The Hand (Oliver Stone, 1981)
I first saw The Hand on HBO back on the early eighties—it can’t have been any earlier than 1982, ’cause that’s when my family first got it—thanks to an article about it in Twilight Zone magazine, which I read religiously from issue 1 until about the end of the decade. (It’s the first magazine to which I ever subscribed with my own money. That, too, happened in 1982, and while I can’t swear to it these days, I’m guessing that the only time I ever willingly cut lawns in order to make money was so I could pay for my TZ subscriptions.) I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread at the time. There were a few other Stone flicks I enjoyed over the years; Platoon was barrels of fun until you got to that ridiculous final sequence, but that was it for me and Oliver Stone until he finally came up with Any Given Sunday. As the years passed, The Hand grew in my estimation, but I never actually got round to watching it again until last month to see if it was really all that and a bag of body parts. And it’s not, really—artistically, it’s not even in the same zip code as Any Given Sunday—but I have to say that I am down with any movie that contains Oliver Stone being horribly killed.
Plot: Jon Lansdale (Michael Caine) is a successful cartoonist who’s about to get a whole lot bigger thanks to a lucrative new contract—until a freak car accident severs his drawing hand at the wrist. Understandably, Lansdale lapses into a deep depression, fighting recovery tooth and (half-)nail, putting a strain on his relationship with his wife (The Stuff‘s Andrea Marcovicci). Once Lansdale tries to get back into the swing of things, he finds that life on the outside is not all that great for an artist who can no longer draw. But the more frustrated he gets with those who were formerly his allies, the more he suspects that there is a possibly-supernatural entity wreaking vengeance on those around him…in the form of his severed hand.
It’s a ridiculous concept, but digitalis knows even more ridiculous concepts have been embraced by the horror community and handed to unsuspecting viewers with aplomb. (One casts one’s mind back, affectionately, to the cheesy but undeniably effective final scene of Freaks.) Stone wants to use the conceit here, I think, in the same way Richard Attenborough used it in Magic three years previous, as a way of making us question whether Jon Lansdale has simply gone insane. The problem is that Stone never approaches Attenborough’s ambiguity here, and as a result, we have a simple, and not terribly effective, monster movie. Stone takes it some interesting places, but never quite follows through, which leaves us with a run-of-the-mill horror flick that’s certainly worth taking in if you get the chance, but not worth going out of your way for. ***