Vinegar Syndrome: Unmasked Part 25 (1989) - Reviewed

The horror parody subgenre can either be as inspired as Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon or as tired as the Scary Movie series became.  In the forgotten straight-to-video British parody Unmasked Part 25 (The Hand of Death in some territories), the expectations of both subgenres are subverted with this riotously funny yet well-acted and shot number that’s far better than the films it gleefully lampoons. 

For a film borne out of a subgenre with the bar typically set low, Unmasked Part 25 aims and soars surprisingly high past what you ordinarily get from these kinds of movies.  Think of it as distinguished offering in the horror parody film that is as hilarious as it is horrific with no shortage on grisly gore peppered in among the laughs.

Jackson (Gregory Cox) is more or less a deformed hockey-mask wearing Jason Voorhees skulking the streets of London.  Picking off sexed-up yuppies at a party one night he happens upon Shelly (Fiona Evans), a blind woman unable to see Jackson’s hideous face or the bloodletting in his wake.  Developing feelings for the woman ala The Toxic Avenger, romance soon blossoms between the two, revealing Jackson to be something of an aristocrat hiding behind the disfigurement ala The Elephant Man.  Soon Jackson begins debating leading a normal life with his past of killing behind him.  But can he really suppress his killer instincts for good?

The first thing one notices aside from the very English setting, touching on the proliferation of the punk movement with the attire worn by the characters, is the film’s startlingly lush visual look.  For a film released straight-to-video (with limited theatrical showings), Unmasked Part 25 looks fantastic with deep colorful blues and acute attention to lighting.  Outside of some of the later offerings in the series, the Friday the 13th films never looked this vibrant!  Though shot quickly, the vivid color schema lensed by John de Borman is stunning for what is ostensibly a genre send-up. 

Equally impressive is Julian Wastall’s intentionally operatic score which conjures up haunted house horror musical tropes including but not limited to key use of the pipe organ.  Compounded with the film’s visual look, the electronic score perfectly suits the piece by managing to evoke tones of comedy and horror with hints of the grandiose at times. 

The brainchild of screenwriter Mark Cutforth who envisioned a parody after binge watching the Friday the 13th films, was an English major whose penchant for witty dialogue shows in the film’s equally inspired performances by it’s three leads, Gregory Cox, Fiona Evans and Edward Brayshaw as the homeless father figure who knows Jackson like a book.  Brayshaw only has a couple of scenes onscreen but he’s unforgettable in them, transforming the bum stereotype into a wise elder who sees Jackson for what he really is.

Cox is fantastic in the role that more or less hides his face behind grotesque monster makeup created by Cliff Wallace and Stuart Conran (Hellraiser) with delivery becoming of a fine British gentleman.  In a role that calls for a physically intimidating figure, Cox can be imposing while also making the character look sheepish in certain scenes.  Playing exceptionally well off of Cox is Fiona Evans who makes the outwardly meek looking Shelly secretly a bad girl eager to spice up her love life with her new killer-in-disguise boyfriend. 

Playing on the sequelitis of the Friday the 13th franchise, Unmasked Part 25 quietly appeared on video in 1989 before disappearing for the next thirty years before resurfacing on a 2K restored blu-ray released by Vinegar Syndrome.  Seen now, its hard to believe how overlooked this one is, a film which on paper should be an entertaining farce but winds up greatly exceeding the expectations of said genre.  What should have been just another horror parody winds up being a clever and colorful little gem with more on its mind than just horror movie slayings.

--Andrew Kotwicki