The Hand is a 1981 American psychological horror film written and directed by Oliver Stone, based on the novel The Lizard’s Tail by Marc Brandel. The film stars Michael Caine as Jon Lansdale, a comic book artist who loses his hand, which in turn takes on a murderous life of its own.
Yes! Oliver Stone! The auteur film-maker of critically acclaimed movies like Platoon and Wall Street, started out making horror films! While The Hand was Stone’s second feature as director – his first for a major studio – Stone had established himself as a screenwriter with films like Midnight Express and Conan the Barbarian.
S P O I L E R S
The main character Jon Lansdale (Caine) suffers a traumatic incident when he loses hand in a grisly traffic accident. The incident occurs amidst the backdrop of Lansdale having an intense domestic quarrel with his wife Anne (Andrea Marcovicci). The loss of his hand – and effectively his livelihood as an artist – symbolises his loss of control over his life, in particular his marriage, as Anne is depicted as seeking a separate life from Lansdale.
This separation is cemented when Lansdale takes on a teaching post in California while Anne and their daughter relocate to New York, where Anne begins an affair with her yoga instructor. In California, Lansdale also begins to meet new people and strange things begin to happen — is Lansdale responsible or is it his severed hand, now acting on its own?
To be honest, the scenes where we see the hand in action are often unintentionally funny, it’s almost impossible to take them seriously. Arguably, the film would have been more effectively if the hand’s involvement was implied rather than shown directly in this manner. The subpar visual effects do not help in this regard.
Where the film ultimately fails is in the final act (ain’t it always the case?) as Lansdale is made to question his own sanity as a psychologist suggests that Lansdale has made up this fantasy of the monstrous hand to cover up his own murderous deeds. But of course, as The Hand is a horror movie, the narrative moves from psychological to the typical monster trope – deeply unsatisfying.
The Hand is probably best viewed by horror aficionados for Caine’s over the top performance as well as an early glimpse into the career of an auteur film-maker. Taken in that spirit, The Hand is recommended viewing.
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