12/1/08

It Came From VideoTape: The Hand (1981)

Hello and welcome everyone to the second new feature that I'm rolling out. It Came From VideoTape will be just what it sounds like. I'll be watching only films that I get on tapes which bowed before the era of DVD made the little buggers obsolete. Personally I still rather enjoy tapes. There are precious few movies worth my time to go through all the countless special features and listen to commentaries, and of course in the advent that you get a bare bones DVD copy of something, then it's no more than a tape transfer with (hopefully) slightly better picture quality. Tapes also take me back to the time when I would have summers off from school and my Dad would take me to this store where I could rent flicks at the bargain price of 2 for $1.00. I would leave with armloads of horror and other cult movies, and they would be my entertainment for the rest of the week. (Hey, what can I say, the old LB is just not the go out and play type.)

I pick up tapes wherever I can, and thrift stores and flea markets always seem to have a batch of them stowed around somewhere. Recently I was lucky enough to come upon a store that was just getting out of tapes. One of their locations was closing down and for a buck a piece I went home with a bevy of great watching. The other location was still trying to stay afloat, but still getting out of video. I had a chance to talk to the owner a bit and and he even pointed out one tape I was purchasing which he had gotten in 1978 when he first got into the business. It was a bit sad to see a Mom and Pop type store no longer able to make it when they have to compete against chain rental stores and online services. (Not that I look down on either. Blockbuster has it's uses, and I'm a Netflix junkie. If you don't believe me you should see my 300+ and growing queue on there.) However to a movie junky like me it was a gold mine of unseen and unheard of flicks.

So for the next while I'll be using Mondays to talk about my finds and revel in their obsolete glory. After all in an era of High Def and Blu Ray, what better way is there to make your home a mini- grind house than watching these gems on the take home format. Video tape helped to define and enlighten me as a genre film fan for many years, and I'm just not ready to give up on it quite yet. So now that I've probably bored most of you to tears, let's get into the first film. Beware the terror that is not the arm, not the elbow, not the wrist, but is....

The Hand (1981) starring Michael Caine, Andrea Marcovicci, Bruce McGill, and Charles Fleischer. Directed by Oliver Stone.
Jonathan Lansdale(Caine) is a popular cartoonist with his comic "Mandro" a sort of Conan clone. He loves his work, but leads an unhappy life with his wife Anne (Marcovicci) and their
daughter Lizzie. They live in a remote lakeside cabin and Anne is looking for more fulfillment in her life and she wants to move to New York City partially so she can hook up with come kind of New Agey/vegan/yoga/EST group. While arguing about the move, the couple is involved in a freak auto accident which severs Jonathan's drawing hand from him. The hand flies off into a field and is never found.

Jonathan reluctantly moves to NYC with his wife and tries to recover. He even gets a snazzy robotic prosthetic hand and he begins to try and relearn how to draw with it. Life, however, has other plans for him. His wife grows even more distant in the city as she comes under the sway of her therapist/yoga instructor, and his publisher wants to give his comic away to a former underground cartoonist (Fleischer) who wants to give "Mandro" more depth. Jonathan is growing weary under the strain and begins to have dreams where his severed hand longs to exact vengeance.
Jonathan moves to California without his family to accept a teaching job at a small progressive college. Alone with his thoughts his mind begins to bend further and he begins to have blackouts and can't recall what he might have done during them. He soon begins a relationship with one of his students, Stella, but soon discovers that she is also seeing the psychology professor Brian (McGill). He has a vision of his undead hand killing Stella, but when he arrives home nothing seems amiss. Soon the hand is on a rampage dispatching anyone who has done Jonathan wrong, and with his family coming to visit for Christmas , can Jonathan get a grip on sanity (or body part) before more people fall victim.

Film Facts

--Oliver Stone originally offered the role to Jon Voight, Christopher Walken, and Dustin
Hoffman before casting Caine.

--Caine has stated that he did the film to pay for a new garage to be put on his house.

--Charles Fleischer has another comic character connection as he was the voice of Roger Rabbit.

--The film has been called a remake of the 1946 film The Beast With Five Fingers with Peter Lorre (who also starred in the crazy hand thriller Mad Love), but The Hand is supposed to be an adaptation of the novel The Lizards Tail by Marc Brandell.

The Bug Speaks
Oliver Stone is more known now for his war and conspiracy flicks, but at the time this was the director's second feature (his first being the horror flick Seizure featuring Barnabas Collins himself Jonathan Frid). Having never seen his other film, I can't judge if Stone made any kind of improvement between the two horror films, but even he has stated that he never had the
hand (so to speak) for the genre. He followed up this film with Salvador then started a successful run of films with Platoon, Wall Street, and Talk Radio. He never really looked back, but his films Natural Born Killers and U-Turn clearly have homage to pay to genre film.

The film overall has many weak parts to it. The story seems like one that has been told in variation many times over the year. The aforementioned Mad Love and The Hands of Orlock come to mind immediately, and the film seems to hold some kind of kinship to the W.W. Jacobs story The Monkey's Paw. The story is so thin it really felt like it should have been part of and '80's anthology series such as Amazing Stories. The running time of almost 2 hours did not help matters as the slow burn of the thrills left me rather uninterested in parts.

Michael Caine definitely seemed to be there for a paycheck (and as you may have seen in Film Facts, he in fact was), and did very little to impress on screen. The only time I felt for the character was when he got his hand lopped off. The rest of the time I found him a fairly bland character whose troubles I could not get into. I did enjoy seeing Caine ham it up when he got his prosthetic hand which looked like someone had boosted it off Dr. No. Also near the end of the film as he battles himself in a bit of "hand to hand" combat, I was near tears from laughing.

As far as the rest of the cast, Marcovicci did make for a despicable enough wife, and if I felt anything for Caine's character it was relief when he got away from her. McGill, a Stone regular who appears as George Tenant in W., was enjoyable in his brief screen time, and it was a treat to see Oliver Stone himself appear as a homeless man who falls pray to the hand.

The only other high point to the film was The Hand. Carlo Rambaldi, who had previously worked on Fulci's Lizard In a Woman's Skin and would go on to design the titular alien in ET, did very well with the design of the disembodied hand. If it were not for a couple of poorly constructed shots it would have looked very nice indeed. In no way would it work on film now, but I will always prefer a sketchy practical effect to a CG-fest. Also on a side note for any Alias fans, the Rambaldi artifacts in the series are named after the special effects wizard.

In the end, the film seems like an average effort that went below the line with sub-par performances and a rehashed script. In looking around about this film it seems that it is one that people either love or hate. Personally, I didn't hate it, but I won't be re-watching it again more than likely. For anyone who loves Stone this is worth a watch to see a little known part of his canon, but for fans of horror, you'd be better off checking out some of the other severed hand flicks I've mentioned or even the 1990's horror comedy Idle Hands.

The Bug Rating

4 comments:

  1. Thanks, LB, I have been trying to think of the name of the Peter Lorre hand film( well the other one ). The Beast with Five Fingers is the film I was talking about when you showed me The Hand. Thanks again.

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  2. Great choice for your 1st "Video" Review - I rather liked this one, personally. . .

    As always, nice review!

    [and just so you know, Netflix's Queue maxes out at 500 - I too hate to see the mom & pop video stores closing, yet - like you - I too am a Netflix junkie!] :-)

    J

    ReplyDelete
  3. hahahaha ~ really though, it's plenty! The way I constantly play around in my queue, it wouldn't surprise me if there are movies still in there, from when I first joined, back in '03

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