Curse of the Faceless Man directed by Edward L. Cahn
Curse of the Faceless Man was hardly the first film to deal with the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79 and the subsequent destruction of the city of Pompeii. Indeed, following English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton‘s 1834 novel The Last Days of Pompeii (itself based on a painting by Russian artist Karl Briullov entitled “The Last Day of Pompeii”), no fewer than six versions of the book appeared on film (in 1900, 1908, 1913, 1926, 1935 and 1950) prior to the Faceless Man‘s release in August 1958. But unlike those earlier pictures, this one was set in modern-day Pompeii, and dealt with a centuries-old survivor of that ancient cataclysm. The film initially appeared as part of a double feature, paired with the sci-fi cult favorite It! The Terror From Beyond Space, and although its status and renown are hardly in the same league as its co-billed item, it yet has much to offer to the viewer of today. And thanks to the fine folks at Cheezy Flicks, a nice-looking DVD of the movie just might find the Faceless Man a new legion of admirers.
In the film, the petrified, stone-encrusted body of a victim of the Pompeii disaster is excavated in the Egyptian section of the ruined city. The head of the Naples Museum, Dr. Fiorillo (Luis Van Rooten), calls in American doctor Paul Mallon (Richard Anderson) to examine the body, and for good reason: The truck driver who had been transporting the body had been mysteriously murdered, and his blood is soon discovered to be on the stone man’s hands! Even more strange is the fact that Mallon’s artist girlfriend, Tina Enright (Elaine Edwards), has been having dreams about the so-called Faceless Man (the disinterred body in truth looks very much like a stone mummy), and is being compelled by some agency to paint his portrait. Before long, it is revealed that the Faceless Man is nothing less than a 2,000-year-old Etruscan slave named Quintillus Aurelius, brought back to life by dint of ground radiation, Egyptian preservation methods and volcanic heat (!), who believes Tina to be the reincarnation of his Roman beloved, Lusilla Helena! And he will do just about anything to get his stony mitts on her…
Curse of the Faceless Man, though preposterous sounding in synopsis, is actually a well-put-together little film (and I do mean “little;” the entire affair clocks in at a brief 66 minutes) that manages to maintain its dignity as well as a serious tone. Though the film features a cast of relative unknowns, it is surprisingly well acted by one and all. The picture is a bit on the talky side but is never dull, and the Faceless Man himself is a very pleasing creation; again, like the Mummy, but with a rocklike crust. He is at once both sinister and mysterious, and more than capable of engendering chills.
DOP Kenneth Peach has done a marvelous job of shooting this B&W affair; the scenes captured by the ocean (the so-called Cove of the Blind Fisherman) look especially fine, and his use of extreme close-ups is inspired. And director Edward L. Cahn does a terrific job at keeping the mood both eerie and tense, which should really surprise no one; Cahn, in the period 1955 – ’59, helmed a remarkable number of these “psychotronic”-type films, including Creature With the Atom Brain, The She-Creature, Zombies of Mora Tau, Voodoo Woman, Invasion of the Saucer Men, It! The Terror… AND Invisible Invaders! His film here provides the viewer with any number of chilling moments. In one, the Faceless Man slowly, creepily comes to life as Tina draws it in her sketchbook. In another, arms stiffly held out, the Faceless Man crashes into Tina’s apartment while she sleeps. And in still another, Tina flashes back to her previous life while gazing out at the sea. And then there is that wonderful line of Dr. Fiorillo’s: “It is not dead… not as we know death…”
Good as it is, Curse of the Faceless Man is hardly a perfect film, dependent as it is on not just coincidence, but on double coincidence. I mean, it’s almost too much to believe that American artist Tina should be visiting Naples just at the moment when Quintillus is dug up; the odds of her being there would seem to be incalculable. But then add in the fact that a good part of the film’s action transpires on August 24th, the anniversary of the Vesuvius eruption, and you’ve got a double coincidence of truly mind-boggling proportions. Somehow, though, these two highly unlikely juxtapositions of time and place don’t seem to make a difference, and the film remains a modestly entertaining, moody, and professionally made little picture that just might surprise those expecting a campy shlock fest. Despite the name of the outfit putting out the DVD, this is hardly a “cheezy” affair. Like the titular character himself, Curse of the Faceless Man would seem ripe and ready for a modern-day excavation…
There’s a short story in China Mieville’s latest collection about an archaeological dig — I wondered if he was inspired by this classic!
(Yes, I am joking. But what if he were?)