Fiend Without a Face (1958) is also without arms, legs or anything that you can see, at least until the scary reveal toward the end of the film. At the US Air Force Base located in Winthrop, Manitoba, Canada, Americans and Canadians have a joint missile defense/radar operation. What they don’t have, at least as the movie begins, is a very friendly relationship. The locals blame the base’s huge noisy radar aircraft for stressing out the cows and spoiling their idyllic little town. When a local farmer dies mysteriously while snooping around the base and studying the flight schedules, concerns escalate to panic and paranoia, and the locals blame nonexistent radioactive fallout from the base’s atomic radar power.
Despite all assurances that this power source is perfectly safe, the pressure is on good guy Major Cummings (Marshall Thompson), who is just as baffled. The next deaths, of a farmer and his wife, add something horrific to the mix: their brains and spines have been yanked out of their bodies. Soon after, a constable (Robert MacKenzie) survives an attack but is reduced to moaning like a lunatic. Clues lead to professor Walgate (Kynaston Reeves), a retired genius who’s pretending to be recuperating from a stroke, but in his secret lab he’s experimenting in thought materialization. With jolts of electrical power he’s been able to achieve telekinesis, which he uses initially just to turn the page of a book or move a smallish item from here to there. However, every electrical boost of his brainpower affects him like mild stroke and it takes weeks to try again. Once he taps into and diverts the base’s atomic power, his power is limitless, but he inadvertently creates an invisible thought being that exists independently of him, thinks and acts for itself, and becomes hungry for human intellect, and these are the unseen things that have been terrorizing Winthrop. “What have I unleashed?” wonders the professor. Well, you freed the psyche, for one thing, which inevitably leads to the downfall of mankind.
Monster reveals are tricky in low-budget movies but in this case when the thought beings, or what the characters call “mental vampires,” finally appear (thanks to gaining enough atomic power) they are delightfully horrible and gory. They’re antennaed brains and spinal columns pushing themselves along like speedy earthworms, using their spinal nerve offshoots as appendages to reach out and drag along. If that image doesn’t make you shudder, they also rear back on their tailbone sections and taking flying leaps toward faces so they can throttle and de-brain their victims.
When shot or struck soundly, the creatures spurt out gooey dark fluid and die, but they multiply with dizzying speed, fall off trees like fruit, grab hammers and tear the planks off windows. There’s an amazing sequence where the professor, Major, some Officers and locals and love interest Barbara (Kim Parker) are barricaded in a house and the army of slimy brainspines manage to break in and nearly overwhelm them. It’s impressive how these brains take on a personality and display…well, brains, as they reason things out, track their victims and prepare to pounce, and the effects are good and disgusting enough to keep up the thrills the whole time they’re on screen. The only solution the group can find to end the mental vampire invasion is to starve them by shutting down the atomic power source, but there’s a glitch and momentary overload which feeds the little monsters to their hearts’ content.
This was filmed in England but makes nice use of Canadian nature footage, with beautiful endless pine forests to run through at night and a lake across which echo the calls for the missing hothead constable who’s also the Major’s romantic rival for Barbara. That romantic subplot is cute and Barbara is your typical Northern girl, one of the gutsiest fighters in Winthrop, ordering one coward to keep it together and help her push a desk against the door. In the end when Barbara and the Major get together, it’s a new day for warm American-Canadian relations.