Friday, October 15, 2010

The Hand (1981)

Michael Cain stars as Jon Lansdale, a comic strip artist who creates the weekly exploits of a Conan-ish character called Mandro. He loses his hand in a gory accident (the scene doesn’t skimp on the gore), and the hand is never found. Jon’s shaky marriage results in separation with Jon’s wife taking their daughter away for a bit. Jon gets a metal hand to replace his old one (it has the crushing force of Bruce Campbell’s hand from Army of Darkness), he gets increasingly depressed about losing his old hand, gets a job teaching at a University and has an affair with one of his students. Jon also experiences black-outs and murders start happening around him. Could it be the disembodied hand? Could Jon be murdering people without knowing it?

I enjoyed this movie. Being written and directed by Oliver Stone, this shows a very playful side to the director who went on to do stuff like JFK and Nixon. There’s a great scene where Michael Cain argues with the replacement writer of Mandro that Mandro is an action character, after seeing the changes the writer has brought to the character such as introspection and angst. “You don’t cut the balls off of Superman!” Cain yells. With this scene, Oliver Stone predicted the shape of things to come 20 years later with audiences demanding realistic, watered down fantasy with an emphasis on “themes” and “massages” rather than actual fun.

As for the movie itself, the disembodied hand is depicted as killing the victims in the movie (including Oliver Stone himself as a homeless man). You’re supposed to be left wondering if we’re watching Cain’s version of events from his head, or if the hand really is going around killing people that Cain’s character secretly hates. By the end, it’s still not really clear, but I vote that the disembodied hand is real. If it’s not, Cain’s character also has that super-strong metal hand that’s thrown in for good measure.

By the end of the movie, I felt like I witnessed the birth of a new franchise character. Had the film been successful, I’m sure we would have seen the countless sequels that accompanied stuff like Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween at the time. Michael Cain would have been one of the horror heroes of the period and Oliver Stone’s career would have probably been very different. But alas, it was not meant to be.

4 out of 5. Really good movie. Well written, well shot, well acted (especially Michael Cain), great Stan Winston special effects.


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