I’m always talking about the fifties as the decade of the cheesy monster movie, but we got a few in the early sixties as well. This one stars John Agar as Alex, a scientist working on nerve gas to prevent a nuclear war. Yeah, I get it, but it was a different time, and this is a goofy creature feature so just go with it. Things kick off with the mailman showing up in a sweet little Model “A” Ford and immediately collapses in the front yard of a farmhouse. Some hazmat suit wearing figures come out and carry him into the lab. The poor guy had the misfortune of walking into one of Alex’s experiments, but no harm is done as they revive him.
Excited at the success Alex returns home to speak with his mentor, Dr. Ramsey, and his lady Carol. He thinks he can finish his formula in a month and returns to his lab in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, things aren’t quite going well and, in his rush to make the deadline he gets careless. So much so that he is exposed to the nerve gas, but it doesn’t kill him. It absorbs into his body so that anyone he touches dies. The poison in his system is also slowly killing and mutating him as well. Much mayhem occurs until as all proper monster movies should it ends with a sad walk away from the dead creature.
Hand of Death is a very simple and familiar creature feature. Well-meaning scientist has an accident and turns into monster. He has a love interest who he puts in danger. The police/army roll in to save the day. We are all a little bit sad at his fate but also understand you shouldn’t play God. This formula was used again and again and to some extent is still used today. I’m okay with the movie not breaking any new ground as long as it is executed well. Clocking with a runtime that is barely over an hour Hand of Death is a fast paced and fun watch. John Agar was very good in these sorts of flicks and it is no different here. We also get to see a very young Butch Patrick, Eddie from The Munsters, as a kid who has a close call with the monster.
did do a double take when Joe Besser from the Three Stooges shows up as a
service station attendant. This leads me to one observation and that is the odd
attempts at humor. In between the horrible deaths we get some comedic bits
including the brief scene with Besser. That seemed odd, but it doesn’t slow
things down or ruin the monster, so I guess that it isn’t a big deal. Still
Its clobbering time!
The creature is a very basic design, but it works well. The makeup looks very much like The Thing from the Fantastic Four comic, which was created a few years after this. Could there be some inspiration there? Who knows, but it is fun to speculate. The deaths are all brought to screen with the victims covered in the same deformities as Alex, though they aren’t resistant to the poison, which is why it kills them right away.
If you are looking for a way to turn your brain off and kill an hour there are a heck of a lot worse ways to do this than Hand of Death. While not the best example this is a perfectly serviceable monster movie that will scratch that itch if you feel the need. I recommend it.
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