Thursday, October 22, 2009

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: They're Not Just Weird... They're Freaks!

Though it's getting its official DVD release from Mya in just a few weeks I thought the Halloween season would be the perfect time to sit down with my tape of Sergio Garrone's THE HAND THAT FEEDS THE DEAD starring Klaus Kinski as a kinda mad – but mostly just pussy-whipped – doctor trying to restore his disfigured wife's faded beauty. Coming out from Mya under the much better title of EVIL FACE, the flick should not to be confused with DOUBLE FACE also starring Kinski or LOVER OF THE MONSTER, a (superior) Kinski/Garrone effort filmed at the same time as this flick. Another in a long line of "facial transplant mad doctor flicks," HAND is a bewildering mess of a movie, though not without its merits.

After the death of her father in an accident, a beautiful woman (Katia Christine) who was disfigured at the same time pushes her husband (Kinski) to continue research into the field of skin grafts in the hopes of restoring her beauty. With the help of a stumbling, handicapped hulk of an assistant, the pair cut a swath through the available women in the area, arousing the suspicion of a writer who is researching a book on the dead professor's work.

Convinced that her sister met her fate in the castle – a suspicion backed up by finding her sister's ring on the property - the writer and her boyfriend set about to bring down the not-so-good doctor. Complicating matters are the arrival at the castle of a woman (also played by Christine) and her husband (Ayhan Isik). Their carriage ruined in a crash, the two accept the hospitality of the doctor and his mysterious, unseen wife, never knowing the peril their accident has placed them in until it is too late.

While I'm always happy to see a Klaus movie get a legit release, HAND is easily the lesser of the two flicks filmed by Garrone using the same sets, costumes and actors as LOVER. While that film – essentially a nastied up Hammer-esque take on Jekyll & Hyde – features one of my favorite, underrated Kinski performances, the actor only shows flashes of his usual brilliance here. Though I had previously dismissed stories that suggested Kinski was unaware that Garrone was shooting two films simultaneously, the on-screen evidence in HAND might have convinced me otherwise.

Extensive surgery sequences, which provide much of the flick's tame gore, are filmed with an obvious stand-in for the diminutive Kinski. Covered from head to toe in a surgical cap, mask and gown, "Kinski" is only shown in wide shots and in extreme close-ups of his hands as he operates on his wife and whatever unfortunate woman has landed on the other operating table. Granted, Garrone isn't exactly Hitchcock, but I'm pretty confident even he would know to shoot at least one close-up of the German Olivier's penetrating eyes. Further lending credence to these suggestions is the use of a snippet from LOVER to show Kinski's face during an on-screen attack.

Use of a Fake Kinski aside, THE HAND THAT FEEDS THE DEAD is a pretty slow, fairly tame dose of Eurotrash. Kinski sorta saves the day with a nice crazy scene with his wife's doll at the end, but it's one brief shining moment in what is largely a dog of a flick. Minimal gore and an all-too-brief gal-on-gal scene don't help amp up the sleaze factor, though the hulking assistant's perverse relationship with the disfigured wife – which conjures up shades of Paul Naschy's pervy gravedigger and the black magic countess in THE HANGING WOMAN – is a storyline that could have used more development.

I'm hoping the Mya disc proves to be a significant upgrade from the grey market version I picked up on-line a few years back. Sourced from a Turkish VHS with English subs provided by the grey market distributor, the flick has head-scratching moments aplenty, plotlines that go nowhere fast, and changes in attitude that seem bizarre even for a Kinski flick.

A full comparison of the two versions will follow.

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