There’s never really been a lot of talk about The Hand (1981) – remake of The Beast With Five Fingers (1946) – adaptation of Marc Bandell’s The Lizard’s Tail. Released on September 25th 2007 as 1/6th of Warner Brother’s Twisted Terror Collection, its lack of reputation, embedded amongst a collection of 5.99 movies – packed with hundreds and hundreds of frames of Michael Caine’s frizzy ‘do – there didn’t seem to be a whole lot to look forward to. But then…
Some ten minutes into The Hand, stuffy Michael Caine is riding in the passenger seat of a car with his hand out the window. A near accident occurs, and a truck sideswipes his door, chopping off his hand below the wrist. The hand goes flying off into a roadside cornfield, and after the cars come to a stop, Caine stammers out of the vehicle – holding his stump with a death grip – its fleshy and torn end squirting red blood in the air like a garden hose as he screams in utter agony. His wife races to his side, only to have the stump shoved before her eyes, gore drenching her Sunday morning dress.
All-righty now! That’s more like it! Now – Michael Caine is one of those actors that looks like he rolls out of bed and does his lines at 5am before his first cup of coffee. So you’re barely out of the 70’s and prior typecast, where sometimes crusty actors were given roles over eye catching models. Yet interestingly enough, The Hand is written and directed by none other than Oliver Stone. Made earlier in his career and just prior to his Academy Award winning Platoon, its easy to see his storytelling style warming up – with several black and white, slow motion, JFK type segments – adding cinematic flair to what plays out like a fairly good mystery novel.
As described, Caine lose his hand in a horrible and violent accident (which is great). Already losing grip on his marriage, this unfortunate mishap now puts his career as a comic book artist on the skids. To Jonathan Lansdale (Caine), losing his hand causes him in parallel to lose his mind. Nobody ever actually retrieves the appendage, and similar to Romero’s Monkey Shines which came later, his inner rage seems to inadvertently direct the deadly missions this creeping, undead hand embarks upon.
Lansdale feels his grip slipping. His face shading darker with unshaven stubble by the chapter, head in hands, blackouts… Even after connecting with art student Stella (Annie McEnroe) and unleashing one of the most pathetic sex scene put on film, his job falls apart, as does his fling at the pants of a drinking buddy – one by one they disappear – dispatched by the severed hand, carotid arteries torn open, larynxes cracked and crushed. Towards the end of the film, when the rage at his cheating and backstabbing wife is at its height, the hand comes to attack – only by the final frame, the question will be – was this all the psychotic imagery of a homicidal man who’s lost his mind, or is the severed, undead hand really out there, taking lives one by one at the emotional whim of Lansdale.
Final analysis: The premise is a crock but Oliver Stone gives this otherwise B-movie a swift professional kick in the ass and keeps it interesting. Its domestic, shallow, see-through, and centers a lot on Michael Caine’s tired eye bags, yet Stone’s directorial style props it up, there are a lot of stumps (if that’s your thing), and the blood flows hammer red at points. You can only go so far with a creeping, stinking hand – choke people, poke eyes, fist nuts… still, the breasts shot was nice, and the scene where he loses his hand is freakin sick. Mostly domestic drab – its not the type of film that could carry a primetime interest – but save it for 2am and it’ll do the job.