Movies We Like
A half decade before his breakthrough films Salvador and Platoon would make Oliver Stone a major director with a political conscience, The Hand proves to be an odd film for Stoneaphiles. It’s his second following his unwatchable low budget horror flick, Seizure, and it works well as a suspenseful psychological horror thriller, but more importantly it proves that no matter how ridiculous the material Michael Caine makes anything worth watching.
Caine plays a successful comic book artist in Vermont. He and his younger wife (Andrea Marcovicci) are having marital problems - his wife wants to go to New York City to study at a groovy yoga center, he just wants to be left alone. He loses his hand in a freak car accident, which is the worst thing that can happen to an artist. The hand is never found. He is forced to get a mechanical prosthetic glove. After his wife leaves him, he takes a job teaching at a central California college. He begins an affair with a student (Annie McEnroe) and gets a yahoo drinking buddy (Bruce McGill, D-Day in Animal House and later a respected character actor in films like The Insider). Suddenly people around him start to turn up dead (including director Stone playing a wino). They are murdered on screen by a walking hand, but it may all be in Caine’s head. Is he actually doing the killing?
Stone was coming off winning an Oscar for his Midnight Express screenplay. Directing The Hand must have been something of a risk for him, with the lofty goals he had for his career (he was trying to get Platoon and Born On The Fourth Of July made). The Hand feels more like a British '70s horror film, with lots of talk and quiet moments, as opposed to the more violent films like Friday The 13th that were the more popular style for horror flicks in the '80s. For a genre flick it’s pretty sophisticated. Coming off Cheech And Chong’s Next Movie, The Hand is shot nicely by King Baggot (I love that name). The scene were Caine loses his hand is particularly well staged on a country road, recalling the earlier graphic films of David Cronenberg. The murders by the hand are not very suspenseful, but the build up to them is very eerie. Not much happens, but as Caine’s life gets more and more depressing, you can feel the rage boiling up in him. Is the hand the killer or is he? By the end the answer is pretty obvious, but the final scene with Caine and a prison psychologist has a great payoff (in the Brian De Palma mode).
Though The Hand is just a solid B-movie, Michael Caine’s intense performance helps to class it up. Caine was never one to appear to turn down a gig, like an old studio actor he would generally make two or three films a year. The high points of the '80s being Hannah And Her Sisters, Educating Rita, and going back to jolly old England for a supporting role in Mona Lisa. Still those other twenty or so films he cranked out in the decade are fascinating as well for their varying degrees of watchabilty. I remember Victory and Deathtrap fondly, while films like Beyond The Poseidon Adventure and Jaws: The Revenge appear to have been just about the paycheck (as of this writing his modern day pirate thriller, The Island, is still not available on DVD; I’ve always wanted to see it). With The Hand, Caine is at his most intense and creepy. As the murders pile up and the suspense deepens, as Caine’s character hangs around in middle America (on both coasts), with his curly Gene Wilder hair, the biggest mystery no one seems to wonder is who is this guy with the cockney accent swelling beers down at the local honky-tonk?