Color, 1989, 88 mins. 30 secs.
Directed by Anders Palm
Starring Gregory Cox, Fiona Evans, Edward Brayshaw
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

Creating Unmasked Part 25a successful slasher Unmasked Part 25parody is no easy task, as the makers of films like Student Bodies, Pandemonium, Wacko, and the Scary Movies series found out. All of those films have their moments, to be sure, but turning the body count film into a full-on comedy proves tricky when you’re talking about a formula that’s already operating on a heightened level of reality and usually seems to be aware of its own absurdity. Taking a somewhat different approach is the British horror comedy Unmasked Part 25 (originally shot as Hand of Death), which came along late in the game in 1989 after the initial slasher boom had already petered out.

This time it also very clearly takes a page from The Toxic Avenger by giving its central monster an exaggerated love story with a blind girl, as well as delivering buckets of gore to keep the horror fans happy. Wearing his trademark hockey mask, disfigured serial killer Jackson (Cox) has racked up a substantial kill count over the years since his early stint at a summer camp. However, the poetry-loving psychopath is also lonely deep down inside even after wiping out some horny young folks at a party, and he finds a possible solution for his loneliness with the blind Shelley (Evans). Oblivious to the fact that she’s now dating a guy who killed her friends, she tries to help him find a new path in life even as a popular slasher series called Hand of Unmasked Part 25Death keeps sequelizing itself around him.

Unmasked Part 25Though it definitely ribs the slasher movement with a number of amusing what-if scenarios about its isolated main character, Unmasked Part 25 is also fully aware that it has to work as a horror film and a character study (including some room for Edward Brayshaw as Jackson’s abusive, boozing dad). The very British setting is a little disorienting at first given how closely the ‘80s slasher is tied to American suburbs and summer camps (even in other, more camouflaged British entries like Slaughter High), but the shift ultimately becomes intriguing as it helps differentiate this from the straggler horror films still stumbling out around the end of the decade. Ironically, it was that same year that Paramount was about to throw in the towel on this film’s clear inspiration, Jason Voorhees, with Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, whose halfhearted attempt to bring Jason on a cruise ship and then the mean streets of faux New York City would be his last traditional stalk-and-slash outing for many years.

Barely shown theatrically in the U.K., this film went straight to VHS in the U.S. via Academy Entertainment (complete with striking but misleading artwork aping the look of Darkman) in an unrated version as well as a far scarcer R-rated variant that toned down some of the gore and omitted some frontal male nudity during the first kill scene. After that it Unmasked Part 25became impossible to find this via any legitimate means at all until the 2019 Blu-ray and VHS dual-format edition from Vinegar Syndrome, which follows their usual peerless track record by Unmasked Part 25refurbishing a title few would have expected to see in pristine shape. The new transfer, a 2K scan from the 35mm internegative, is a massive leap over the old VHS, obviously, and keeps the original grainy aesthetic of the film intact while featuring satisfying detail levels and sometimes striking primary color schemes. The DTS-HD MA English mono audio track is extremely basic and flat, but that's the nature of the original recording; optional English SDH subtitles are provided. Two audio commentaries are also provided, the first featuring director Anders Palm with film journalist David Flint; then you get producer Mark Cutforth in conversation with Peter Kuplowsky and Justin Decloux of Laser Blast Film Society. Both are chock full of info and cover everything you could want to know about the fundraising process, the impact of Friday the 13th on the production, the special effects connection to Hellraiser, the lack of genre respect in the U.K. at the time, the influence of Udo Kier's Blood for Dracula performance, the casting process, the horror-comedy balance, the tiny size of the crew, and plenty more. The original, very spoiler-heavy trailer is also included (under the Hand of Death title, just like the main feature here) along with a gallery (2m44s) of fun production photos and other ephemera from Cutforth's collection, including a random shot of Kier for good measure. The title is also available as a limited 2,000-unit slipcover edition designed by Earl Kellser Jr.

Reviewed on November 15, 2019.