Monday, February 16, 2009
Lost B Classic: "Hand of Death"
Hand of Death, from 1962, not to be confused with John Woo's marital arts movie of the same name, stars genre icon John Agar as a "mad" scientist who messes around with "bad" science and turns into a hideous monster. Everyone he touches turns into a monster too - a dead one. That's pretty much it.
Two things make this hour long time killer notable: it was buried in the vaults at Fox for decades until being unceremoniously dumped onto their late night cable schedule back in 2002. Like many monster kids I grew wondering about this flick after seeing enticing photos of Agar's deformed monster makeup in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Since then it has been ripped off and illegally distributed by enterprising fan boys (I picked up my copy at Wondercon a few years ago.) I am unclear on why it was suppressed for so many years - some legal b.s., over a B movie, no less - and then suddenly exposed with zero fanfare. No official DVD release has been announced as of this date, which means it still retains an element of mystery, adding to its illicit allure. (Fox is clueless about a lot of their product - the Batman TV series is still locked up because while they own rights to the show, Warner Brothers owns DC which owns rights to the character. No problem - I have the entire series bootlegged, I watch them all the time, and neither Fox nor WB are getting a penny!)
The other reason this movie is so great is the atmosphere, a combination of location (Southern California midcentury modern) scenery circa 1962, and the incredible theremin-bongo-saxophone soundtrack, which is, hands down, the most dynamic score for any movie made for under 20 bucks ever! It's even better than the sexy-jazzy score for The Brain That Wouldn't Die. I rank it right up there with Paul Dunlap's moody blues for 1957's I Was A Teenage Werewolf. The music is just plain ginchy, and they blast it constantly throughout the melodramatic proceedings. The pressing of an official soundtrack is even more improbable than an official studio release of the movie itself. Stranger things have happened, though. Look who's President. I'd love to drive around cranking up this score on my car stereo, freaking people out, man!
The melancholy tone of this little epic, and the ultra-nifty monster makeup (which heavily resembles Benn Grimm AKA The Thing - makes you wonder if Stan Lee caught this flick upon initial release), remind me of The Hideous Sun Demon from 1959, another of my favorites. This movie is definitely in a class with the previously mentioned B masterpieces, and deserves a similar fan base.
Don't listen to anyone else: this flick is not only well worth the wait, but also worth seeking out on DVD. Available bootlegged from a variety of back door distributors, including Creepy Classics.
Dig. Or don't. You've been told.