Thursday, 16 February 2017

Curse of the Faceless Man (1958)

An undemanding low budget sci-fi / horror genre film that has just enough tension to keep fans interested.

Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Produced by Robert E. Kent, Edward Small
Written by Jerome Bixby
Music by Gerald Fried
Cinematography: Kenneth Peach
Edited by Grant Whytock
Distributed by United Artists
Running time: 67 minutes


Richard Anderson as Dr. Paul Mallon: a doctor who specializes in tissue culture.

Elaine Edwards as Tina Enright: Paul’s fiancée, who is a painter and the object of the Faceless Man’s attention.

Luis Van Rooten as Dr. Carlo Fiorillo: works at the Museo di Pompeii and who examines the strange body removed from the ruins of Pompeii.

Adele Mara as Maria Fiorillo: Carlo’s daughter, who once had a relationship with Paul. She has finished her training as a doctor and now works with her father in the museum.

Gar Moore as Dr. Enricco Ricci: a rather undeveloped character who has feelings for Maria but the jealousy angle and resentment of Paul didn’t really feature.

Felix Locher as Dr. Emanual: works at the museum and translates the inscriptions contained on a medallion from a box found with the Faceless Man. He tries to convince the others about the truth of the curses and strange forces surrounding the Etruscans and the Faceless Man from Pompeii.

Jan Arvan as Police Inspector Renaldi: Investigates the first murder but unlike Dr. Emanual, believes that a human killer was responsible.

Bob Bryant as Quintillus Aurelius: a Roman slave/gladiator in love with his master’s daughter. Due to their respective stations in life, Quintillus was denied marriage to this daughter of a senator. After Pompeii’s destruction, he had been preserved in a state that was not quite life, nor was it death. He has now risen from the ruins of the past to be reunited with his lost love who he believes is his beloved Tina.

What if you lived in a “future time” where our current notions of time as being a linear progression starting from the past, moving to the present and then proceeding on into the future were replaced by something different?

What if you saw time as being flexible in which the past, present and future all exist simultaneously in an infinite series of combinations and possibilities? If you couldn’t prove this by physically moving to some era in the “past” or by flinging yourself forward into the distant “future,” perhaps a way will eventually be found in which you could peer across into, for instance, a period in the “past.”

Time itself might be seen as being like a giant circular vinyl LP record (for those who can remember!) consisting of grooves grouped into tracks representing different time-periods. The album might be infinite in size and there may even be an infinite number of such albums. The question is; how might one move out of a particular groove, escape from the track it is a part of and cross over into another track?

What if we all had a latent or dormant ability to witness events occurring in the past and that such an ability could be stimulated by micro or Nano bio-technical enhancements, chemical stimulation and intense meditation practices?

What if such procedures could enable you to produce behind your closed eye-lids a kind of small time-lens or bubble through which you could see events in the past unfold before you like in a movie?

Of course, what would unfold before you would be from a random era and would consist only of visual images devoid of the auditory and olfactory elements of life in a given time period and location. Ah, but the colours! Who would’ve thought such colours would’ve been possible at that period of time?

One such time mind-traveller might be witnessing a street scene in which some young men sporting straw boater hats with coloured ribbons around the crown boisterously striding past a couple of young ladies attired in long pastel coloured afternoon dresses. Suddenly, on a rather uneven and rutted road, a metallic mechanical monstrosity shakes and vibrates into view. The cacophonous sounds it makes and the stench that emanates from its exhaust can only be guessed at from the terror-stricken reaction from a nearby horse pulling its load of produce, as well as from the fumes that seem to lash out in all directions from the metal monster’s posterior.

Another time mind-traveller, however, might be witnessing the destruction of the city of Pompeii in 79 A.D. with the eruption of Vesuvius. Just imagine what events our mind-traveller would be witnessing only "79 years after the birth of Christ, (when) the city of Pompeii ceased to exist! Destroyed by a mountain of seething hell known as Vesuvius. (Imagine!) On a quiet August afternoon, almost 2000 years ago, the volcano erupted, the Earth shook, day became night, birds fell dead from the sky, fish died as the oceans boiled, and the people of Pompeii perished under an avalanche of volcanic ash and stone, burned, suffocated, crushed……"

From the above temporal flight of fancy, it is this view of a slice of the past that leads us to the first of the films from the year 1958 that is offered up for your enjoyment and consideration: Curse of the Faceless Man. It is a tale in which past and present seem to merge in a most terrifying way….

Read on for more.....

Spoilers Follow Below…….


First of all, as the film opens, we see title and credits roll over the featureless form of a man lying on a marble slab in a museum: a petrified snapshot in time from the year 79 AD of one who bore witness to the eruption of Vesuvius and its laying waste of city of Pompeii.

