Monday, February 3, 2014

Movie Monday: The Hand

No one can escape...The Hand!
Actually, you'd think it'd pretty easy to escape a hand because...after all, it is just a hand! But as we'll see, that's not always the case:
The Hand is a 1981 horror film directed by Oliver Stone(!) starring Michael Caine (in what he himself described as "a money job") as a writer/artist who produces a successful adventure newspaper strip called Mandro, a Prince Valiant/Conan hybrid. Over the opening credits, we see Jon Lansdale (Caine) hard at work on the newest installment:
Jon is married to Anne (Andrea Marcovicci), and they have a young daughter, but it doesn't take long to see that they're not happy. Anne wants to move to New York but Jon is content to stay in Vermont. While on a drive, they bicker over this, which quickly escalates into a full-on argument. Anne, thrown by Jon's yelling and an impatient driver behind them, veers off into the opposite lane, just as a garbage truck is coming!

She tries to swerve, and mostly does, except Jon's outstretched hand gets smashed by the truck, shooting blood in every direction:
As you might imagine, this doesn't make things better between them. To make matters worse, Jon has lost his drawing hand, which leads to his agent suggesting he partner up with another artist to continue Mandro. Jon goes to New York to meet the guy (played by Roger Rabbit himself, Charles Fleischer), but Jon is so rude that the whole arrangement collapses and the agent fires Jon off his own strip.

Right around this time, we see that Jon's Right Hand Hand, last seen in a field, has come alive and has started to move around on its own. It finds its way to New York where it kills a bum (played by Stone), and starts to show up in other plays, both literally and figuratively. 
Is this really happening? Has The Hand come alive and started killing people? Or is this all in Jon's mind?

As the movie crawls along, The Hand seems to suggest one version, then another, then flips back again in a final scene that feels like it comes from another movie entirely. Anyone up for The Hand 2: The Fingering?

Michael Caine's performance is trashy fun; he seems like an extremely angry guy right from the get go (he is a comic artist, after all), and he gets to a lot of patented Michael Caine Stuttering Angry Thing, when you can almost feel the walls of the set shake from the sheer volume. He also lets himself look scrungier as the movie plods along; by the end with his hair shooting in all directions he reminded me of Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein.

Overall, I'd say The Hand makes for a pretty solid psychological thriller, but at some point it was decided to make it more of a classic horror movie and that's when all the silliness shows up. Oliver Stone realized someone being strangled by a dismembered hand looks pretty goofy, so he keeps the lighting dark, allowing us only little glimpses of the people as they fight for their lives against The Hand. Stone of course would move onto more prestigious projects, while Caine would face other horrible movie monsters in his film career, like Jaws the Shark, killer bees, and Steven Seagal.

Fun Fact: All the shots of the Mandro comic strip were drawn by comic book legend Barry Windsor Smith!

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