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TCM Underground - October 2018
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Remind Me

The Hand

It's rare to have this many once-and-future Oscar winners working on a horror film from the early 1980s, when slashers ruled the landscape, but The Hand isn't just any ordinary horror movie. Oliver Stone, its writer and director, wasn't yet a household name but he was an Oscar winner, having earned a Best Screenplay award for the 1978 prison drama Midnight Express. That gave him the clout needed to get a top flight cast and a studio budget to direct his own screenplay, based on Marc Brandel's novel about a comic book artist who loses his hand, which then goes on a murderous rampage. We think. Let's back up first.

Although Stone had some cache in getting a good cast after winning an Oscar, he still had a hard time getting the actors he wanted. For the lead of the handless artist, he wanted Jon Voight, who won his Best Actor Oscar for Coming Home (1978) the very same evening Stone won his. In fact, that's how they met, but Voight wasn't interested. Stone tried to get his next choice, Dustin Hoffman (maybe he just really liked Midnight Cowboy) but that was a no-go too. That's when Michael Caine became interested.

The year before, Caine had made the horror movie Dressed to Kill with director Brian De Palma and loved the experience. In fact, he loved it so much that he wanted to do another horror movie right away. Also, he wanted to pay for some home projects he was working on and thought the paycheck would be quick and easy. At this point, having exhausted the 1978 and 1979 Best Actor winners wish list, Stone agreed and Caine signed on to do the movie.

Back to the plot: Michael Caine plays a comic book artist who, while arguing with his wife as they drive, gets his hand severed by a passing truck. The hand is never located and eventually Caine sees it murder a homeless man played by the director himself. Or, at least, he thinks he sees that. Honestly, it's never clear if the hand is out there murdering people or if Caine is just going crazy.

The movie's pedigree didn't stop with Stone and Caine. Working on one of his first scores was another future legend, composer James Horner. Working on the special effects was Carlo Rambaldi and working on the hand effects was none other than Stan Winston himself, while Viveca Lindfors, Bruce McGill and Charles Fleischer rounds out the cast. Unfortunately, none of this helped out at the box office.

Despite everything, The Hand didn't quite make the money the studio was hoping for. In fact, it lost quite a bit and Stone went back to writing screenplays for other directors, including Scarface (1983) for Brian De Palma and Year of the Dragon (1985) for Michael Cimino. Then, in 1986, Stone finally directed again, twice: Salvador scored big with critics while Platoon officially put Stone on the A-List at last.

Since then, many of the cast and crew of The Hand went on the bigger and better productions but there's something charming about this early Stone movie, and its bizarre plot. It's also a lot more entertaining, in its own weird way, than a lot of people give it credit for. Finally, it's got Michael Caine and if there is one thing Caine has never done, in any movie, not even the notoriously bad Jaws: The Revenge (1987), is give a bad performance. When that hand rips off in the car, Caine sells it like a pro. He sells the rest of it too.

Directed by Oliver Stone
Written by Oliver Stone, based on a book by Marc Brandel
Produced by Edward R. Pressman
Music by James Horner
Cinematography by King Bagg
ot Film Editing by Richard Marks
Production Design by J. Michael Riva
Art Direction by Richard Sawyer
Set Decoration by Virginia L. Randolph
Costume Design by Ernest Misko
Special Makeup Effects by Stan Winston
Special Effects by Carlo Rambaldi
Cast: Michael Caine (Jonathan Lansdale), Andrea Marcovicci (Anne Lansdale), Annie McEnroe (Stella Roche), Bruce McGill (Brian Ferguson), Viveca Lindfors (Doctress), Rosemary Murphy (Karen Wagner), Mara Hobel (Lizzie Lansdale), Pat Corley (Sheriff), Nicholas Hormann (Bill Richamn), Ed Marshall (Doctor), Charles Fleischer (David Maddow), John Stinson (Therapist), Richard Altman (Hammond), Sparky Watt (Sergeant), Tracey Walter (Cop)

By Greg Ferrara
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