“The startling narrative of the faceless man begins on June third of this year when a gold jewel box was discovered by a workman of the expedition unearthing the ancient ruins of Pompeii.”

While a labourer is working at the Pompeii dig, dirt in the trench he is working in suddenly moves and a box then emerges, followed by a hand pushing its way out of the ground…..

“The terrified labourer was the first to bring the news of the white, stone-like hand to the headquarters of the expedition. That same day, a body was taken from the earth, where it had been buried for two thousand years.”

The body has been uncovered and is on its way to the museum. Dr. Paul Mallon, an expert in tissue culture, is greeted by Dr. Carlo Fiorillo who tells Paul of the discovery at the dig of “a body almost 2000 years old.” He then tells Paul that he is “not even sure it is dead.”

As the mysterious featureless body is being transported to the museum, it begins to reach out from its wooden packing crate at the back of a VW truck just behind the unsuspecting driver. 

After Maria, daughter of Dr. Fiorillo, and Dr. Enricco Ricci arrive at the museum, Enricco tells Maria that he would have preferred her father had called in someone other than Paul to assist. Enricco is jealous as Paul and Maria had had a previous relationship. Could this form a sub-plot or a basis for some kind of developing tension?

Dr. Fiorillo informs his daughter, Paul and Enricco about the gold jewel box and its contents that was discovered with the mysterious figure. The bronze medallion contains an inscription in Etruscan and was sent to Dr. Emanuel, a specialist in ancient languages. 

Meanwhile, back in the truck, the featureless figure breaks free of the crate and attacks and kills Tony, the “reliable driver.” 

Later at the scene of the accident. Dr. Fiorillo and Enricco examine the seemingly petrified ancient body while Paul and Maria examine the damaged truck. Paul informs Maria that he is engaged to be married to an artist, Tina Enright. Does Maria still harbour feelings for Paul who appears to have had no trouble moving on?

Dr. Emanuel has managed to translate the inscription on the medallion. He observes that “one man is already dead and there could be more.” The inscription is by Quintillus Aurelius (the featureless body) and is in the form of a warning containing a curse:

The house on the fourth hill of Pompeii shall fall.
Its people shall perish, and whosoever stands
Between me and what is mine shall perish.
I shall visit the curse upon them until eternity…
…. The fires of the earth shall consume them.
I am the son of Etruscan gods.
I will live when the Roman is no more.”

Quintillus Aurelius

The body of Quintillus is brought in and an examination conducted by Paul shows blood (most likely from the truck driver, Tony) on one of the hands. Paul is sceptical about the curse, or that Quintillus killed Tony, or that the body is alive. Maria simply states, “it is the most frightening thing I have ever seen!”

Paul visits his fiancée, Tina Enright at her apartment. Tina has been painting a figure of a “bound man.” The subject of her strange painting was inspired by a dream she had the night before. It was as if she had been “forced to paint it….to bring it to life.” The figure in the painting has his “hands bound as if in slavery.” Not surprisingly, Paul is sceptical and thinks that the matter concerning Tina’s dream and the death of the truck driver is nothing more than a coincidence. Paul is to return to the museum to answer further questions by the police and Tina demands to see the mysterious body.

“Dr. Paul Mallon began to feel a deep concern for his fiance, for he was wondering now if the faceless apparition she had painted was an impossibility.”

At the museum, Police Inspector Renaldi questions Dr. Fiorillo, Maria and Enricco. He informs them that Tony was indeed murdered, but believes that the killer is a “great deal younger than 2000 years.” As far as he is concerned, his job is to go after “motivation’ rather than chase ghosts.

“Dr Fiorillo was puzzled and worried over what was obviously more than just a coincidence. For Tina Enright, the strange dreams persisted, as though the stone-like man lying in the museum had forced her to think of him, having pressed himself so indelibly on her mind, that she had to go to him…so that his portrait might be finished.”

After Paul and Tina arrive at the museum, Tina relates her story to Dr. Fiorillo and the others. She then asks Dr. Fiorillo if she can sketch the body but is refused permission to do so, at least not until Paul completes his examination.

Later on we see a restless Tina at home in bed having nightmares. As if under a spell, she then gets up, dresses and proceeds to the museum. Once at the museum, Tina enters the display room and begins sketching the remains of Quintillus. At first Tina seems to be unaware of the subtle movements of the body on the slab but there is a sense of unease and tension as Quintillus moves almost imperceptibly slowly.

Suddenly Quintillus sits up, leaves the marble slab and begins walking towards Tina. She notices his advancing form and screams, which alerts the guard who is on his rounds. Tina faints just as the guard enters the room. The guard fires his revolver at Quintillus but the bullets have no effect on Quintillus’ impervious outer crust.

