One of the most pointless disaster films of the twenty-first century was Pompeii, the 2014 action vehicle for “Game of Thrones” star Kit Harrington. But there’s a better Pompeii movie, and we’re not talking about any of the many interpretations of The Last Days of Pompeii. This week, Cinema Fearité takes a look at the 1958 B-movie Curse of the Faceless Man.
Curse of the Faceless Man is about a team of archeologists that unearths the calcified body of a man while digging at Pompeii. The body is wearing a medallion with Etruscan writing on it, and when the writing is translated, it is determined that the man’s name is Quintillus Aurelius (stuntman Bob Bryant from The Alligator People), and the scripture seems to be a curse which caused the volcanic eruption that destroyed Pompeii. An archeologist named Dr. Carlo Fiorello (Luis Van Rooten from “As the World Turns”) believes that the body may not be dead, but a medical doctor named Dr. Paul Mallon (Richard Anderson from Seconds) scoffs at the idea. Dr. Fiorello’s theory proves sound when people who are left alone with the stone man end up dead. Meanwhile, Paul’s fiancée, an artist named Tina Enright (The Bat’s Elaine Edwards), paints a portrait of Quintillus from a dream that she had, demonstrating that she shares a dangerous psychic connection with the mystical murderous Pompeiian.
Curse of the Faceless Man was directed by the legendary B-moviemaker Edward L. Cahn (The She-Creature, Invisible Invaders, The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake) from a script by the also-legendary screenwriter Jerome Bixby (It! The Terror from Beyond Space, The Lost Missile). It’s basically a retelling of any number of classic mummy stories, but with the Roman city of Pompeii subbing in for Egyptian pyramid tombs and the antagonist mummy swapped for what is essentially a statue-come-to-life. And any of the narrative that is not clear is explained by that staple of low-budget sci-fi/horror, the cost-cutting voiceover narrative (contributed by How to Make a Monster’s Morris Ankrum). Cheap and easy, and not terribly original, but full of fun thrills.
Visually, Curse of the Faceless Man is pretty much a knockoff of Universal’s The Mummy. It was shot by cinematographer Kenneth Peach (who would move on to shoot legendary television sitcoms like “Rhoda” and “Taxi”), who manages to make the stark light of day and the brightly lit interior scenes look spooky and foreboding. Quintillus’ costume suit, which was designed by Charles Gemora (The Naked Jungle, The War of the Worlds), resembles a mummy, and Bob Bryant’s performance as the stone man mimics Boris Karloff’s stiff and shuffling portrayal. Curse of the Faceless Man is not exactly a mummy movie, but it’s not for lack of trying.
The score for Curse of the Faceless Man was composed by Gerald Fried (Killer’s Kiss, I Bury the Living), and it is best described as delightfully over-the-top. It’s full of blaring horns and crashing cymbals during the more dramatic sections, yet it calms down with flute and recorder themes when it’s trying to sound “Pompeiian.” Much of the time, the soundtrack functions as punctuation for the events in the movie, such as when a huge orchestral punch is heard after the stone man attacks a delivery driver and causes his truck to crash. It’s not the type of score that can exist outside of the movie, and at times, it even sounds generic enough to exist in any other movie as well, but the music in Curse of the Faceless Man Is energetic and bombastic enough to be its own fun aspect of the film.
Since Curse of the Faceless Man was initially shown as a double feature with the more superior Cahn/Bixby collaboration It! The Terror From Beyond Space, it has been relegated to being known as “the other movie” on the bill. But there are worse fates for movies; it could have ended up being as forgotten as Pomeii.