The Curator of Schlock #10 by Jeffrey Shuster
The Hand: A Story about a Phantom Limb (Mwa ha ha ha ha)
1981’s The Hand is a psychological horror movie starring Michael Caine. Over here at The Museum of Schlock, we typically thumb our nose at psychological horror. We want blood and guts and zombies and devil babies. We don’t want to think. Unfortunately, there is a demand for more films starring Michael Caine on this blog and The Hand is the only one I have at the ready. What could possible go wrong?
Michael Caine plays Jon Lansdale, a husband and father who spends all of his time earning a living for his family by drawing a comic strip about a barbarian named Mandro. Lansdale’s wife, Anne, wants a separation so she can find herself in New York City. They get into a fight while she’s driving and Lansdale gets his hand lopped off by an approaching truck. They don’t find his hand in the tall grass, but that’s okay, it’s not like it was his drawing hand or anything…Oh wait. It was his drawing hand. There’s an ugly stub where his drawing hand used to be. Let’s all laugh at Jon Lansdale! Hahahahaha!
Anyway, Lansdale keeps having dreams about his severed hand crawling around all over the place. His wife thinks he should see a shrink, but Lansdale says there are better things to spend their money. Lansdale’s editor hires a new artist to work on his Mandro strip and the new guy wants to make Mandro into a namby-pamby hero because namby-pamby heroes sell. Lansdale’s wife is spending an awful lot of time hanging out with her studly yet sensitive yoga instructor, but they’re just friends. Let’s all laugh at Jon Lansdale! Hahahahaha!
Anyway, Lansdale quits his cartoon strip to teach at a small college out in California. He teaches a class on drawing comic strips to a bunch of students who don’t really like comics. But one of his hot female students has thing for men with scary prosthetic hands. Lansdale likes this girl and even buys her some lingerie. Then he finds out she’s been sleeping with another professor who resembles a rodeo clown. The student and professor end up missing and the audience is treated to scenes of Lansdale’s severed hand attacking and killing these people.
I won’t spoil the ending for you on whether the hand is real or not, whether Lansdale is doing the murders or if the murders are even happening at all. I don’t think that’s the point of the movie. It’s psychological. It’s an exploration of the darker side of human nature. It’s…who am I kidding? It’s about a bunch of characters who deserve to die from the hand of a protagonist we genuinely identify with. This is one of Michael Caine’s best performances. We see his anger bubbling under the surface and exploding out in full force when the scene requires it.
The direction is impeccable. For a movie released in 1981, it’s held up extremely well. There’s a timeless quality to The Hand and it looks better than most movies made today. Pacing is excellent. The director is a little known filmmaker named Oliver Stone. Yes, Oliver Stone made a horror movie featuring a psychotic Michael Caine and his severed hand. And the movie is good. I don’t know what to tell you folks.
Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47) is an MFA candidate and instructor at the University of Central Florida.