Quintillus strikes the guard, knocking him into a display case. He then approaches the broken case and picks up a single brooch which he then pins onto Tina's blouse. Meanwhile, Dr. Fiorillo and his daughter have been awakened by the noise and enter the display room to find the guard lying dead and Tina in “deep shock.”

“Dr. Fiorillo studied the ancient book in his library for hours and finally found what he wanted: a picture of Roman women at the time that the Roman Empire flourished…”

Dr. Fiorillo later peruses a book that contains a picture of a Roman woman wearing a brooch similar to the one Quintillus pinned on Tina’s blouse. Meanwhile, Paul and Maria take Tina home and put her to bed. It is later observed that she appears to be “suspended in a vague twilight between past and present.”

“An ancient brooch, yet the mystery of it had survived the ages to make itself felt again in the presence of Tina Enright. Now perhaps the face of the mystery might be solved.”

Paul and Maria return to the museum and together with Dr. Fiorillo conduct a kind of an experiment. Dr. Fiorillo places the brooch on the floor close to where Quintillus is lying. Suddenly, Quintillus comes to life, gets up off the slab and picks up the brooch. He then advances towards the three observers. Paul tries to wield an axe and strike Quintillus with it but it has no effect on Quintillus’ protective outer casing. Quintillus merely brushes past Paul, breaks through the display room doors and exits the museum. It appears that Quintillus is making his way to Tina's apartment.

“For the first time since the destruction of Pompeii, Quintillus Aurelius was a free man.”

“The dreams in the mind of Tina Enright returned. Baffling dreams that she could not understand. Yet, the dreams were very real, for she could see approach of the man of stone, could feel his terrifying presence as he neared the apartment in which she slept.”
“……the stone man’s strange memory and instinct guided him surely toward Tina Enright.”

Dr. Fiorillo, Maria, and Paul arrive at Tina's apartment and as they remain outside, Quintillus arrives, breaks in and makes his way to where Tina is sleeping. Tina awakens with the sound of the door breaking. She screams and runs in terror when she sees Quintillus. Tina soon finds herself trapped in the basement of the building. Just before Quintillus can grab hold of her, he suddenly collapses to the floor. But why? Tina confesses, “I knew it was coming for me” on account of a dream she had.

The next day sees Dr. Emanuel arriving at the museum armed with a couple of books on alchemy and the black arts of Egypt. He asks Paul to study the two books before he conducts a series of tests on the body of Quintillus who he reminds Paul was found in the Temple of Isis in the “Egyptian section of Pompeii.”

In relation to Quintillus pinning the brooch on Tina, it is explained that it was the “custom of Etruscan civilisation” for a man to pin a brooch on the one he loved; in this case despite a separation of 2000 years!

Dr. Emanuel asks Tina to accompany him to his home to talk, but requests that they stop on the way and visit the Cove of the Blind Fisherman. This will be a kind of test in which Dr Emmanuel will observe Tina’s reaction to the location which was where those fleeing the volcano in 79 A.D. attempted to make their escape.

“Only scholars of ancient history had ever heard of the cove of the blind fisherman. The test which Dr. Emanual was about to conduct would be a conclusive one for Tina Enright.”

“For Quintillus, the cove of the blind fisherman as it had been for the people of old Pompeii, was a reality, not a name long lost in the archives of musty history.”

As Dr Emmanuel and Tina walk to the water's edge, Tina starts to remember events that took place 2000 years previously at this “scene of violent death.” In grief and horror she cries out that she can see, “hundreds of them all trying to escape the volcano….I can almost hear their screams!” Soon after this seeming recovered memory episode they both drive away in Emanuel's car.

Back at the lab, Paul and Dr. Fiorillo discover a chemical (which sounds like “Thalidomide?”) which is derived from ammonia and was used in the mummification process by the Egyptians. They deduce that Quintillus must have been saturated in this chemical and that the heat of the volcanic eruption may have resulted in his life force.

Meanwhile, Dr. Emanuel has employed hypnotic regression on Tina and has recorded her utterances on tape. We hear Tina recounting her past life as Lucilla, the daughter of a Roman Senator. She goes on to state, “I feel that something terrible is going to happen” in reference to the curse placed on her family by the slave Quintillus Aurelius. Quintillus threatened to escape and take Lucilla Helena as his wife. However, Tina (as Lucilla) declares, “How can I return his love? I am an aristocrat and he is a slave!” Lucilla’s house is destroyed with the eruption of the volcano.

Dr. Emanuel shows Paul the photo of a bust of the historical Lucilla and it looks exactly like Tina. Lucilla’s father had trained Quintillus to be a gladiator while the object of Quintillus’ love was the daughter of a Roman aristocrat. And so, we have before us the makings of a “tragic love affair that began 2000 years ago when a slave in bondage had dared to love a girl from the Roman nobility.”

