A.J.’s Big ’80s Horrorthon #10: “The Hand” (1981)

by A.J. Hakari

Michael Caine is among that elite corps of actors for whom a bad performance is nonexistent. Lord knows he’s tried enough, as his roles in Bewitched, Jaws: The Revenge, and The Island have demonstrated, but Caine has always emerged with his talent and street cred no worse for the wear. He’s definitely been in far greater disasters than The Hand, in which Oliver Stone (helming his debut feature) tries to expand a B-grade premise into a harrowing psychological drama but falls pretty short of sinking the putt.

Caine plays Jonathon Lansdale, a comic strip artist whose home life has started to hit the skids. Things are getting more tense between him and his wife Anne (Andrea Marcovicci), but before they can confront their problems, a car accident slices off Jon’s right hand and sends it sailing into a field. Jon tries his hardest to adjust to life without the appendange that put bread on the table, although there’s one drawback that not even therapy can cure. Our hero has a knack for blacking out, and when he does, whoever’s particularly frustrating him at the time turns up dead. Is Jon’s fragile mind turning him into a killer, or has a beast with five fingers come back to bring his homicidal fantasies to life?

Ambiguity is the lifeblood of a film like The Hand, and unfortunately, it needs a transfusion. Stone wants to toy with our perception of the movie’s events, instilling doubt as to whether Jon is commiting these nasty murders or if his sentient hand is the culprit. But without giving a whole lot away, it’s safe to say that Stone crosses that fine line between being vague about what’s really going on and flat out lying about what we’ve seen. He’s just not equipped to imbue The Hand with enough cerebral torment to make it feel like anything beyond a paycheck movie — which, for headliner Caine, it apparently was. Caine’s a good sport, displaying as much dignity as a guy whose chief job involves yelling at his prosthetic mitt is allowed, but the soapy subplots surrounding him don’t do much to intensify his descent into madness.

The Hand makes a decent stab at trying to be a more prestigious shocker than usual, and if anything, it’s never outright dumb. It just doesn’t settle into a proper rhythm, one that would allow the film to not only escape its snicker-inducing premise but to disturb viewers the way it obviously wants to. The Hand ain’t total schlock, but Stone’s good intentions simply can’t gain the upper…nah, I won’t say it…