Friday, June 17, 2022

Hand of Death

Hand of Death
Gene Nelson

Hand of Death was most notable as being considered a piece of lost media while it existed in legal limbo from the 1970s-2000s. Eventually it began to appear on AMC and other cable film stations, and we learned the difficult lesson that just because a film is difficult to find doesn’t mean it’s any good.

Dr. Alex Marsh (John Agar) is a scientist who is working with the government to develop a nerve toxin that stuns its victims rather than killing them. Carol Wilson (Paula Raymond) is Alex’s girlfriend and she has serious reservations about Alex working on such a project. Her fear turns out to be founded when Alex gets a dose of his own poison and becomes lethal to the touch. To make things worse his whole body is changing into something bloated and cracked. Alex races to find a cure while the authorities close in on him.

Ultimately Hand of Death follows the path of dozens and dozens of films prior in which a scientist is bodily subject to the monstrous results of their research.  They wander around looking for a cure and killing people accidentally or purposefully. This was the roadmap laid out by Jekyll and Hyde, and Hand of Death follows it unerringly. This is its biggest failing; Hand of Death just doesn’t have much new to offer a viewer. Most viewers will know exactly where this story is going from its opening moments and this predictability saps the movie of much of its energy.

"Last water cool talk turned into a brawl."


Hand of Death stars John Agar, who always manages to be serviceable in roles like this. His character of Dr. Marsh is incredibly underdeveloped, there is no indication that he would be so reckless as to work on nerve gas without any safety equipment, but that is exactly the silly development in which the plot hinges on. I don’t understand this choice, it makes Marsh look like a fool. 

The 62-minute running time still feels too long, the story and characters are just too paper thin. Hand of Death could have been a thirty-minute short film and even then, I feel like it would be just as slow and derivative, but at least you’d get to leave earlier and go do some laundry. 


The most notable (or notorious) element of Hand of the Death is in its presentation of Dr. Marsh’s condition. Marsh’s nerve gas accident poisons his skin, first turning him dark complected and then bloating his body and face into a distorted black mass. It’s surprisingly weird creation, but it also resembles a grotesque caricature of POC. This sort of thing might have slid by without much comment in the 1960s but in the 21st century, it’s impossible to escape.

Hand of Death is nothing you haven’t seen before. If you can look past some serious flaws it works fine as a curiosity, but as an interesting film on its own, it crumbles under a slow pace, predictable story, and ill-chosen monster.

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