“Doctor Emanual knew that Paul Mallon could never run away from what had happened. The only escape was in death – Tina’s or that of Quintillus….”

Paul informs Dr. Fiorillo that he intends to get Tina out of Italy that night, but Dr. Emanuel believes that Tina can only be free when the curse itself is broken.

When Paul arrives at Tina’s apartment, he finds her gone. The painting of Quintillus now shows a hand holding a knife cutting the bonds of slavery:

“The hand holding the knife could mean but one thing: the release of Quintillus from his bonds of slavery…and the canvas was still wet. The hand and the knife had just been painted, but Paul was too late. Quintillus had already been released from his bonds.”

At the museum in a scene where in this case life seems to mirror art, Tina is seen holding a knife with which she has cut the canvas bonds securing Quintillus. Meanwhile, Enricco in the display room, hears a noise and notices Quintillus advancing towards him. He fires his gun at the approaching figure but it has no effect. As Quintillus gradually strangles the life out of Enricco, Paul arrives on the scene and tries to help Enricco. The more powerful Quintillus throws Paul to the to the floor while Quintillus picks Tina up in his arms and carries her out of the museum.

Dr. Fiorillo and Maria drive up to the museum and notice that the front door is open. They enter to find Paul and Enricco on the floor. Paul is OK but Enricco is taken to the hospital for treatment.

Dr. Fiorillo later proposes that it was radioactivity in the ground that kept Quintillus alive. X-rays showing a human being inside the casing of Quintillus outer covering had apparently given him mobility. Renaldi soon springs into action and orders his police force to scour Naples for Quintillus and Tina.

“For Quintillus and Tina Enright, the terror of that August day in the year 79 A.D. when Vesuvius erupted and destroyed Pompeii, was being relived. For them, this was the day. Pompeii was beginning to die under flaming ash and stone.”

“There was only one escape for Quintillus and the girl he had loved for all eternity: the sea.”
“Vesuvius was reaching its terrible climax of death and destruction, and the strange unreal strength of the stone man drove him on, seeking escape, seeking the water of the cove of the blind fisherman to save his beloved Lucilla Helena.”

In a scene in which Quintillus seems to be acting out an escape from the erupting volcano, he is carrying Tina towards the sea. He is soon spotted and the police are dispatched to the Cove of the Blind Fisherman. When they arrive, there is concern that an attempt to save Tina might result in her accidentally being shot.

As soon as Quintillus lays Tina down on the beach, the police open fire with their guns, but their bullets have no effect on him. Quintillus swats two officers as if they were flies and proceeds to pick Tina up and walk into the surf with her. However, it is soon apparent that the sea water has a corrosive effect in Quintillus much like acid and we witness his body dissolving away into a
powdery substance.

Paul quickly leaps into the surf and rescues Tina. As he carries her up onto the beach, Tina awakens from her trance and wonders why they are all at the beach.

"The strange narrative of Quintillus Aurelius ended here in the quiet waters of the Bay of Naples. The story is finished, and perhaps Quintillus Aurelius has found the true Lucilla Helena where mortal men don't walk and time is eternal." 

The Curse of the Faceless Man finally closes with a shot of the body of Quintillus on the marble slab in the museum.

I hope you enjoyed the film, Curse of the Faceless Man, the first of many sci-fi related films for 1958. Just remember, the next time you have the feeling that you’re being watched, consider who might be watching you and instead of from where they are watching you, you might be more tempted to wonder from when they are watching you……...

Remember, Remember….

Neither contented ignorance of the past,
Nor glib and flippant views of history
Can help us avoid or outlast
Ancient probing hands’ ability
To reach out from depths of antiquity
And slap us out of our recurrent stupidity.

Points of Interest

Curse of the Faceless Man with its somewhat clichéd and predictable plot does tend to repeat many of the elements contained in Universal Studios, The Mummy (1932), so we do feel that we’re on very well-trodden and all too familiar territory. The premise of a man having been saturated with Egyptian embalming chemicals, then sealed in volcanic ash and preserved by the radiation deep within the earth is at least an interesting one.

Shot in only six days, the film was originally released on a double bill with the excellent, It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958), also scripted by science fiction author Jerome Bixby and directed by Edward L. Cahn.

Felix Locher who plays Dr. Emmanuel was the father of actor Jon Hall (Charles Locher) and did not begin acting until he was 76 years old! He also played Dr. Carter Morton in the movie classic, Frankenstein's Daughter (1958).

The "Museo di Napoli" featured as a location in the film was in reality Griffith Observatory. “The Cove of the Blind Fisherman” was actually a stretch of beach in Venice, California.

The annoyingly frequent narration was spoken by the character actor, Morris Ankrum who we are acquainted with from his performances in several sci-fi films featured in this blog.

©Chris Christopoulos 2017

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