Curse of the Faceless Man (1958)

Do you like movies where a super helpful narrator tells you exactly what you’re seeing on screen, despite you not actually needing any of his help to understand the ridiculous plot? No? Too bad, because you’re getting it here.

Italy, 2000 years after the destruction of Pompeii by the volcano Mount Vesuvius. A worker digs up a box full of jewels as well as what appears to be the desiccated statue of a man. The worker who transports the body to the nearby museum is murdered on the way, and the museum staff, scientists, and doctors all work to come to the terrible truth that the statue is in fact a living thing, a man who somehow survived in this horrid state due to Egyptian embalming techniques. Why is the stone man, one gladiator Quintillus Aurelius, up and walking around after two millennia? Because the girlfriend of one of the doctors analyzing him happens to be the reincarnation of Quintillus’ forbidden love, the aristocratic daughter of the man who trained him as a gladiator back in Pompeii. Now he wants to take her and walk into the ocean, and he’ll murder anyone that gets in his way.

Yeah, we’re looking at a cheap indie B-movie here from the 1950s. It had a budget of $100k, so no, don’t expect greatness. That said, this movie tries to do something different and actually manages to succeed at rising above pure schlock like Robot Monster, even if the story is crazy. Richard Anderson also doesn’t do well as the lead here, one Dr. Paul Mallon. He flips between emotions at weird times and mostly just seems stiff. When a faceless statue monster does a better job conveying emotion, you’ve got a problem. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ve got Adele Mara as fellow doctor and museum employee Maria Fiorillo. Maria and Paul had a history together, but he moved on, and she forced herself too. Any underlying tension you get between them is coming purely from her.

The nice thing about this movie is when the body of Quintillus begins to move, and people notice but think they’re just not seeing clearly…until he drops an arm or something, and folks get the “Oh shit” look going in full force. Unfortunately, the screams get dubbed in, and it’s obvious that those sounds aren’t coming from any actress who worked on this picture. Also, stone dudes apparently hit like brick shithouses, because Quintillus takes out everybody with one punch. Man, get that guy in the ring, he’d murderize anybody he comes up against.

There are some refreshing things about this film. For once, the men of science are willing to accept a somewhat supernatural explanation, and while they try to explain it, it’s because they believe there is genuine science to support what previous civilizations considered supernatural practice. These guys do not immediately discount anything, and they approach with open minds. It’s nice to see doctors and scientists look at a problem and say “Hey, we should study this” as opposed to “Nah, it’s impossible.” Admittedly, they do accept reincarnation pretty quickly, but I’ve had all sorts of weird events happen when I go to the beach too, so I guess I can’t fault them.

You might think that all of the unusual goings on would force Paul back with Maria, but no, that’s another refreshing plot point; Paul stays in love with his girlfriend, while Maria realizes she has fallen for a colleague at the museum who’s had a thing for her all along. Personally, I think I’d have avoided the reincarnated American artist lady; too much stone baggage coming after her in the middle of the night.

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