[31 Days Of Horror ’20] Mini Reviews: The Corpse Vanishes (1942) and Fiend Without A Face (1958)

Mini Review Day 03: The Corpse Vanishes (1942)

The 1940’s provided some excellent horror films with the likes of The Wolf Man (1941), Cat People (1942) and The Picture Of Dorian Gray (1945), on the other side of that were many films made for less. One of those films is The Corpse Vanishes (1942), a lower budget b-grade film, that marked another turn for Bela Lugosi as a villain. This film is quite an interesting one, its plot is very out there for the early 40s and it doesn’t hide that, it embraces that aspect.

The Corpse Vanishes sees mad scientist Dr. George Lorenz (Bela Lugosi) plot to murder brides on their wedding day and steal the corpses, he needs fluid from their glands to help his ailing wife Countess Lorenz (Elizabeth Russell) who he wants to keep young and alive. His plot does not go unnoticed, his crimes cover the newspapers and reporter Patricia Hunter (Luana Walters) is on the case after finding an unusual clue. She soon gets pointed into the direction of Dr. Lorenz, and along with one of his colleagues Dr. Foster (Tristram Coffin) start to investigate what is actually going on.

There are some truly memorable moments in this film, as once again Bela Lugosi gives a great performance as a mad scientist, his scenes have a sense of unease and dread. Luana Walters is great as Patricia the bubbly reporter, she brings a lot of enthusiasm to the performance and her charisma shines through. The film moves at a brisk pace, the direction from Wallace Cox works for the type of film it is, and there are some great shots to be found. The Corpse Vanishes does have some faults, it’s portrayal of disabled people is cruel and and very disheartening, even if it does form part of the moving plot. There are some uneven moments, and scenes that don’t entirely work.

This film is quite different from the other horror films of the 40’s, the main plot of murdering brides on their wedding day to steal the corpse isn’t something you’ll come across often and the horror that The Corpse Vanishes presents here is quite disturbing. It’s an interesting film to watch, and to see how much the trope of mad scientist has changed, but has also stayed the same in some ways. Bela Lugosi is always a treat to watch, whether the film is one he’s known for or the lesser ones he made in his career.


Mini Review Day 04: Fiend Without A Face (1958)

The sci-fi/horror craze of the 50’s produced some wonderful and memorable films including Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956), The Thing From Another World (1951), The Blob (1958) and The Fly (1958) with Fiend Without A Face (1958) among them. This sci-fi/horror venture is very different, containing some great moments of terror mixed with the very real nuclear threats from the time.

This independent British film takes place in a small town next to a U.S. Armed Forced base that happens to have a nuclear power plant, are developing a missile control system and as they conduct their experiments death seems to strike those living in the small town by something they can’t see. The strange deaths are investigated by Commander Major Jeff Cummings (Marshall Thompson) as the town start to turn on those at the base, which leads him to scientist Professor Walgate (Kynaston Reeves) and his colleague Barbara Griselle (Kim Parker). It seems the Professor has been conducting experiments with telekinesis and it all ties into the power being used at the base. Can they stop whatever force has been unleashed before the entire town winds up dead?

The premise is not complex and it unravels much like a mystery with Jeff Cummings acting as investigator, not much is given away as to what is going on, leading the audience in suspense as to what is happening. The third act of the film is excellent, filled with tension and some great practical effects that are impressive for the late 50’s and from an independent film. Fiend Without A Face certainly inspired many films especially with that third act and it contains tropes that are almost stereotypical now, but not so at the time. Marshall Thompson carries the film well, he’s delightful as Jeff, and his chemistry with Kim Parker really lights up the screen when they share scenes.

While the film gets off to a bit of a rocky start, it finds its footing fairly quickly though and it becomes quite immersive and intense. Director Arthur Crabtree apparently felt that this genre was beneath him and Marshall Thompson claims he basically directed a big bulk of the film himself because Crabtree stop showing up. Despite these issues, the film doesn’t suffer from them at all, the story is strong and the cast certainly pulled together. The story was based upon Amelia Reynolds Long’s short story The Thought Monster, the ideas presented here are still interesting and the story doesn’t really feel out of place even today. Fiend Without A Face is a fun ride of a film, providing something a little different and it stands out from the usual sci-fi/horror that engulfed the era.


Reviews written by Marcella Papandrea


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