Slenderman hysteria has spiked in the last week after the ritual style stabbing of a teen-age girl by her friends sparked a deluge of other reports and possible copy-cat crimes. Media analysis of the internet meme is still somewhat dumbfounded, and reports often end with the conclusion that ‘one must embrace the unknown,’ ‘only the shadow knows,’ or the like. Now a 1950’s horror film may hold the key.
The murder in Waukesha, Wisconsin shocked the nation and questioning goes on of Morgan Geyser and Annisa Weier, both 12, as to why they lured their friends in to the woods and stabbed her. They reportedly said they wanted to become “proxies” of the Slenderman by committing a murder.
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The Curse of the Faceless Man (1958) could be viewed as a proposed theory for the origins of the Slenderman legacy. The film stars Richard Anderson as American ‘tissue specialist’ Paul Mallon (for those of you who might only know him as ‘Oscar Goldman’ on the quintessential 70’s Six Million Dollar Man and Woman series, or perhaps Ken Burns re-creators who recognize Major General George Meade from 1993’s Gettysburg, Anderson enjoyed a long and varied acting career and was just coming off a run of appearances including Forbidden Planet (1956), Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957) and earlier in ’58 with Paul Newman in Long, Hot Summer, who while on some sort of extended research trip in Naples, Italy, is called in to help Italian colleague Maria Fiorello (Adele Mara, former singer with Xavier Cugat) and her antiquities museum curator father (Luis Van Rooten, the voice of the king in Disney’s 1950 animated classic Cinderella) investigate the surprising finding of a petrified, white faceless body in the volcanic ruins of Pompeii.
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When it turns out that the body seems to be alive, and capable of killing, the Pompeii excavation’s head archeologist steps in, one Dr. Emmanuel (Felix Locher, original Star Trek’s “The Deadly Years”), who is an expert on ancient languages such as Etruscan, which was found inscribed on a medallion discovered along with the body. He states that an ancient mysterious force dating back to the Egyptians my be at work, while another twist materializes: Mallon’s artist fianceé Tina Enright have been painting evocative images of a faceless man, seemingly bound by leather tendrils of some sort. When it also turns out that Dr. Emmanuel also has the ability to place Tina into a hypnotic trance, it becomes evident that the faceless body found in the ruins is that man, a slave/gladiator named Quintillius Aurelius, and he is looking to get back his lady, re-incarnated as Tina.
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Curse of the Faceless Man could have turned out quite schlocky but actually comes off pretty thoughtful, and has a real sense of melancholy (Writer Jerome Bixby would go on to pen classic original Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror,” along with three others, as well as co-writing the script to Fantastic Voyage, and in tandem with Faceless director Edward H Cahn he also put together the film’s ’58 double-bill over card, It! The Terror From Beyond Space, considered to be one of Dan O’Bannon’s primary inspirations for his script for his 1979 Alien). Director Cahn makes the most of Southern California’s ‘Mediterranean’ landscape with the help of some prime late 50’s vintage Italian cars and a Volkswagen truck, and future Star Trek composer Gerald Fried’s score is a huge asset; but one cannot deny the strangely riveting charisma of the faceless man at the center, who is never truly stopped, not by a volcano, not by thousands of years. It seems he was able to dissolve and reappear in our time, less brutish but with the added sophistication he always sought by marrying into nobility.
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