The Hand (1981)
The Hand (1981)

Genre: Horror and Psychological Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.

Release Date: April 24th, 1981 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Oliver Stone Actors: Michael Caine, Andrea Marcovicci, Annie McEnroe, Bruce McGill, Viveca Lindfors, Rosemary Murphy, Pat Corley

 


 

C

omic book artist (and inventor of popular swords-and-sorcery superhero Mandro) Jonathan Lansdale (Michael Caine) finishes up another page in his bright, many-windowed studio in the Vermont countryside, adjacent to the house where his bored wife Anne (Andrea Marcovicci) does yoga. The two have been having some issues with their marriage, exacerbated by Anne wishing to move separately to New York with their daughter Lizzie (Mara Hobel). When the couple takes a drive, descending into another shouting match over an apartment in the city, Anne angrily attempts to pass a truck, resulting in a freak car accident that severs Jonathan’s hand.

“Mommy went to look for it … but it ran away.” A short time later, Jonathan attempts to cope with the loss of his appendage, but the phantom feelings from nerve endings that won’t easily forget about his missing digits – along with bitterness towards his wife and the notable impact on his art career – weigh heavily on his recovery. It also doesn’t help that his hand was never located – and that the cleaved, decaying forelimb might be scurrying around, hellbent on murderous destruction.

Despite the outrageous sci-fi/horror plot, the cast brings a marked seriousness to the proceedings that undoubtedly increases the effectiveness. Caine is quite good, managing the role earnestly, even though he could have approached the character with a hefty amount of skepticism. While the awkwardness of the crawling-hand-cam is expected, and the various hand props themselves tend to be more quirky (and obviously fake) than scary, everyone handles the unnerving scenarios sincerely. It also helps that James Horner’s music is appropriately eerie.

“Blackouts are nothing to fool with.” Perhaps the film’s best decision is to focus predominantly on psychological horror rather than cheesy monster-movie thrills (though a few of those squeeze their way in, oftentimes using clever cinematography tricks). Black-and-white sequences are utilized for pseudo-entranced hand-controlling attacks, touching upon the links between physical trauma and the subconscious – and the ways in which the mind deals with grief and blame and acrimony. Not all of it makes sense, of course, but the effort to explain Lansdale’s otherworldly connection to his deadly counterpart is laudable. Cheaper, hallucinatory jump-scares pop up as well, but they’re bizarrely creative and aid the macabre mood.

“You never know what you can do. The subconscious is capable of anything.” The direction in which the family disintegrates is somewhat unsatisfying and uncomfortable (and realistically contentious), but it lends to the mental anguish that engulfs the lead persona. The strange blending of reality (and Jon’s loosening grip on it) and fantasy is rather engaging, generating something of a mystery alongside the chills as the hand has the potential to do the bidding of its master. Director Oliver Stone (this was only his second feature film), adapting a book ominously titled “The Lizard’s Tail,” clearly wishes to disturb audiences through more than just appalling imagery of a severed limb; the beginnings – and the catastrophic downfall – of a deranged serial killer are at play. The finale returns to horror genre tropes, but the overall result is still unexpectedly entertaining.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10