Unmasked Part 25 (1989)

NOVEMBER 8, 2019


I remember reading about Unmasked Part 25 (aka Hand Of Death) in Fangoria as a young teen, wanting very much to see it but not being able to find it at any of my video stores. So over the years I kind of forgot about it, until Vinegar Syndrome announced they would be releasing it on Blu-ray for the first time, accompanied by a DVD copy since it never hit that format either (at least not in the US). And it had been so long that I had forgotten everything that Fangoria article (or review?) said that made me want to see it, so it was a nice blend of "I really want to see this movie" and "I have no idea what this movie is" - a pretty rare feat.

Luckily it's not a "go in blind" type so I can tell you what it is: a satirical take on the masked slasher movies of the '80s, in particular Jason Voorhees. Our killer, "Jackson", wears a hockey mask that doesn't really resemble Jason's (it kind of looks like the one on the *poster* for New Beginning though) but it's quite obvious he and he alone is the chief inspiration for the character here. They even set the events of the climax on Friday the 13th to hammer it home, ignoring whatever potential jokes they could get out of taking the piss on Freddy or Leatherface. Anyway, he's a Jason-like guy doing his Jason-like thing, but he's getting bored with it - he feels like he's in a rut and only killing randos because that's what is expected of him. But during his latest murder spree he meets a blind woman named Shelly, and rather than kill her (since she can't see, she's not instantly frightened of him) he strikes up a conversation with her and the two fall in love.

From then on it's kind of like Red Dragon's scenes with Reba McClane, as you're left with the rather uneasy feeling of kind of wanting this guy to find peace at last while also constantly worrying that he's going to kill this innocent woman we've gotten to know as opposed to the all-but anonymous jerks he usually offs. But the key difference is that director Anders Palm and writer Mark Cutforth find the humor in the concept, such as when she asks him to engage in rough sex with her and he's quite prudish about it, or when they go to a costume shop and he gets insulted by the idea of her wearing a mask (liking it to how she'd feel if he was pretending to be blind). Eventually his murderous urges start coming back and he feels compelled to do his thing, but for the most part, it's like a weird rom-com bookended by gory slasher scenes.

And yes, GORY. This was notoriously when the MPAA was at their worst for the slasher movies, leaving the likes of New Blood and Jason Takes Manhattan virtually bloodless, and this one was edited for release as well, but the difference is, the producers/studio didn't lose everything like they did for those F13 flicks, allowing Vinegar Syndrome to restore/release the film completely uncut. It was almost kind of disorienting to see how bloody it got at times, because I'm so used to everything from this era being sanitized, and as a bonus the splatter is actually quite well done for the most part, with lots and lots of prosthetics and blood bags doing their heroic duty as Jackson lays waste to two separate groups, with the occasional isolated murder here and there for good measure.

To be fair, the comedy is a bit dated, but it's important to keep in mind that the whole "meta horror" thing hadn't taken off yet. It's not a "spoof" of the films - there are no sight gags or even direct references to the movies we love (even the name Shelly is probably a coincidence, since it was used for a male character in F13 3 - wouldn't they go with Alice or Ginny?), it's closer to a "What if?" kind of scenario, one that might have worked even better if they straight up licensed the Jason character and used him this way. One thing that didn't quite work is that it takes place in London, with Jackson stalking someone's flat in the opening sequence, as opposed to the woods or an isolated home (he does go to one of those at the end, however - though it's more like "we have a really big yard" as opposed to "no one is around for miles"). So it throws off the "let's imagine Jason is getting tired of doing his thing" when he's completely out of his element - he should be kind of excited about the change of pace!

Basically it's a sillier version of something like Behind the Mask, where your love of slashers - and familiarity with their tropes - plays a big part in how much you're enjoying the film. I mean if you absolutely hate "body count" movies (or worse, never saw one) you'd probably find this unbearable, unlike something like Scary Movie which can appeal to a wider audience - this is as niche as it gets. Even the lo-fi look (it was shot on Super 16, swoon!) and plentiful gore lend it credibility that even some straight slashers (especially modern ones) don't bother to earn, and yet it's all in service of a funny (if slightly worn thin by the end) joke. Vinegar's Blu looks fantastic and comes with a pair of commentaries, one with Palm and the other with Cutforth (both moderated by writers), plus the trailer that kind of misleads what the film is ("it's a movie, within a movie, within a movie!" - huh?) and also spoils the ending for some reason - below is a scene instead so you can get an idea of the humor without having the story spoiled. At any rate, it's a nice package for a film that fans - and the curious - would have been happy to finally have at all. No, it won't be for everyone, but if you're a fellow slasher enthusiast like me you'll certainly appreciate the effort.

What say you?


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