Ever since childhood, I’ve collected monster masks. I still have my 1979 Don Post Star Wars Chewbacca deluxe mask that I wore to collect candy out in my neighborhood on Halloween in 1983. I love horror movies, but I especially love the old monster movies, those made all throughout the 1950s and 1960s. And even though, there have definitely been several times during my 43-years of life thus far where I’ve been less attentive to them, mask collecting, etc.., when I do make a come back into the monster fold (which I did in 2020), I try to get creative with it regardless of fact that I have no talent for it whatsoever.
With DIY mask-making becoming more popular in recent years thanks to the internet, I’ve made a couple DIY busts over the last year to help take my mind off of the COVID pandemic. The first one: Jason Voorhees from Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter. My favorite Friday movie! We’ve all been “dead fucks,” after all at one point in our lives, haven’t we? I made my Part 4 Jason out of various pieces that I found on Amazon and on eBay. And he turned out great, in my opinion. He’s a full bust, with shoulders and that great, blood-stained green work shirt, etc. Total cost: $60. Next, I made a bust of national television horror host, Svengoolie. And just as with my Part 4 Jason, I made my Sven bust out of only miscellaneous parts/pieces found for next to nothing on Amazon. Total cost: $50. And again, the homemade bust turned out great. Now, I’d never suggest that either of my DIY creations are perfect by any means, but in my opinion, I do feel that each is a fine representation of its original inspiration. (If anyone would like to see any photos, please email me).
Now, I’m working on a bust of the monster from Hand of Death (1962). I’m making my very own: Alex Marsh. He’s played by the late, great actor John Agar in the movie. And in the film, Marsh is a scientist working on a serum on a top secret military project. Testing it on himself to see if the serum actually works, and after a night of sweats or a fever dream (whichever you prefer), he transforms into a monster that not only resembles a charcoal briquette, he does it in style; throughout the rest of the movie he wears a cool trench coat and fedora like Bogart’s in last couple of scenes in Casablanca (1942).
I love Hand of Death. I know that quite a few lovers of 1950s horror and science fiction don’t, though. If indeed, Hand of Death, does have any faults, it’s that as a film it’s extremely light on plot–it runs for only 60-minutes. It has a few continuity errors in it, etc. I get it, but these are what make me love the film, too. I love its utter cheapness. And what I think also makes it so much fun is that, unlike other genre films of the era, it seems made for us monster lovers, or the kids back in the early-1960s, who had bought ever issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland after it hit newsstands for the first time in 1958.
A minimalist plot just means that there can be more screen time for the monster. And if you’re a lover of the monsters, isn’t that what you want?
Thought by some to be a lost for many years, when it turned up on the Fox Channel early in the 2000s, interest was sparked in Hand of Death as a curio of the era. However, it turns out that Hand of Death was never, in fact, a lost movie; no one had seen it in 40-years because no one had expressed a desire to; no one had ever expressed an interest in releasing it on home video simply because it was just an awful movie.
Then there is the similarity that seems to exist between the Marsh Monster in Hand of Death and Ben Grimm aka “The Thing” from the Marvel comic book, The Fantastic Four. The Marsh Monster does resemble The Thing quite a bit. One could put together a convincing argument that one influenced the other, couldn’t they? Or is it purely coincidence that they each resemble one another? Fantastic Four hit newsstands for the first time in 1961, Hand of Death hit theaters in 1962. Regardless, anyone with a pair of eyes will probably find it just as difficult as I do to ignore 20th Century Fox’s marketing campaign for the movie. All of the lobby cards and posters for Hand of Death feature the Marsh monster as an orange, brick-like creature.
If there’s one thing that’s for certain, though: interviews with Hand of Death’s cast and crew over the last 20-30 years have yielded reports that the Marsh monster was not in fact orange, but instead, a rather hideous, black color; the creature was so disturbing to those that worked on the movie that even John Agar’s kids became afraid of him in the make-up when they visited him on the set one afternoon in Malibu during filming.
This makes the film that much more interesting for me, personally. With the monster movies of the 1950s and the horror movies of now still intrinsically interested in examining the sociopolitical, shouldn’t we think a bit more about what the film’s detractors have said about Hand of Death’s monster? With his hideous, black brick-like skin, is the film’s monster really as simple as he seems or should we as genre fans think of him as being a representation of the pre-Civil Rights era and the belief at the time during the early 1960s when some thought that it was okay to think that anyone who wasn’t white was inferior?
Here’s my Marsh Monster (in progress):
Step 1: Start off with this cheap, crappy Fantastic Four “Thing” mask from Amazon.
Step 2: Painting time. Base coat. I’m using equal parts black and white acrylic-based paint with a hint of yellow in just to make the gray base coat on the latex appear a little softer than usual. Ultimately, I’m planning on doing three coats on the mask just to give it a depth of color and texture. I may even also integrate some rock dust into the paint as well once I do the last coat. Here’s a picture of the monster from the film for a side-by-side look.
It doesn’t look like much at this early stage, but across the next few days I’ll apply the other coats of paint, outline the cracks with a faded black, maybe add a touch of white to the lips, cut out of the mouth hole, and then attach a wig and the fedora.
I’ll update this post once I have more pictures available as it progresses.