In modern day Pompeii a worker uncovers an ancient jewel box and a body coated in calcified layers of volcanic ash. Dr Carlo Fiorello (Luis Van Rooten), the director of the Napoli Museum, calls in Dr Paul Mallon to help him study the body of this Faceless Man, and it is discovered that there is still a flesh and blood human corpse preserved beneath the outer calcified layer. (The famous Pompeii ‘stone bodies’ are actually plaster casts made by pouring plaster into cavities left by decomposing victims of the catastrophe that happened in 79 A.D.)
Fiorillo says that he isn’t certain that the Faceless Man is truly dead, but Mallon rejects this suggestion: he’s sure there must be another explanation for the murders that start happening in the vicinity of the crust-coated corpse.
Further research reveals that, back in Roman times, the Faceless Man was a gladiator called Quintillus, who was in love with the daughter of a Roman senator.
The Faceless Man, who intermittently comes back to life, kills off several people and takes a liking to Mallon’s artist fiancée Tina (Elaine Edwards)… who turns out to be the reincarnation of the Roman senator’s daughter. Who’d have guessed that?!
CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN is most effective when it shows the calcified living corpse in action, killing victims when there are not many other people around.
(After murdering folks, the Faceless Man always falls to the floor and resumes its inanimate state, which kind of reminded me of the way the ‘living’ toys in TOY STORY always fall down and act ‘dead’ whenever people enter the room!)
The Faceless Man costume (created by Charles Gemora) is simple but effective, with the ‘facelessness’ of the bumpy head imbuing the creation with an extra creepiness. The creature is basically a novel variation on the mummy – and the plot does eventually link Ancient Egyptian practices with the Faceless Man, when the protagonists hypothesise that Quintillus was probably in an Egyptian temple within Pompeii when Vesuvius erupted, and he got splashed in embalming fluids before he was covered in ash.
The Faceless Man’s origin is rather too convoluted, as we are informed that not only was Quintillus accidentally doused in sacred Egyptian chemicals, the intense heat of the volcanic eruption also had some extra special effect on these chemicals and there was radioactivity in the ash that helped preserve him! The Faceless Man’s backstory is made more complex with the inclusion of an Etruscan curse and the aforementioned reincarnation plot line!
CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN was directed by Edward L. Cahn, written by Jerome Bixby, produced by Robert E. Kent, had a seven-day shooting schedule and was made on a low budget. Many of my favourite 50s B movies are cheapies, though, so the lack of budget doesn’t overly bother me, but it is disappointing that Richard Anderson, later to find fame as Oscar Goldman in THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, is really rather dull & wooden as the overly skeptical lead character Paul Mallon. The needless voice-over could also have been removed to make this a better movie.
Putting those gripes aside, the fact is I watched this horror picture mainly to see the Faceless Man, and I have to say that I was quite impressed with this crusty creature. It even has a rather interesting demise, when it strides into the sea at the Cove of the Blind Fisherman and simply begins to dissolve in the seawater.
The film is cheap, enjoyable and boasts a relatively unique monster. So, yes, I liked it!
Here are some posters for the film…
Some lobby cards…
Finally, a DVD cover…