When life is tedious, dull, and all around boring there is a beacon in the midst of these doldrums which shines its light of hope and joy out across the motionless waters. This beacon is The Public Library and the light which emanates from it consists of the many movies one can procure free of charge at that fine establishment. In my particular case, those movies include Fiend Without A Face and the 1973 version of Luther.
Fiend Without A Face takes place up in Manitoba, Canada in and around a U.S. Air Force "Experiment Station". Those wacky American army guys are playing around with atomic power again and they're doing so right next to a crazy scientist who enjoys conducting outlandish telekinesis experiments in his secret laboratory. This of course can only result in one thing...mutants, mayhem, and massacre. And when I say "one thing" I mean "three things". The villain of the picture is, of course, the fiend without a face. He's also the fiend without a head...or a body...or even, for most of the movie, any visible form whatsoever. Face, body, or no, the creature in question is a mental vampire--literally. It chokes its victims and sucks their brains out of their bodies, in most cases leaving their prey without lobes, stems, or even spinal columns but in one instance showing mercy by merely turning a man into a raving lunatic.
The true horror of the monster is revealed only at the end of the movie after it gorges itself on atomic power and is strong enough to make itself visible. What little body it possesses consists of a brain and a spinal column, which, via the magic of stop-motion animation, is able to slide through the underbrush, crawl up walls, and even use its spine to spring itself into the air at its helpless victims. To make matters worse, the little bugger has had the entire movie to propagate (proving that men's brains are beneath the belt even if they don't have a belt or even a stomach, chest, or neck) and has built up a sizable army of brain offspring which proceeds to menace the main characters of the film.
More than anything, I think this movie is a cautionary tale about the dangers of thinking too hard when you're near an atomic power plant....which is actually good advice for the viewer of this film because if you allow your pesky brain to engage in even mild activity you might be bothered by the fact that the hero's solution to the problem of the faceless fiends was to blow up the control station of the nuclear power plant.
I'm still waiting for the mushroom cloud.
Meanwhile, in Reformation Germany, Martin Luther is busy battling spiritual vampires in the form of the villainous Catholic Church. While he doesn't resort to TNT, his solution is as explosive as a nuclear blast and the shockwaves have reverberated down through the centuries. Not too bad for a guy who spends a good portion of the movie having seizure-like fits and complaining about constipation.
On hand to guide us through these world-changing times is our very own 16th Century peasant insurrectionist/historical-lecturer. Yes, you read that right. Apparently, the movie decides to live up to it's docu-drama genre by, every so often, inserting educational commentary by a professor dressed up in period garb. It's kind of weird, and yet, if my college professors had come to class decked out in chain mail and leather jerkins I might have stayed around a little longer than I did.
At any rate, while novel, the weird narrative device can't save Luther from being overly long and somewhat plodding. As a character study, it is highly interesting and provokes a great deal of thought, but as a movie it really suffers from the lack of vampire brains.
Copyright 2005 Jessica Menn