Friday, 19 May 2017

HAND OF DEATH











d. Gene Nelson (1962)


Dr. Alex Marsh (schlock superstar, John Agar, Shirley Temple's first husband) is one of those madly intense scientists obsessed with making the world a better place by inventing unspeakable things. The main thrust of his work is to combine a hypnotic drug and non-deadly nerve gas, thereby giving the U.S.A a paralyzed and compliant enemy to invade. His reasoning is that it will save the horror and destruction of nuclear war but, as he speaks, his eyes glitter and his mouth grows wet: the idea excites him very much, a lot more than his over-eager fiancee in fact, who plays the coquette with his cheerful best friend in desperate lieu of attention from her permanently working husband to be.  

One late night, an exhausted Marsh clumsily spills some of his experimental solution over his hands, and tears open his lab coat and Hawaiian shirt in pain and horror before falling onto the bed and hallucinating test tubes, beakers and scurrying white mice. When he awakens, he not only has a first class tan, but the merest touch of his hands means instant death, a lesson his Mexican lab assistant learns very quickly. Ever responsible, Marsh douses the corpse and the rest of the lab in white spirit and puts a match to it before driving off to cause chaos downtown.

A film that runs out of steam very quickly and soon descends into jumbled images of a bloke just staggering about, Hand of Death is most notable for Marsh's transformation from handsome(ish) young(ish) scientist to bloated, blackened monster, as mutation turns his head into a lump of swollen coal and his deadly hands into bunches of over-ripe bananas. Interestingly, to disguise the disfiguring condition that has distorted his entire body and robbed him of his speech and sanity, he does the only thing he can under the circumstances: he puts a hat on.  

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