Here’s a trivia question for all of you:
Q: 1981 is largely considered by many horror fans to be “The Year of The Slasher”, due to the insanely large number of “slasher” films released in that year alone. How many 1981 slasher films can you name?
Well, I hope that you didn’t spend too much time making a list because in a move that is sure to drive many slasher fanatics crazy, our good friend Dr. Jose of Camera Viscera will NOT be covering ANY of them for this year’s Halloween Horrors “claim” of that year. Sorry, Jason! Sorry, Michael! Sorry, Harry Warden! Maybe next year!
In the 4+ years that I’ve ran Horror And Sons, Doc has easily become one of my most trusted colleagues. So much so that I was discussing the theme for this year’s Halloween Horrors series all the way back in June. Maybe even May. Which is why I also allowed him to claim his year for this series before the theme was even announced. What can I say? I’m a considerate bastard.
Please welcome Doc back for his 4th year of the series. And be sure to follow along with his #31DaysofJunk series on his Facebook page, where he will be trying out a different fall or Halloween-themed “junk food” each and every day of the month!
Perhaps the most charming thing about Oliver Stone’s frenetic 1981 psycho-drama The Hand (if “charming” can even be used to describe a film about an amputated appendage that goes on a killing spree), is the fact it’s so different than the type of horror that was being released at the time. It feels borne of a different era than the one it existed in.
By the time The Hand was released, slasher films had a stranglehold on the genre. Following the success of Halloween, a new trend started to emerge. Gone were the atmospheric, trippy, or intensely emotional films that sustained 70’s horror for most of the decade; now it was masked killers hunting coeds at camp/a suburban home/a school – rich and unique characters, traded in for a body count.
With that in mind, it’s sort of admirable this this kooky and original “is-he-crazy-or-isn’t-he?” body-horror thriller was released alongside paint-by-number slashers like Halloween 2, Friday the 13th Part 2, Happy Birthday to Me, My Bloody Valentine, The Burning, and The Prowler – just to name a few. The Hand also contains a lot of not-so-subtle commentary on waning masculinity (possibly in the wake of the Women’s Lib movement of the 70’s), which wasn’t exactly par for the course with 80’s horror movies.
Michael Caine plays the ever-virile Jon Lansdale, a successful comic strip cartoonist living in the rolling hills of Vermont with his wife Anne (Andrea Marcovicci) and their daughter Lizzie (Mara Hobel). The idyllic family life we glimpse, however, is brief, and the domestic boat soon rocked, when Jon discovers that Anne, a stay at home mom, has signed up for some new-agey classes in New York without discussing it first. It’s immediately clear the type of man Jon is: rough-hewn, old-fashioned, cocky. A man’s man. (Basically, every type of character Caine was playing around this time. Autobiographically, too, in many ways.) And Anne’s sudden independence isn’t something he’s used to – or willing to easily accept.
The picturesque scenery is once again quickly shattered when, in a gruesome freak car accident involving a truck on a narrow road, Jon ends up losing his right hand. Though he’s taken to the nearest hospital in time to be saved, the hand is never found.
And it’s here where the head-trippy plot and female empowerment overtones – signposts of film and culture from the prior decade – start to shine, almost alienly, when compared to the other releases of 1981.
Following the accident, Jon’s world is turned upside-down. Not just physically, but emotionally, as well. The confidence he once had, his strength – his wholeness – is ripped away from him with the loss of his hand. Once he’s healed some and released from the hospital, Jon lay in bed at home with his wife, afraid to let her touch his arm. It’s just so ugly, he cries, that first night back. He’s no longer steely and stony, but a broken, fragile shadow of the person he once was.
That’s when he starts having visions of his dismembered, gray-fleshed hand, come back to life.
As Jon’s world continues to crumble in every other imaginable way, as his masculine character is further weakened (his female agent – who has to cut Jon’s steak for him at dinner – informs him that she’s bringing on a new artist to continue his comic strip; his wife starts seeing her new-agey guru instructor), Jon’s disembodied hand starts showing up to deliver some five-fingered justice to all those who cross him. It seems as though all of Lansdale’s missing power lay in his sentient hand.
There’s one more surprising element to the film: its cast and crew. Based on the novel The Lizard’s Tail, by Marc Brandell, The Hand was written and directed by Oliver Stone, and co-stars genre staples Bruce McGill, Charles Fleischer, and Viveca Lindfors. Stan Winston and Carlo Rimbaldi did the effects (which are great, by the way), and James Horner did the score. It’s such a motley crew of diversely talented people – none of whom you’d ever expect to work together, especially not all on the same movie, especially weirdo fare like The Hand. But they did, and it works.
One final observation: The Hand was released just one year after The Shining, and, while likely not intentional, there are similarities between the two, enough that watching The Hand immediately rang some bells. Like Jack Nicholson, Caine also plays an aggressive, frazzle-haired dude (suffering from a serious case of alcohol bloat), threatened by the mere existence of his significant other. And things only get worse for him when he decides to hole up in a remote cabin, deep in the Californian woods. And, of course, there’s the whole “what’s real and what isn’t?” angle to Caine’s visions. It’s far from Kubrickian, but at least it’s Stonian, and that ain’t bad.
If you’re suffering from slasher fatigue, but still want to watch something creepy from the ’80s – especially something you haven’t seen – I highly recommend The Hand!