Sunday, October 14, 2007

Nothing Will Prepare You

THE HAND is the only DVD in Warner Brothers' TWISTED TERROR COLLECTION that offers an audio commentary track. Oliver Stone, who adapted a novel by Marc Brendel, provides his running thoughts on THE HAND, which was his second feature as a director (after 1974's SEIZURE) and his first for a Hollywood studio. I don't think it's a very successful film, though it does have its moments of suspense and develops themes of obsession and paranoia that run throughout Stone's later, more famous films.

1981's THE HAND is a "psychological thriller" starring Michael Caine as Jonathan Lansdale, a comic-strip artist whose career is jeopardized when he loses his drawing hand in an auto accident (re-created in an excitingly edited and brutally realistic manner by Stone and his special effects crew). Frustrated by his employers' attempt to keep the strip alive with inferior artists and by his wife Anne's (Andrea Marcovicci) lack of interest in their marriage, Jon, on the verge of cracking up, moves alone out West to teach art at a small college. There he becomes involved with a sexy student (Annie McEnroe) amid a series of murders that may or may not be the handiwork of Caine's missing hand, which was never found after the accident. Could the five-fingered fiend have a mind of its own, killing indiscriminately? Could Caine be manifesting his own inner rage in the form of the hand? Or maybe it's all a figment of his--and our--imagination?

THE HAND's strength lies in its ambivalence between Grand Guignol horror and psychological terror, not letting us know exactly what's going on until the very end. When Stone throws us another curve. Caine is excellent in the lead, registering confusion, rage, paranoia and dementia in a manner we hadn't seen before, at least not from Caine, who normally played good guys. Stone used to disclaim his early horror movies in print, often considering SALVADOR his "first movie," though he seems to have come around, judging from his commentary track. As with any of a director's early work, Stone finds faults here and there, but seems to overall be quite fond of THE HAND. He originally filmed it with less overt horror scenes than are in it now, the product of studio-ordered reshoots he willingly complied with. I think THE HAND would work better with either more straight horror or less, but the fence-walking approach tends to water down the suspense, I think.

THE HAND is not a bad picture, but a frustratingly obtuse one. I recommend it for Caine's performance and for the thrilling stunt sequence.

4 comments:

Robert said...

This was a SNEAK PREVIEWS "Dog of the Week" pick but honestly, I didn't mind the movie at all. Definitely not great on any level but considering much of the drek occupying movie screens and video shelves when this came out it wasn't THAT bad, and as your review illustrates there are some quite commendable aspects to the movie. Does Stone make any mention of SEIZURE during his commentary? It would have been interesting to see what other kinds of films he may have developed had he either stuck with or at least routinely re-visited the horror genre.

Robert H. said...

Having read THE LIZARD'S TALE after seeing this countless times on HBO in the early 80's, I have to say that Stone does a pretty good adaptation of the novel - where the movie stumbles (and stumbles badly) is in being very literal in having Caine's hand as an extension of his will... which, if you're going to call your movie THE HAND is probably hard NOT to do...

The book actually is much darker, ending with the main character essentially getting his way, having framed his colleague for murder and incapacitating his wife in a coma. None of this ridiculous PSYCHO homaging present... for a second film, it ain't bad.

Marty McKee said...

He does talk a little bit about SEIZURE, though little beyond "that was my first film, and it was another horror film." Considering in the past it had been reported that he didn't talk about his pre-SALVADOR films (as a director), I was surprised to hear him bring SEIZURE up (or do a THE HAND commentary, for that matter). Stone says that he never really wanted to make horror films and implies that he just doesn't get them ("I don't have the horror gene"), but that was the genre available to him at the time. Between SEIZURE and THE HAND, he had written PLATOON, but wasn't able to get it going, and BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, which actually got within two weeks of its shooting date before the plug was pulled. Al Pacino and Bruce McGill were in the cast, and Stone had been rehearsing with them for a period of time. I remember liking BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY when it was eventually made by Stone with Tom Cruise, but it's interesting to think what a late-'70s version with Pacino would have been like.

Marty McKee said...

Stone has a lot to say about LIZARD'S TAIL, and he admits much of the dialogue came from Marc Brendel, the book's author. I think a lot of the horror elements--the hand roaming around killing people--were forced on him by the studio. Stone says he participated in studio-mandated reshoots with Carlo Rambaldi's mechanical hands, and that Stan Winston and Tom Burman came in late in production to do the special effects makeup. He likes the Viveca Lindfors ending (so do I), but not the set nor the freeze frame.