03 December 2007

Oliver Stone's The Hand

Continuing with the "newly-lost limb" theme of last week's I Know Who Killed Me, the Final Girl Film Club now presents Oliver Stone's The Hand.

This is the second selection from the recently released Warner Bros. Twisted Terror Collection, last month's pick having been Eyes of a Stranger. Eyes of a Stranger is a new favorite of mine, but I still haven't yet managed to complete my review - it's currently in progress!

The Hand is really not the sort of thing expected from Oliver Stone. For those that might not know his work by name, he is largely known for films about political controversies & conspiracies (Platoon, Born On the Fourth of July, JFK, Nixon) as well as writing screenplays such as Scarface and Conan the Barbarian. This movie led me to discover he previously wrote another horror screenplay based on a nightmare he had, which was made into the movie Seizure! that I'll be watching and reviewing next.

Expect more of a psychological horror thriller than a creature special effects film. Michael Caine stars as a comic-strip artist (Jon Lansdale) at the point of a mid-life crisis, whose drawing hand is severed in an automobile accident. As his life begins to unravel, he's thrown into fits of jealousy and rage, prone to drinking binges and blackouts. He comes to believe his severed hand, which was never recovered, is attacking the objects of his anger. Or is it just a delusion?

Oliver Stone adapted his screenplay for "The Hand" from a book titled "The Lizard's Tail" by Marc Brandel. In addition to the idea of a severed lizard tail having a life of its own, the movie contains many psychological themes regarding the idea of the reptilian brain. The reptilian brain is the center of our most primitive instincts, such as murderous rage and territoriality. (For more on the topic in layman's terms, try The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence by Carl Sagan).

Jon jokes early in the film, when his wife suggests the possibility of his seeing a psychiatrist:
"After a thousand dollars he'll probably tell me I have a penis complex because I lost my hand!" This seemed to be the central theme of the film. Jon is reasonably successful and attractive, but aging. He's been married to Anne (Andrea Marcovicci), his younger, beautiful wife, long enough to have fathered their daughter, but his wife already has a plan in effect to ditch the marriage in Vermont and move to Manhattan and start an upscale new-age macro-biotic life with her certifiably-icky yoga instructor.

"And tuck this!"

When a marital argument in the car leads to the loss of his livelihood, Jon becomes increasingly controlling and possessive. He feels threatened by the young up-and-coming artist (Charles Fleischer) that now has designs on taking over the comic strip that's been his life's work. Jon accuses him of "cutting the balls off" his main character, "Mandro".

*Someone* has scribbled all over David's work,
and drawn a little caricature of him, too!
Landing on his feet as men quite often do after a mid-life shake-up, he lands a cake-walk "teaching" job and rent-free house across the country in Big Bear Lake, California. Stella, a lovely young thing he's hardly taken notice of in class, delivers herself up on his doorstep.

In spite of this, he needlessly gets caught up in a swordfight with a crude fellow teacher (Bruce McGill) who styles himself to have a claim on Stella, even though she's made it abundantly clear she prefers Jon. Yep, pretty much sounds like a penis complex to me.

"Fuck Christmas!"

Oliver Stone originally had Jon Voight in mind for the lead role, but he turned it down. Dustin Hoffman and Christopher Walken also passed. Michael Caine accepted, despite not having a history in horror at the time, although he's known for his roles in several today. Besides starring an Academy Award winning actor in the lead role, I found the entire cast to be really outstanding.

Jon's little daughter Lizzie is played by Mara Hobel, who was nominated for a Razzie this same year for her role as the younger Christina Crawford in the cult classic Mommie Dearest. (Surely her nominations for both WORST SUPPORTING ACTRESS and WORST NEW STAR were due to the fab-atrociousness of the film itself, rather than due to any fault of her own.)

Mara Hobel as Christina

The highlight of the film for me was being introduced to Annie McEnroe (Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf Bitch), who plays Stella, the career community college student. I've been completely charmed. Her sketchbook is hysterical!

"I'll take it in the can!"

The students in Jon's community college class were a extra-special treat. Extra-special. Just like the local law enforcement.

Do you have a favorite comic strip, Billy?

How about you, dear?

Is this shirt supposed to look like watermelon seeds? It's cute!

Just in time for the holiday season, this movie even has scary Re-Gifting!

Music: There's a pretty boss Blondie song in the movie: Union City Blue. And in tribute to Stella, I hereby declare David Naughton's Makin' It an honorary soundtrack cut.

