Friday night at the home drive-in: Fiend Without a Face (1958)

Fiend Without a Face (1958) is a movie that I’ve been aware of for many years. I first saw images from it in a Famous Monsters magazine that I bought in a drug store when I was a kid. I loved that magazine, and would flip through it regularly, looking at all the pictures. Most of them were from films I had never heard of – although there were images of Dracula, Frankenstein and Chewbacca from Star Wars. I recall staring at pictures from movies with titles like Enter The Devil and Night Beast and wishing I could see the films. The poster from Fiend Without a Face, which featured a creepy brain that seemed to float in the air, was one of the many intriguing images.

I practically wore that magazine out in a few short weeks, and I wanted more. Most magazines I knew about were published every month, and I expected, or hoped, that Famous Monsters was no different. I went back to the drug store, but alas, there was no new issue on the rack. I went back several times over the next few months, and even asked the store clerk about it. She told me that the magazine was probably out of print.  I was so disappointed. How could I discover a magazine (one that had been around for years, by the way) just as they published their final issue? In reality, that store clerk was wrong, but I had no way of knowing.

MobStoryFiend Without a Face (1958) is a black and white sci-fi / horror film that is so exactly like the films I used to watch on Not Quite Classic Theatre – with one exception: it’s set in Manitoba, Canada. I remember when I was young, watching movies on TV and wondering if I would ever see a place that I recognized onscreen; a scene shot on the streets of my home town, Winnipeg. We had several TV stations, and they had local news programmes that showed images of our city. So, why not a movie, or a regular TV show of some sort? But alas, I never really saw anything I recognized… Years later, I saw films by the Winnipeg Film Group, and movies like Mob Story (1989), which were made and set in Winnipeg. But FIend Without A Facestill, when watching Fiend Without a Face for the first time, I couldn’t believe my eyes when, in the opening few seconds, a sign appeared on screen that read: “U.S. Air Force Interceptor Command Experimental Station No.6 Winthrop Manitoba Canada.”  If I had seen this movie on Not Quite Classic Theatre when I was young, it would have blown my mind.

The movie was not shot in Manitoba. There’s no town called Winthrop (Win – throp, Win -nipeg – coincidence?), the mountains in the background of some shots certainly don’t belong, and I’ve never heard of a U.S. Air Force base operating on Manitoba soil (although, according to The National Post, “The U.S. Army secretly dumped a carcinogen on unknowing Canadians in Winnipeg” in 1953, so what do I know?). But signs identical to the one pictured above are shown throughout the movie to remind us that it is definitely set in Manitoba. A fictional Manitoba, perhaps. A Manitoba where mad scientists develop technology that unleashes strange invisible creatures upon the unsuspecting citizens. The kind of Manitoba that could only exist in #NotQuiteClassicCinema.

And if you as me, that’s a very good place to be.