriously toppled over in the basement of Tina Enwright's apartment block. No doubt the voice over will tell me why he's done so in a minute).

It works though, for all it's hokey nonsense, the creature shuffling through the black and white streets is as eerie and effective as many a Hollywood monster. It keeps reminding me of CALTIKI, though God knows why as that was a far better movie. Is my silly head so curdled that it all begins to blend? One monster hunting out a blonde in Italy is the same as all the others.

Hmm... They're always blondes aren't they, while all the other women -- the also-rans in the race for the hero's affection -- are brunettes. I always prefer the dark-haired ex-girlfriends rather than the virginal, peroxide screamers. I suppose Enwright's bondage portraits give her a few bonus points, she can't be quite as excruciatingly vanilla as she appears...

JLP: I must confess as I watched old Quintus wandering through the back alleys 'that had once been busy thoroughfares' according to the voiceover I found myself thinking that old Eddie Cahn was actually pretty good at using light and shadow in this, not just in this bit but in some of the interiors as well. There's a lovely scene where Tina goes down some stairs and the shot is entirely black. She's at the bottom and Quintus is framed in a doorway at the top. Lovely.

I agree with you that he's actually quite creepy and like I said earlier the whole faceless thing works in this movie's favour, well before the idea was pinched for a thousand Michael Myers slasher rip offs. Having something with no face chasing you is a Very Scary Thing Indeed.

As for the ladies it did cross my mind as they were introduced that 'she's the blonde bride to be so she'll be the boring one whereas the dark-haired ex is probably a bit of a firecracker'. Who knows? That may be why Richard dumped her so he could get on with 'science'.

Quintus is good at knocking down doors as well, isn't he? Even if they do look a bit, well, crumbly. I'm not too sure about the authentic illustrations in that book, though, the ones of Roman ladies with that brooch drawn onto them in pencil.

GA: One of the first things Mummies are taught is Basic Door Smashing. That and Obsessing Over Women and How to Maintain a Long Distance Relationship.

Cahn does a good job, it's far from being a bad movie, it's got a dodgy script and performances but he keeps it afloat with more style than we have any right to expect. Though yes, the art department (no doubt a bored and lonely old soak called Bernard who only keeps at this to scrape together a few dollars for cheap bourbon) could have done better on the "ancient illustrations".

Ha! Anderson's trying to blind us with his knowledge again: 'Science has conclusively proven you can't kill something that's already dead.' What a fun day in the lab that must have been.

JLP: I thought for a moment there you had written 'obeseing' which has conjured quite a curious image in my head.

GA: I often obese over women, it's like tea-bagging but with more chocolate biscuits.

JLP: This was all filmed at Venice Beach, you know - it's not actually Naples at all, despite the fact we get reminded of that at the end of the film. The mummy motif even extends to Tina being a reincarnation of Quintus' lost love and I half expected him to actually carry her into the waves at the end like Universal's THE MUMMY'S GHOST where Kharis carries an aging and then decomposing Ramsay Ames into the swamp. But instead Tina gets saved while Quintus dissolves. Is it actually explained why salt water is so bad for him? I mean he's not made of iron or anything.

The music's suitably hysterical as well. I think Gerald Fried did quite a lot of these and I get the feeling with this one he's told the string section 'Oh just do this over and over very loudly whenever the monster appears'.

GA: The low shots of Quintus on the beach with the clouds behind him are quite lovely, that unexpected style again...

But no, there's no explaining why he dissolves though the cast assure us that he is because that's cheaper than actually showing it.

As for Gerald Fried, yes, I suspect he was when composing this... Either that or pointing a very large gun at the horn section.

Well, that's that then and, like you I rather enjoyed myself. the ending was a damp squib (they tried to throw some pseudo-science into the mix, building up to a method of killing the Rocky Bugger then decided, to hell with it, life's too short, let's just pretend he's made of Alka Seltzer).

Not a bad film though, thoroughly entertaining and a good mixture of intentional creepiness with unintentional laughs. I'd watch it again, though that means nothing... I'm a Stockholm Syndrome sufferer to bad cinema, it's held me so long I love it like no other.

JLP: I was also left wondering quite how they got his legs to smoke when he was in the water. But yes - it's not a bad little B picture. I've always held a fondness for it since first seeing a still from it in Denis Gifford's Pictorial History of Horror Movies. I finally saw the film many years later on Channel 4, of all places. I think I've seen it three or four times now & I'm sure I'll revisit it again sometime.

GA: It’s all Gifford’s fault, he’s broken us for a lifetime.


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1 comment:

  1. I have no idea how gauche it is to post comments on one's own co-blog, but I have to say I am amazed at the number of loonies on Amazon who seem to think they can get nearly £50 for their second hand copy of this film. A quick check reveals that I bought the very same DVD three years ago from the very same site for the princely sum of £3.56 & while I may say it was worth every penny, if I were to think of selling it on at a profit I might consider making, oh, maybe £1.44 on it? Where do these ludicrous prices come from?