The Hand (1981)

Country: United States
Starring: Michael Caine, Andrea Marcovicci, Annie McEnroe, Bruce McGill, Viveca Lindfors, Rosemary Murphy, Mara Hobel
Writer: Oliver Stone
Director: Oliver Stone
Cinematograher: King Baggot
Music: James Horner
Producer: Edward R. Pressman

The great thing about watching a Michael Caine film is that you do not know what you are going to get. It could be a masterpiece, or Caine may have simply needed some cash to build an extension to his home. And that works for me. Though The Hand is a strange addition to the Caine cannon. The film is complete B-grade trash, but Caine gives an absolutely mesmerising performance, displaying a full range of emotions, from gentle humour and tenderness, through pain and anger, and finally to delusional psychosis. It is so strange that Caine should put in a performance of this quality for a film that frankly, doesn’t warrant it. Needless to say, the film is all the better for it, and at times it is easier to overlook some of the film’s inconsistencies due to the weight of Caine’s performance.

But the film is pretty silly though. Caine plays Jonathan Lansdale who is a successful writer of a comic strip featuring a character named ‘Mandro’. He lives with his wife Anne (Andrea Marcovicci) and his daughter Lizzy by a lake in the countryside. It all seems rather idyllic. But not so. Lansdale’s wife is not happy. She misses the city and wants to move back to New York with their daughter. The couple have an argument about this while she drives him to a meeting. Distressed and distracted, she tries to overtake a truck on a turn. Another vehicle comes from the opposite direction and the Lansdale’s are sandwiched in between. With his hand out the window, Lansdale tries to signal to the driver behind them to slow down so they can pull back in to the correct lane in safety – but too late! Lansdale’s hand is ripped off by the vehicle traveling the other way. The hand flies off through the air and lands in a long grassy field beside the road. A search is mounted for the hand but it is never found.

Months pass and the Lansdale family is coming to terms with Jonathan’s stump. At a checkup at the doctors, Lansdale tells the doc that he can still feel his fingers. The doctor says that these are just phantom feelings. His brain has not come to terms with the loss of the hand yet, and he could feel phantom sensations for years. Here is where the story gets predictably weird. It appears that Lansdale’s hand has come back to life and is now stalking its former owner. Why is it stalking its owner – well that’s never really explained. In fact a lot is left unexplained in this film. It is never made clear if ‘The Hand’ is on Lansdale’s side – like a friend – or whether the ‘The Hand’ is upset and angry because it is no longer a part of Lansdale’s body and it simply wants to cause havoc. Or maybe ‘The Hand’ does what it wants depending on its mood – some days it helps, other days it doesn’t.

As you may have realised, the hand that Lansdale lost was his ‘illustrative’ hand so he cannot work – or at least not as a comic strip artist any more. His publisher suggests that a new young artist takes over the strip, and Lansdale acts as a creative consultant. The publisher sends over some art samples for Lansdale to inspect, but when he returns them, they have been vandalised – or more correctly covered in scribble. Lansdale didn’t do it. Who did? Uh-huh – the vengeful ‘Hand’. Now Lansdale begins to see his ‘Hand’ in his mind.

Jonathan and Anne’s marriage disintegrates and Jonathan takes a job as a teacher at a small university in another town. Meanwhile Anne has moved on too, and is seeing her yoga instructor. Jonathan isn’t happy about this because he wants to keep the family together. Having said that, even though he wants his wife to remain chaste and come back to him, in the interim this doesn’t stop him from starting an affair with one of his students, Stella (Annie McEnroe).

All this rather contrived partner swapping in the story is simply to build up a bit of sexual tension and jealous rage from Lansdale. With these emotions in play, he can send his ‘Hand’ off to do his bidding for him. Or so he thinks. He senses what it is doing and thinks he is controlling it. Earlier, It killed an abusive drunk who confronts Lansdale in the street (a cameo by director Oliver Stone). Later it kills a rival for Stella’s affections. And ultimately it turns on Lansdale himself.

The Hand is entertaining in its way but it is clumsy. It should be a ’shock film’. The renegade hand should be popping up all the time, in an unpredictable and gruesome fashion. But instead the film plays like a quasi psychological thriller, but all the twists are predicable and the inconsistencies become a bit annoying in the end. There is nothing new to be found here. Oliver Stone directs this film with very little flair. I know it’s one of his earlier works (it could even be his directorial debut) but there is very little style. The Hand effects are by Carlo Rambaldi and at times they are a bit clunky – the flesh doesn’t always look right, which is very noticeable when the ‘Hand’ is wrestling a real human hand.

All in all, I enjoyed watching The Hand because it is a Michael Caine film — and I am a fan. Had another actor been in the role, I don’t think I’d give this film the time of day. It’s B-grade trash, and for what is purported to be a horror film, it is not scary.

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