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.
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".
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.
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.
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.)
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!
The students in Jon's community college class were a extra-special treat. Extra-special. Just like the local law enforcement.
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.
*Someone* been doodling in the kitchen
while someone's been diddling in the bedroom...
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).
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: