Tuesday 28 October 2014

Fiend Without An Identifiable Accent

 "It's as if some mental vampire were at work."

Shot in the UK, doubling for Canada, Fiend Without a Face features some bewildering accents. I don't know. I think I have an annoying ear for them, trying to figure out who's faking, who's from where, who's dubbed by someone else.

In Fiend Without a Face, the local constable in the small Canadian town where the film is set (wherever it is, it's in Manitoba, in CANADA, as signs around the US air force base keep shouting to us) clearly sounded Scottish to my highly critical ear, having trouble with the accent, his mouth twisting to the side because that's how North Americans speak, looking a bit like a skinny Sterling Hayden with a palsy. I found another couple of characters a bit like this, including the town doctor. Some were North American actors, some UK actors, apparently dubbed over.

I'm a bugger for things like this. Because I'm so used to hearing my own Scottish accent mangled time and time again, I'm always on the lookout for someone either getting it right or not making the usual mistakes. Like Scotty in Star Trek; why can't they just get a Scot to play a Scot? Get me pissed enough and I'll speak with an American accent myself. My brain. Not wired right, you know.

Anyway, Fiend Without a Face was a film of legend to me as a kid. I saw a still of it in an ABC of Horror Monsters book a friend had. Every time I went over there, I'd pick up the book and be particularly fascinated by several of the monsters, sticking out like leprous thumbs amongst the other more obvious and bland masks. There was a real sense of revulsion looking at the creature which was essentially a brain and spinal column attacking people, sucking their own brains out and using their form (or "feeding on intellect", as the film rather bloodlessly put it) and that really stayed with me. So when I finally did see the film, of course I felt a tad let down after years of imagining it. But there are still some cracking elements to it, not least the weird scraping sound which heralds the attack of the invisible fiends, and some stop motion to the creatures once they're revealed, which I thought was a bit more ambitious than the fishing wire and bad puppetry of other sci-fi B movies of the era (although the animation quality does drift during the climax). When the brains are shot, black goo pushes forth, which must have been pretty nasty for the time, which appropriately icky sound effects. I still think they're a slightly more imaginative monster design than many others of the same time, even if pretty kooky as well, with their eyes on stalks. The image of the spinal column wrapped around someone's neck made my blood run cold, reminding me of Tom Baker's appearance from a lab with a Dalek mutant wrapped around his own neck - anything that recalls 70s Doctor Who is a winner with me.

Whereas Jon Pertwee had to act with Bubble Wrap, Tom Baker had to deal with green cling film.

In fact, that wasn't the only time Doctor Who recalled Fiend Without a Face. Resurrection of the Daleks had a clearer go at it.

Brainy wee buggers, the Daleks.

Fiend Without a Face is yet another movie where the wonders of the atomic age are shown to have incredible powers over life but only when interfering old British scientists get involved. There is a bit of a feeling of Frankenstein about the creatures and the film, where meddling in new energies unlocks knowledge that gets out of control. And who better to sort that out than the dependable, bland hero, here played by Marshall Thomson, who I found to be a weird cross between Glenn Ford, George Peppard and the kid from Invaders from Mars. Thomson also appeared in It! The Terror from Beyond Space (a film I'm having a bit of difficulty in tracking down in the UK), in a slightly more interesting role as the sole survivor of an expedition to Mars who is under suspicion of killing his shipmates (when it was really Ray "Crash" Corrigan's monstrous It! all along). I think we know which 70s sci-fi horror it partially inspired. But in Fiend, he's kind of bland, with the rest of the cookie cutter characters or varying accents.

But that's not why we watch movies like this. We watch them to see weird brain creatures push themselves along the ground by their prehensile spines to launch at the unsuspecting and suck their goddamn brains out!

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