Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Terrifying Tuesdays: Curse of the Faceless Man (1958)

Last week our frightening flick took us south of the border.  This week we travel across the Atlantic to the sunny shores of Italy -- more precisely, to Pompeii!  "The Curse of the Faceless Man" (1958) is another B-movie from the 1950s that I somehow managed to miss seeing until now, and once again it is not great but still worth watching, if only to see a very young Richard Anderson, pre-"Six Million Dollar Man" days.  The story line is quite similar to that of classic mummy movies -- formerly human undead monster longing for his lost love -- but the setting and the presentation of the tale are unique.  We are treated to a very serious narrator who relates the story as if this were a documentary rather than a mere work of fiction.

A worker at an archeological site in Pompeii uncovers an ancient gold jewelry casket filled with trinkets, including a strange medallion.  Unbeknownst to the worker (but quite clearly to the audience), the box was deliberately shoved out of the ground by a terrifying stone hand!  Later the faceless stone-encrusted body of a man buried for 2,000 years is unearthed.  Of course the archeologists are excited by this unusual discovery, and the lead scientist, Dr. Carlo Fiorillo (Luis van Rooten), calls in an American medical researcher, Dr. Paul Mallon (Anderson), to help with the examination of the body.  The two men, plus assistant Dr. Enrico Ricci (Gar Moore) and Dr. Fiorillo's daughter Maria (Adele Mara), another medical doctor, gather at Fiorillo's lab in the Pompeii Museum to await the arrival of the stone man, only to learn that the truck transporting the find has crashed and the driver is dead under suspicious circumstances.

The doctors rush to the scene.  There they meet up with another archeologist, Dr. Emanuel (Felix Locher), who has been studying the jewelry box and its contents.  He has translated some writing that was on the medallion, and reveals a very odd message indeed, to the effect that a man named Quintullus Aurelius has cursed a wealthy Pompeii family to a fiery death, while he himself will live on.  Of course the obvious conclusion is that the stone-covered man and Quintullus Aurelius are one and the same.  The two archeologists take the declaration on the medallion very seriously, entertaining the possibility that Quintullus may have been the cause of the Mt. Vesuvius eruption which destroyed Pompeii, and may indeed still be alive.  The two medical doctors, Paul and Maria, scoff at this, and an examination of the body's exterior by Paul Mallon finds nothing out of the ordinary, except for some blood on one of the stone man's hands which Paul explains away as having gotten there from the truck driver's injuries caused by the accident.

Paul then pays a visit to his fiancée, Tina Enright (Elaine Edwards), an American artist living nearby.  When he enters her apartment, he sees her latest painting, a rather frightening portrayal of a bound man.  He asks her about it, and Tina tells him that she had a disturbing dream the night before concerning the subject in the painting, and felt compelled to paint him.  She then relates to Paul all of the incidents surrounding the finding of the faceless stone man now at the museum, including the death of the truck driver, and claims that in her dream the creature was after her.  Paul is baffled, as there is no way Tina could have known the details of the archeological discovery.

When Paul mentions the finding of Quintullus to Tina and the coincidence of her dream's events paralleling real occurrences, Tina is horrified, but also curious as to the location of the body.  She insists she must see the stone man, and convinces Paul to bring her along that night when he returns to the museum, where he is to meet with the local police inspector to discuss the suspicious death of the truck driver.  After the inspector leaves, the other scientists learn about Tina's dream.  Tina is anxious to make sketches of Quintullus, but Dr. Fiorillo decides this is not a good idea.

Later that night, Tina feels the need to return to the museum.  She sneaks in to sketch her subject, only to see the statue-like body come to life. A night watchman hears her scream and attempts to shoot the thing, only to be killed for his efforts.  From here on the movie focuses on Quintullus' attempts to reach Tina, while the scientists work to discover the secret of the stone man and the police try to track down the killer before he can strike again.  As is typical in these sorts of movies, the creature does eventually get the girl, only to lose her again, this time forever.  The explanation of his obsession with Tina is an interesting story, and the theory about the creation of the stone man, while wildly improbable, is quite creative.  The destruction of Quintullus is so neat and surprisingly simple that it is almost a letdown.  However, like all classic 1950s movies of this genre, good defeats evil and the boy gets the girl (there is even a bonus romance!), so all is well, and the story ends satisfactorily.  I give this movie a Gore Guide rating of "1" only because of an unnecessarily graphic scene when a police officer is struck down by the stone man -- otherwise this is not an especially violent movie.

Interesting Fact: Richard Anderson is probably best known for his role as Oscar Goldman on the hit 1970s TV series "The Six Million Dollar Man".  He is also the voice of the familiar and often-copied line in the series introduction, "Gentlemen, we can rebuild him.... we have the technology... better than he was before -- better, stronger, faster... "  Oh, I remember it well from my childhood television viewing days!

Gore Guide (0=none to 5=extreme): 1

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