Saturday, February 13, 2021

THE HAND THAT FEEDS THE DEAD (1974) (Full Moon Features Blu-ray Review)


Label: Full Moon Features
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 90 Minutes 
Audio: Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 with English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Sergio Garrone
Cast: Klaus Kinski, Katia Christine, Marzia Damon, Erol Tas, Ayhan Işık, 

Trashy Euro-horror The Hands That Feeds The Dead (1974) is a Turkish/Italian co-production directed by Sergio Garrone, who is best known for a handful of spaghetti westerns, including Django the Bastard (1969). This Gothic cheapie is set in the 19th century tells the demented face-peeling tale of mad scientist named Professor Nijinski (the madman Klaus Kinski, Aguirre, the Wrath of God), who is married to the formerly gorgeous Tania (Katia Christine, Probability Zero). Tania is the daughter of a brilliant surgeon named Baron Ivan Rassimov, who was Nijinski's mentor. The surgeon died in a fiery lab explosion, that same accident also horrifically scarred the his daughter, who now wears black from head to toe, with a black veil to obscure her scarred visage. The result is a tasty but trashy bit of Gothic transplant-horror, think Eyes without Face (1960) with the cash-strapped sensibilities of Jess Franco (Faceless).

Professor Nijinski will do anything to see his wife restored to her former beauty, to that end he continues his mentor's experimental work with human skin transplants. The Professor performs a series of experimental surgical procedures on his wife which require a steady supply of skin from young women. Utilizing a lumbering Igor-type henchman named Vanya (Erol Tas, Lover of the Monster), who seems to be hypnotized or brainwashed by the professor using a tuning fork, he abducts women from the nearby village, surgically removing their healthy skin and grafting it onto the face and flesh of his disfigured wife.  

Enter stranded newlywed couple Alex (Turkish screen legend Ayhan Işık, Lover of the Monster) and Masha (Katia Christine in a dual-role) who are involved in a stagecoach accident near the Professor's mansion. The professor and his henchman pull the couple from the wreckage and treat their superficial wounds, inviting them to stay at his home to recuperate. Also staying at the house are Katja (Marzia Damon, Byleth: The Demon of Incest) and her husband, a curious couple who arrive at the mansion investigating the disappearance of Katja's sister, an earlier victim of the madman's transplant-terror. 

I found the flick a bit dull at the start, but it is lifted by the presence of the infamously difficult Kinski who turns in a surprisingly restrained performance, but you can always count on Kinski for entertainment, even when he's not playing it to the hilt. The guy has the face that is a beautiful nightmare, and his low-key performance is still a fascinating watch. The flick is also vastly improved with the arrival of a Sapphic encounter between the lovely Kattja and another woman named Sonia (Carmen Silva, The House of Exorcism), who seems to be a prostitute-on-standby hired by the professor. 

We also get the mandatory basement laboratory in the mansion where the skin-graft surgeries occur, it's a cheap looking Gothic set with blood-filled medical beakers and flasks strung together with an assortment of medical tubing and the cheapest looking electricity generating machine you have ever seen. The gore and make-up effects are of the sub-Blood Feast variety with cheesy looking seared flesh and poorly designed skin transplants. We also get some cheap looking grue by way of women with their faces peeled off, it's kind of shit-looking, but if your a Euro-cult fan it's delightful in it's shoddiness. Interestingly these were done by none other than Italian special effects legend Carlo Rambaldi (King Kong), not his best work, not by a long shot. 

I would say that The Hand That Feeds The Dead is a very minor Euro-cult entry, but the sleaze and cheap gore is plenty entertaining, and it's reasonably well shot, plus we get the madman Klaus Kinsk in a transplant-horror with (somewhat shitty) special effects by Carlo Rambaldo, and that's definitely cool. 

Audio/Video: The Hands That Feeds the Dead arrives on Blu-ray from Full Moon Features, who present the film uncut for the first time in North America. The film has been remastered from the original 35mm negative, and presented in 1080p HD and framed in 1.85:1 widescreen. The source looks fantastic with nary a scratch to show, it's a clean looking presentation, maybe even a little too clean, by which I mean there appears to be some digital filtering that de-grains the image and slightly smears away fine detail and textures. During the sex scenes the skin tones look overly smooth and plasticine, you cannot see the skin pores and finer details n the close-ups. Generally colors looks good, as with most Gothics the colors are muted with a lot of earthy brown and tans, but we do get an occasional splash of green from the flora in the background, though I thought the red of the blood looked a bit pinkish in spots. Black levels are quite good, I would have expected a more grain in the shadows, but as stated before there looks to have been some digital filtering. Contrast and clarity are generally decent throughout, a few of the day-for-night shots look a bit wonky but I would attribute that to source and  technique over anything screwy with the transfer, aside from the digital-scrubbing. 

Audio on the disc comes by way of compressed Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 with non-optional English subtitles. I preferred the 2.0 track, it was more direct and pleasing to my ears, I thought the 5.1 remix was anemic. While not ideal the lossy 2.0 audio was clean and well-balanced, dialogue has a pleasingly vintage  directness to it and the score from Stefano Liberati and Elio Maestosi (Lover of the Monster) sounds great. 

No extras on this one aside from a handful of Eurocult trailers, all presumable coming soon from Full Moon, which I am quite excited for. The single-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork featuring the original movie poster artwork, the artwork on the Blu-ray disc is a different shot of Kinski from the film. 

Special Features:
- Trailers: Barbed Wire Dolls (1 min), Blue Rita (2 min), Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (3 min), Sexy Sisters (1 min), Voodoo Passion (1 min), Women In Cell Block 9 ( 1 min) 

The Hand That Feeds The Dead (1974) is a pretty trashy Gothic horror with a pedestrian storyline and standard issue Euro-horror visuals, but that's not to say I did not have a good time with it. I enjoyed the cheesy transplant-horror elements, the intense but restrained turn from Kinski, as well as the eye-full of Sapphic sex action it delivered, that was more than enough to keep me tuned it. The film was shot back-to-back with Lover of the Monster (1974), and from what I can tell it has a very similar storyline and features the same cast and director, and it's a movie that is also being released by Full Moon in the very near future. I am looking forward to checking it out as well, one can never have enough trashy Euro-horror, and Full Moon have a lot of it coming our way! 

Screenshots from the Blu-ray: