Twisted Terror: The Hand Review

Oliver Stone has become known as the king of socio-political epics, his occasional forays into smaller-scale drama overshadowed by vast and, occasionally overblown works such as The Doors, JFK, Alexander and, for my money his best film, Nixon. At first glance, The Hand, like its predecessor Seizure, would seem to be an anomaly in Oliver Stone’s filmography. But in its vision of psychological trauma played out through physical violence, it’s actually a lot more typical than it might appear.

In Nixon, the bombing of Cambodia is explained as the expression of Nixon’s own inner demons; rage built up through years of being patronised and passed over coming out in maniacal acts of warfare. Alexander The Great, in Stone’s version at least, got his taste for conquest through being the confused product of an egomaniac father and an insanely manipulative mother. Time and again in Stone’s work, violence is the work of the messianic, the megalomaniac and the plain mad. Given that this usually results in the deaths of thousands, whether in Vietnam, Cambodia or El Salvador, a crawling hand that kills a few people seems pretty small beer. It’s also far from original – a virtually identical plotline is used in the Christopher Lee segment of Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors and, with added brown paper, in Asylum. Trick it out with as many psychological and scientific fripperies as you will, this is nothing more than warmed-up horror pulp in which Michael Caine plays a cartoonist who, upon losing his hand in a car accident, finds his severed organ revenging itself on the people who upset him.

Oliver Stone doesn’t appear to realise this, sadly, and treats the film with immense solemnity. Certainly, the technical aspects of the movie are respectable enough but for what is essentially a piece of gory trash, it’s notably lacking in fun. Instead, we have endless dialogue scenes between husband and wife, repeating the same arguments ad nauseum but in an inconsistent manner. One minute, Stone’s sympathies seem to be with the wife and the next he’s turned her into a cold, manipulative bitch. Stone has never been very good on female characters but Andrea Marcovicci is given so little to work with that he seems to have lost any interest in her character. Equally, Annie McEnroe, as a student who beds Caine, is made to seem both unbelievably needy and irrationally heartless. Admittedly, before one gets too righteously feminist, the male characters get short shrift too – the wife’s lover barely registers and Bruce McGill gets nothing more than a few likeable moments before he’s become a drunk bully.

Michael Caine brings tremendous conviction to the film and gives it what credibility it has. He’s not helped by his hairstyle which begins quite sensibly and gradually becomes wilder until he begins to resemble Coco the Clown. Since this coincides with the film’s descent into outright lunacy, his transformation is perhaps appropriate. The sequence where Sir Michael has to battle against the hand is probably a camp classic but certainly nothing more. Stone’s total inability to decide whether the hand is real or merely an excuse for Caine’s own crimes means that the twist ending is merely daft. If you keep your sense of humour, then it’s more amusing than annoying – but it’s certainly not remotely effective. In fact, the most praiseworthy element of the film is Carlo Rambaldi’s much-maligned crawling hand which is suitably grisly and considerably better than that Amicus crawling hand which was wheeled out so often between 1965 and 1973. The suggestion that it was shot in black and white to make it look better doesn't hold up since the last half hour features it prominently in colour. The black and white looks to me like a desperate effort to add a certain artiness by an inexperienced director - the actual result is to destroy any suspense since we know exactly when the hand is going to appear by the way that the colour suddenly turns into monochrome.

The Disc

The Hand has been released on R1 DVD by Warners, both individually and as part of their ‘Twisted Terror’ box.

The anamorphic 1.78:1 picture is progressive and really very good indeed, certainly better than I had expected. Colours are quite wonderful throughout, particularly during the exterior scenes, and there’s an attractive sharpness which never creeps into excessive enhancement. Equally, I have no complaints about the two-channel mono soundtrack which is very crisp and showcases James Horner’s atmospheric score.

Oliver Stone provides a commentary track, thus finally breaking his silence on a film which he has, in the past, been reluctant to talk about. It’s a very entertaining chat with lots of unexpected self-deprecating humour and some interesting reflections on what did and didn’t work. He does have a slightly skewed vision of the film – he appears to find the wife’s character sympathetic for example – but he puts his points clearly and intelligently.

The other extra feature on the disc is the original theatrical trailer. There is no scene selection menu, which I find irritating and penny-pinching – as I’ve said on my reviews of other discs in this set. Optional subtitles are provided for the film but not for the commentary.

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