Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Curse of the Faceless Man (1958)

A worker discovers a man turned to stone in the ruins of Pompeii. Unlike most stone people, the man we will later learn once was called Quintillus Aurelius (Bob Bryant), is at least still half alive, and tends to get rather grabby with other people's necks only to fall into deep stone(d) sleep again afterwards, which is just the kind of behaviour that makes a murder look like a car accident to the police in this particular movie.

Though he really can't prove anything untoward about the stone man, the director of Naples' Pompeii museum, Dr. Carlo Fiorello (Luis Van Rooten), is discomfited enough by the whole affair to call in the former fiancée of his daughter - also a doctor, and that in a 50s film! - Maria (Adele Mara), snarly-voiced American Dr. Paul Mallon (Richard Anderson). Mallon doesn't believe in walking stone men, but he'll perhaps change his tune in the future, for his new fiancée, the artist Tina Enright (Elaine Edwards), has a peculiar connection to the stone man. Before she even knew he existed, Tina had a dream about, and painted a picture of, Quintillus. Once she has learned he does exist, she feels strangely compelled towards the stone man, and it is pretty clear that he feels drawn towards her as well. Why, one could think Tina is the reincarnated love of his life!

For the lesser movie in a two-fer feature together with It! The Terror Beyond Space, which was of course also shot by Curse's director Edward L. Cahn, who made more films between 1955 and 1959 alone than many directors do in their whole careers, this isn't half bad. At the very least, Jerome Bixby's script's attempt to transplant elements of The Mummy into modern Naples and the site of the former Pompeii (both of course played by the usual places in California) is rather interesting and at times unexpected.

50s monster movies usually don't show quite as much interest for the backstory of their monsters as Curse does. The film's emphasis on its monster as a nearly tragic figure repeating the tragedy that cost him his life two millennia ago is also rather uncommon for its time. Sure, there's the Creature from the Black Lagoon, but otherwise, 50s movie monsters seldom got a foot in the door beyond being monstrous, something that always seemed like a bit of a shame to me.

In its actual execution, Curse isn't all that different from your run of the mill monster movie, though, for while Cahn did hit on a good film or two between the disinterested crap he often did, he really wasn't the man to delve deep into the possibilities the script offers, or really, to delve even very shallowly. What we get from him is a pacy, straightforward film that looks and feels alright, which probably is the best we can hope for under the circumstances of the production.

The film's biggest weak points are the usual ones: heroine Elaine Edwards couldn't act her way out of a paper bag (which is particularly problematic since it's her job to sell us on the reincarnation biz), "hero" Richard Anderson is bland when he isn't rude, while all the much more interesting and much better acted minor characters (like Felix Locher's rather wonderful Dr. Emanuel) never get the moment in the spotlight they deserve. The film is further weakened by a particularly egregious piece of off-screen narration (perhaps done by Morris Ankrum, perhaps not) that won't ever stop telling us the things we are able to see just fine without its help, as if someone involved in the production had problems understanding the difference between a movie and a radio play.

Still, I'll take a competently done 50s horror movie with a handful of underdeveloped good ideas and some rather painful flaws over a boring one any day, so while Curse of the Faceless Man isn't a film I'd recommend whole-heartedly, it is a film with a certain amount of interest.

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