10/23/11

The Halloween Top 13:The Devil Made Me Do It #9: The Devil's Hand (1962)

Despite what it seems like on Mad Men, not everyone's secret life in the early 60's was rife with infidelity and assumed identity. Sometimes behind the square hair and the grey flannel suit, there lurked a Satanist hiding. At least that's what The Devil's Hand, #9 on The Halloween Top 13: The Devil Made Me Do It, would lead viewers to believe. Cut from the cautionary cloth of the classic exploitation films, The Devil's Hand is a mixed up miasma of imagined fact, misguided symbolism, and overwrought acting. In short, it's one of the most soundly entertaining films on this list, and despite its shortcomings, it hits a creepy vibe that cannot be denied. Released by Crown International Pictures, AIP's younger brother, it's easy to imagine this picture playing at a drive-in while varying amounts of attention were paid to it. It's also a pity that The Devil's Hand is so often overlooked and forgotten, and I'm hoping this critical high five with Satan's exploitative wonder will get more than a few people interested.

Rick Turner (Robert Alda) is a troubled man. Despite the fact that he is set to marry the lovely Donna Trent (Ariadna Welter), nightly he has visions of a beautiful blonde dancing in the skies outside his window. One night, unable to clear his mind, he goes for a walk, and there in the window of a doll shop, he finds a doppelganger of his dream woman. The next day Rick returns to the doll store with Donna, and the owner Francis Lamont (Neil Hamilton) insists that Rick himself had ordered the beautiful blonde doll for a woman named Bianca Milan (Linda Christian). Rick, having never heard of her, is highly upset, and another doll who appears to be a dead ringer for Donna doesn't help matters. After they leave, Donna is beset by heart trouble which lands her in the hospital. That night, the dream woman begins to speak to Rick and invites him to her home. Completely enraptured, Rick complies, and he soon finds himself part of a cult that worships the devil-god Camba and traffics in human sacrifice, voodoo, and mind control.

I even consulted a few books I have laying about the house to see if I could determine any origin for the films devil god "Camba", but I came up entirely empty. Here's what The Devil's Hand taught me about its religion. The ceremonies are started with some tribal dancing and drumming which amounts to more of a floor show than an evocation. Camba does not care for treacherous members, but for a cult of 12 people, there are a whole lot of them. Its members also work with voodoo dolls, but only with the biggest straight pins ever invented.Camba sadly can not show the audience Linda Christian topless, but it can keep a topless statue of her around as the cult's "love goddess" along with a giant Buddah, various fake Ming vases, and tons of other religious paraphernalia that isn't part of Christianity or any other devil-god worship apart from that of the questionable Camba. Also, obscure devil-gods derive pleasure from getting to pick their own sacrifices. So the fact that it has a strange wheel of death with alternating real and fake swords that gets lowered on the sacrifice, puts some spice into the demon's life.

In a nutshell, the devil worship is hilarious, but somehow Neil Hamilton, as cult leader/doll maker Frank Lamont, manages to bypass how functionally silly his religion is and summon up a good deal of menace. Hamilton is almost completely unrecognizable as the kindly Commissioner Gordon character he would play on TV's Batman. Robert Alda, father of Alan, made his debut in 1945's Rapsody In Blue playing composer George Gershwin, but only two years later he starred in his first horror film, The Beast with Five Fingers opposite Peter Lorre and would later appear in Bava's Satanic Lisa and the Devil though his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. Alda is convincing as a man possessed by lust or magic, or a combination of the two, to disregard all the bad decisions he makes. Ultimately, his character is redeemed, but honestly can you look at Linda Christian and not be tempted. In her younger days, Christian had been in Tarzan films as well as appearing as the first Bond girl on the TV version of Casino Royale. When she made The Devil's Hand, she was 39 years old better looking by far than today's skin and bones starlets.. Christian was pure bombshell, and even though she was almost always clothed from neck to toe, she oozed sex. Strangely, the mousy Ariadna Welter, her rival for Rick's affections, was her actual flesh and blood sister.

Director William J Hole Jr. doesn't ever bring the film above a workmanlike effort, but I think the script by Jo Helms is actually what made The Devil's Hand. Helms would go on to write the Clint Eastwood hits Dirty Harry and Play Misty for Me, and it is clear that he was already very attracted to suspense as a genre in his treatment of The Devil's Hand. The film sets up suspense in a classic Hitchcockian manner (the audience knows more than the characters) and uses this wisely to push forward a story that relies on cult meetings to progress its story. The reason it makes it on this list, and this high on the list, is simple. While the script is well paced, the acting suitable, and the film making acceptable, the crazy misinformation piled on top of this made up "satanic" cult. I have a sneaking suspicion that Camba started off life as Satan before the script was toned down. However the racial insensitivity, which casts basically any non-Western religion as devil worship, was an attitude which I suspect was common in the early '60's and one not totally dead even today.

That brings me to the end of #9 on the countdown, but don't forget to join me back here for the 8 days leading up to Halloween for more Satanic panic. (Also tomorrow reader lists start!)

Bugg Rating

This ones online in its full length format so check it out, and let me know if you give Satan's exploration gem a hand up or a smack down. 

1 comment:

  1. Good, as far as the genre goes. I give it a C+

    The good sis looks hotter when she was about to be skewered under the testing wheel.

    Thanks for the show.

    ReplyDelete

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