"I'm kinda old-fashioned, I like to make it in bed, okay?"

*Someone* been doodling in the kitchen
while someone's been diddling in the bedroom...

Special Effects:

The DVD includes a very easy-going, candid and enjoyable commentary by Oliver Stone.

I thought the car accident was corny, but he seems pretty pleased with it. Why didn't Jon just pull his hand in?

One of the things he discusses is being pressured by the studio to include bigger creature effects (à la Jaws) instead of the "less is more" approach. The hand effects were done by Carlo Rambaldi (King Kong, Alien, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Dune).

I was enamored with his lobster!

Stone says Stan Winston and Tom Burman joined the production late as consultants and helped save the day in the hand make-up department.


Three years later, Charles Fleischer (the replacement cartoonist) played the role of Dr. King in A Nightmare on Elm Street. John Stinton (the icky yoga instructor) later had a role in Freddy's Nightmares.

Word is SCTV did a sketch titled "My Bloody Hand" spoofing "The Hand" while the movie was in theaters in 1981. It's part of show #89 included in the Volume 2 DVD set. This is the kind of thing I'd love to see included as an extra on DVD releases, although surely red tape must often make it next to impossible. It's up next in my queue!

Other disembodied-hand movie selections for your perusal:

Idle Hands (1999)
Devon Sawa (pictured below) starred in this horror comedy the year before he appeared in Final Destination. After seeing Devon's performance in Final Destination, Dr. Dre cast him in the title role in Eminem's "Stan" video. Five years earlier, Devon starred in Casper with Christina Ricci. More recognizable names in Idle Hands are Fred Willard, Vivica A. Fox, Seth Green, and Jessica Alba. Jessica Alba is appearing in theaters this week in the medical horror movie "Awake" with Hayden Christiansen.


Stacie Ponder said...

Great post! I love that you included so much background info- I never seem to do that.

I was sooooo into Stella's sketchbook, too...it was so awful!


dreamrot said...

I'm amazed by the apparent level of effort you put into this. Jeez, I just spit some comments onto a page and call it done. Good job out of you!

I have to say I loved that there was no definitive answer to whether the hand was truly acting on it's own or a product of John's subconscious. I like it when a bit of the story is left to your imagination.

Bloody Mary said...

I agree, it's not so scary after you get out of bed and examine the closet with your flashlight!

Antaeus Feldspar said...

Ooogh, Seizure... I'll be interested to see what you see in that. I'm afraid my own experience with it is not a cherished memory, but I'll leave it at that so as not to prejudice you.

jon@evilontwolegs.com said...

I didn’t catch the reptilian brain angle, even though it seems clear now. I guess no amount of success or ambition can fully overcome that little piece of evolutionary baggage. Also, I’ll admit that had no idea (or had completely forgotten) that Stone wrote the screenplay for Conan the Barbarian. I can see now after reading your review that Stone seems as intent on exploring male machismo as much as American politics. I never knew he had such range. I really love your homage to other severed hand films!

ARBOGAST said...

Charles Fleischer turned up more recently as Suspect One in ZODIAC. He's all old now.

Bloody Mary said...

Ooh! Thanks SO much for pointing that out! I already saw Zodiac on DVD when it came out but I'm anxiously awaiting the Director's Cut next month, and now I'll know as I watch it again that "Suspect One" is him.

There were some really great creepy moments in Zodiac, I really enjoyed it. I'll plan to review it next month.

Corey said...

great post... the images rock and i see someone shares my love of focusing on insignificant details (i can't believe i missed the watermelon shirt when i watched it). and wow... bringing carl sagan into a discussion of a movie about a killer hand -- i'm stunned.

i see you have the thing and wrong turn in your netflix queue. i imagine you've seen both before, but if not -- i envy you. i love both those films so...

Bloody Mary said...

How about bringing Abraham Lincoln in a review of a Lindsay Lohan torture porn movie? :)

I had the tremendous honor of seeing The Thing without parental permission in the theaters the summer I was nine years old. Thanks Uncle Hugo!

I haven't seen Wrong Turn but it sounds like it will be a treat!

watch movies online said...

I hope this man becomes a Saint. I would appreciate seeing a person heal like that; and the movie made me know of it and believe it is possible.

Download Movies said...

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Bloody Mary said...

I delete a tremendous amount of spam from this blog, but sometimes it is so ridiculous, I just have to leave it be. (See previous two comments.) I'm thinking about instituing an annual award for the best spam.