Vinegar Syndrome’s ‘Unmasked: Part 25’ (1988) 2k Restoration Blu-ray/DVD Review

Eighteen years before the meta horror sensation that was Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (read our retro review here), Filmmaker Anders Palm directed a little known sleeper hit known as Unmasked: Part 25. Originally titled The Hand of Death, Unmasked: Part 25 is both an homage to and a satire of slashers of the ’70s and ’80s, especially Friday the 13th. This past October, Vinegar Syndrome has released the film to the horror masses on both Blu-ray and DVD.

Synopsis:

Jackson is a lonely serial killer who is really beginning to question the point of all his killing. He is losing focus on why he started to kill in the first place. The future looks bleak until he meets a blind girl, Shelly, who begins to show him that life isn’t so bad. It is all up to Jackson to decide if he’s going to stop killing and start learning responsibility and think about finding a real job and starting a family.

Unmasked: Part 25 was directed and produced by Anders Palm and written by Mark Cutforth, both of whom would later go on the make Murder Blues (1991). The film stars Gregory Cox (X-Men: First Class 2011), Fiona Evans (Gems TV series) and Debbie Lee London (Doctor Who TV series). The Three Musketeer’s Edward Brayshaw makes an appearance as Jackson’s drunken sot of a father, a man also more monster than man. The pseudo-Duran Duran/hip hop score was created by Julian Wastall (New Nightmares TV series) and Gang of Four’s John King, along with a bit of Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force’s “Planet Rock” to round it all out. Both William Shakespeare and Lord Byron are credited as writers. Curious yet?

Shelly meets Jason… er, Jackson

Special Features

  • Newly scanned and restored in 2k from its 35mm internegative
  • Audio commentary with director Anders Palm, moderated by film journalist David Flint
  • Audio commentary with writer/producer Mark Cutforth, moderated by Peter Kuplowsky and Justin Decloux of Laser Blast Film Society
  • Stills gallery
  • Original trailer
  • Reversible cover artwork
  • English SDH titles

Review:

I knew Vinegar Syndrome had sent me a good one when, within the first five minutes of Unmasked: Part 25, a man’s face was torn brutally from his skull, and his heart was literally punched out of his chest. The next fifteen minutes showcase another four onscreen massacres, complete with rivers of blood and viscera. The deaths are numerous and sanguineous. One couple was pinned to the wall like bugs with an Aztec-type spear while in flagrante, which reminded me of Kevin Bacon’s death in the first F13 film. Jackson’s mauled face is terrifying while, at the same time, conveying a certain sensitivity, making him almost endearing.

The FX in Unmasked: Part 25 is one of my favorite aspects of the film. They were imaginative and gut-churning and oh so messy. Unfortunately, even after I did some research on who created the FX, I couldn’t find a name or company. If anyone knows, drop it in the comments to satisfy my curiosity! Edit: Much thanks to Matthew Hoobin for telling me that Cliff Wallace and Stuart Conran were in charge of the FX, a duo who worked on the first Hellraiser (1987) movie!

The humor in Unmasked: Part 25 is dry and witty, pure British comedy. While compiling a fun story, Writer Mark Cutworth wove shoutouts and digs to my beloved Friday the 13th franchise. You’ve got a silent but deadly hockey-masked killer with the deformed face, a dead mom, time spent at the bottom of a lake, an omnipresent killer, camp counselors, the kills themselves and the date itself thrown into the mix. The title alone pokes fun at the endless slasher sequels we’ve all come to know and love. I think this quote says it the best:

Jackson: “There’s no sense in you trying to run for it, really. You’ll get ten feet, and run into a branch, or stumble over a root…”

[woman starts running only to trip and fall]

Jackson: “See! What did I tell you?”

Here, let me help you with your face skin

The ’80s shine through Unmasked: Part 25 as well. Between the razor sharp lines in the women’s outfits to the gravity-defying punk hairstyles to the way Shelly poses for Jackson in sexually yet obviously uncomfortable positions all scream the Decade of Neon. Every woman is horny and looking to get laid, even willing to throw down on a moldy old mattress in someone’s basement while surrounded by Virgin Mary statues and Novena candles. On the other hand, the men are all testosterone-fueled idiots who spend their time knocking back shots and making out with these over-sexed women… Just imagine what the aliens will think about us when they watch this 1,000 years from now. But, I digress.

The 2k restoration is pretty dang good. You can see a lot of the detail in Jackson’s mauled face once he yanks his mask off, which is always a plus. This backfires a bit in the special FX department since you can now see the wires and pulleys, but if you can suspend your disbelief long enough to believe a mutilated, mass murdering monster can learn and recite Shakespeare, then a glimpse of the man behind the curtain is not going to bother you. The sound is great, although there were a few mistakes from the Foley artists that couldn’t be helped. I’m impressed with this release.

Vinegar Syndrome's Unmasked: Part 25, The Hand of Death
Cover artwork for Vinegar Syndrome’s Unmasked: Part 25 aka The Hand of Death

All in all, Vinegar Syndrome’s release of Unmasked: Part 25 is highly satisfying. I honestly can’t believe this film isn’t more well known. It has the humor, gore and kill count to make it one of the best meta horror films out there. Unfortunately, at this time, Vinegar Syndrome is sold out of their copies of Unmasked: Part 25. But maybe, just maybe, if you make enough noise, they’ll offer up a re-release. You never know!

About Tracy Allen

As the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of PopHorror.com, Tracy has learned a lot about independent horror films and the people who love them. Now an approved critic for Rotten Tomatoes, she hopes the masses will follow her reviews back to PopHorror and learn more about the creativity and uniqueness of indie horror movies.

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