MGM // 1958 // 66 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // July 8th, 2011
Entombed for eons -- turned to stone -- seeking women, women, women!
To imagine Pompeii is to imagine a different world, one in which a single natural disaster could so completely surprise a society that they are preserved under a cloud of ash going about their daily routines. The rediscovery of the lost city has made it a touchstone in history and popular culture, telling us much about how the Romans lived at the height of their empire. Of course for every fact we uncover from the ruin of Pompeii there are a dozen facts we'll never know, leaving the door open for speculation and storytelling as Pompeii lives on in the popular imagination. One such (rather silly) attempt is the 1958 creature-feature The Curse of the Faceless Man, which imagines what it would be like for an ancient gladiator to be dosed with radiation and uncovered in the modern world. The results are hokey, but likely to appeal to fans of Fifties radiation flicks.
A worker uncovers a body in the ruins of Pompeii and it ends up in a museum. One prominent archeologist (Adele Mara) thinks the body still alive, while another thinks that's nonsense (Richard Anderson, The Six Million Dollar Man). Despite their argument, people left alone with the body have a nasty habit of dying in a similar manner.
The Curse of the Faceless Man is a B-movie in the truest sense of the word. Made on the cheap to screen with another feature (supposedly It! The Terror From Beyond Space), Curse is a 66-minute blast of so-so effects, random stock footage, bizarre voice-over, and sketchy acting. This is the kind of film that appeared in a few drive-in theaters, amused necking teens, and was banished to the realms of Saturday afternoon television.
Those willing to look beyond the film's obvious faults -- the less-than-stellar plot, acting, and effects -- will find a document of another era, a scant thirteen years after we dropped the bomb, a culture still trying to understand its relationship to history now that we possessed the power to eradicate history. It's probably a bit much to lay all that on a film like Curse, but the film is undeniably a product of its time. In the same way that it deals with issues (like history) that are very serious, the film can't help but be a part of cinematic history at the time, when these B-movies were needed to fill out double and triple bills. It's easy to see how fans could get nostalgic about an era that seems so much simpler. Even the film's faults seem more charming (or perhaps laughable) today than our own box office flops (if only because Curse only wastes 66 minutes of the viewer's time instead of 100). Although no one was convinced they were making Shakespeare, everyone involved is committed to the film, and given the constraints of time and budget, the film displays strong technical competence.
Despite the film's history, it's easy to get caught up in the flaws as well. Those looking for anything like today's level of polish and professionalism from The Curse of the Faceless Man will be disappointed. It's a curio from an almost-forgotten era of moviemaking, something to be put on for a kick of nostalgia.
Despite its relative obscurity, The Curse of the Faceless Man has had a decent life on home video. It received a VHS release, and later a DVD before this one. Now the film is available from MGM Manufactured On Demand (MOD) service. That means we get a barebones disc with an unremastered transfer and minimal audio enhancements. The film's crisp black and white photography is surprisingly strong here. Contrast is pretty good, and black levels are fairly consistent. Print damage is occasional, and grain is a bit heavy at times. The monoaural soundtrack sounds a bit thin, but dialogue is mixed well, with less hiss and distortion than I expected.
I've run out of things to say about The Curse of the Faceless Man. The title and production year alone should give you a pretty good idea if it's a film for you or not. Curse is not a lost drive-in gem, but it's hardly the worst of the bunch, either.
I'm not sure it was meant to be good, so it's not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 66 Minutes
Release Year: 1958
MPAA Rating: Not Rated