Good evening, and welcome to the sixth and final entry in an ongoing series within “Scare of the Day.”
Wait, let me guess: you didn’t even know I was doing an ongoing series, did you?
Well, there’s no reason you should, really, unless you’re really observant and noticed a recurring logo within the artwork of the last several films I’ve tackled, but Warner Brothers recently released a six-disc box set of horror films entitled The Twisted Terror Collection, and today’s the last of the bunch. It’s a strange mish-mosh of selections, with no seeming rhyme or reason aside from the fact that they’re all horror flicks, but if you like horror flicks, it’s a pretty good deal: individually, they hover in the $13 range, but you can get all six for under $38.
So, anyway, tonight’s the night when we finally get to the sixth and final film with the set. We’re worked our way through “Deadly Friend,” “From Beyond The Grave,” “Eyes of a Stranger,” “Dr. Giggles,” and “Someone’s Watching Me” (see what I mean about how disparate they are), and, now, it’s time to get to the flick that I intentionally kept ‘til last, just so I’d have something to look forward to: “The Hand,” starring Michael Caine and written and directed by Oliver Stone.
If you’re anything like my fellow contributor David Medsker, this is the point where you say, with legitimate shock, “Oliver Stone did ‘The Hand’?” Yes, he did. And in case you think I’m trying to pull a surprise ending on you, yes, it’s the Oliver Stone, the same one who directed “J.F.K.,” “The Doors,” “Talk Radio,” “Platoon,” blah blah blah. But at this point, he had a decidedly shorter resume, having only directed one previous film (1974’s “Seizure”), but he had written an Academy Award-winning screenplay (“Midnight Express”), which was apparently enough to get him the gig on “The Hand.”
Based on The Lizard’s Tail, the novel by Marc Brandell, “The Hand” stars Caine as comic strip writer and artist Jon Lansdale. He’s doing pretty well on the business end of things, but his personal life is another story; he’s got a cute little daughter (Mara Hobel, who soon scored cult film immortality by playing Christina Crawford in “Mommie Dearest”), but his relationship with his wife is strained at best, and…well, hell, you don’t give a good God-damn about his marital woes, do you? Of course not. You just want to know about the disembodied hand that goes around strangling people, which is just as it should be. I mean, I saw this movie when I was 12 years old, the reason I remember it so vividly ain’t because of the back-and-forth dialogue between husband and wife; it’s because you don’t forget the sight of a hand scuttling across the ground like a freaking spider!
On the whole, “The Hand” isn’t nearly as scary as my memories would’ve had me believe, mostly because I’ve seen a lot of movies in the interim. Back then, I was so focused on the hand that I couldn’t fully appreciate back the fun of Michael Caine’s bug-eyed performance in the film, which he gradually takes so delightfully over the top that, by the end, you’re more likely to be cackling than shivering.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some scares here, though. In fact, we’re only about six minutes into the proceedings when we get our first jump-out-of-your-seat moment, courtesy of a cat leaping and yowling into a shot…but it’s more than just a cheap scare. Stone’s already set the scene and shown us that the cat’s there; the big reason it proves so shocking is less to do with the feline and more to do with the fact that, only moments earlier, Lansdale has been cutting wood with an axe…which means that the audience, who already knows that he’s destined to lose a hand at some point, find itself wondering, “Is this how it happens? With an axe…?” Well, no, actually, it isn’t. But since we’re already distracted by the mere possibility, we forget about the cat in the scene, and, voila, a simple scare becomes more profound than it otherwise might have been. (The cat ends up shocking us again later, resulting in my wife jumping, then grumbling, “Stupid goddamned cat.” I immediately seconded her emotion.)
When Lansdale finally does lose his hand…well, I can’t speak as to how medically accurate it is, with the ungodly amounts of blood spurting everywhere, but it certainly feels like there’s more blood than is actually necessary. Then again, his hand has just been completely ripped from his arm at the wrist, so maybe that’s just me wanting to believe that it should’ve been less bloody. However you feel about the gore, though, one thing that’s undeniable is that the choreography of that scene is the definitive moment within “The Hand” that’ll make you go, “Yep, even back then, Oliver Stone was already a hell of a director.”
With the loss of a hand, specifically his drawing hand, Lansdale’s life as a cartoonist is effectively ended, and his marriage is already hanging by a thread, so it’s no wonder that he begins a descent into depression…but is it a descent into madness as well? He begins to dream that his hand, which was MIA after the car accident which severed it, is still out there somewhere…and crawling towards him. (There’s a very fun scene when Lansdale goes to search the field where the hand should’ve landed and we’re treated to camera work which effectively provides us with a “hand’s-eye view.”) As the film progresses, we’re left uncertain as to whether he’s been dreaming or not…and if you haven’t actually seen it, this is definitely one that I won’t spoil for you.
The score by James Horner is suitably creepy, but there’s something very amusing about the scene where a slightly-crazed Caine is cruising down the road whilst cranking Blondie’s “Union City Blue” on the car stereo. (Don’t tell me Stone wasn’t aware of the lyric, “Power, passion plays a double hand.”) It’s also worth noting that “The Hand” is the only selection within the Twisted Terror Collection to feature audio commentary; Stone himself sits down and discusses the experience of making the movie and, as with most of his commentary tracks, it’s almost as entertaining as the film itself, in particular because he admits outright that he hasn’t seen it in years…not unlike myself.
“The Hand” is an enjoyable blend of drama and horror, with the occasional bit of humor to lighten the mood; it might not be as scary as I’d remembered it, but thanks to the team of Caine and Stone, it proves entertaining nonetheless.