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Hand of Death [John Agar]

Hand of Death (1962) starring John Agar,  Paula Raymond,  Stephen Dunne

Hand of Death is a B-grade monster movie. It deals with a scientist who creates a paralyzing nerve gas. After a lab accident, his touch becomes lethal.

Review

John Agar as the tragic protagonist in Hand of Death
John Agar as the tragic protagonist in Hand of Death

In short, Hand of Death is an interesting, but not remarkable, monster movie. John Agar is Alex Marsh, a researcher, who stumbles upon what he thinks will be a superior nerve gas for the government. After a lab accident with it, he’s physically changed. Any physical contact with his skin is fatal. And, at first, he looks like he’s getting a tan …

He’s not, of course. His limited immunity to the gas is wearing off, and his skin’s darkening at first. His lab assistant, Carlos, dies upon touching his arm. He panics, and sets a fire, destroying the laboratory. The why is a question, since he’s clearly not culpable.

Alex Marsh (John Agar) after his transformation in Hand of Death

He drives to the home of his wheelchair-bound colleague Dr. Ramsey, seeking his help. And the help of his friend Tom Holland (not Spider-Man), who’s clearly in love with Alex’s girlfriend. And after his first treatment, he looks like a walking piece of swollen, burnt charcoal. Despite that description, it’s appropriate.

Murder?

Out of that cab! Which the taxi driver quickly regrets

One thing that I’d like to point out is that this isn’t an example of Jekyll and Hyde. Alex isn’t going around maliciously killing people. Anyone who touches his skin dies. That includes:

  • Carlos – Alex’s lab assistant, and first victim, who simply touches his arm.
  • Service Station Attendant (Joe Besser) – a little bit of comedy relief, who touches Alex and dies.
  • Cab Driver – who pulls the deformed Alex out of his taxi, when getting a look at him in the rear view mirror.

At the conclusion, Alex has driven to Tom’s beach home, in desperation. Unexpectedly, his fiancée Carol Wilson (Paula Raymond) is there. Due to the swelling, he can no longer speak. And Carol, knowing of the deaths, is understandably terrified. And when the police arrive, the expected tragic ending happens.

Cast of characters

  • Alex Marsh (John Agar, Tarantula). The hapless researcher who unintentionally mutates himself and causes multiple deaths. After his mutation, his entire body’s swollen, and he can no longer speak.
  • Carol Wilson (Paula Raymond, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms). Alex’s girlfriend, who officially becomes his fiancee early in the movie. He’s been ignoring her for an extended time, while doing his research. And she’s been spending platonic time dancing and dining with …
  • Tom Holland (Stephen Dunne). Alex’s best friend, who clearly has feelings for Carol. Despite that, he’s doing his best to help cure Alex.
  • Dr. Frederick Ramsey (Roy Gordon). Alex’s colleague. A wheelchair bound individual, who Carol is working for. He’s so shocked by Alex’s transformation that he bolts out of his wheelchair. Sadly, making contact with Alex and dying.
  • Carlos (John A. Alonzo, The Magnificent Seven). Alex’s Lab Assistant, a nice young man who is the first tragic victim.
  • Service Station Attendant (Joe Besser, The Abbott and Costello Show). A minor appearance, as Alex’s second unintentional victim.
  • Davey (Butch Patrick, The Munsters). The stereotypical cute little boy who comes across the monstrous Alex on the beach. And he nearly touches him … until his mother calls for him.

Editorial review of Hand of Death courtesy of Amazon.com

A brilliant doctor develops a serum and after testing it on himself, he is transformed into a scaly beast with superhuman powers and the ability to destroy anything he touches.

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