Archive for April 1981

The Hand

April 24, 1981

Like his debut Seizure, Oliver Stone’s second feature The Hand is a literalized horror-movie treatment of psychological tensions. David Cronenberg did it better, and Stone was wise to stop at this point. The movie has some parallels with its predecessor — creative type cracks up, his hostility manifesting itself as an Id creature who goes after his acquaintances — though it’s based on other material, Marc Brandel’s solid novel The Lizard’s Tail. Michael Caine is a cartoonist who loses his drawing hand in a car accident. The severed hand takes on a life of its own and flops around strangling people (including Stone himself, in a cameo as a bum), while the increasingly agitated Caine is suspected of the murders — which, in a sense, he’s guilty of.

As a study of Stone’s head at the time, it’s sort of interesting — with a streak of misogyny a mile wide, not to mention the hot resentments of a man who just wants to be left alone to do his art, man — but as a horror movie, it’s inescapably cheesy. Cronenberg had the ability to sell a ridiculous premise and merge it with psychological truths, so that the visual metaphors felt organic; Stone is stuck with a fake-looking hand throttling people or creeping around, and the hand’s-eye camerawork (“hand’s eye”?) just adds to the silliness. If it’s worth seeing for any reason, it’s Caine’s trouper performance as the unraveling protagonist; as always, Caine has his game face on no matter how oafish the movie is, and he gives the material far more intensity than it earns. After this effort, more or less universally laughed at, Stone retreated to screenwriting-for-hire for a while and didn’t direct again for five years — but when he returned, man, he returned with a vengeance.

Ms. 45

April 24, 1981

A crowd-pleasing but complex variation on Death Wish from bad-boy director Abel Ferrara, who gives himself a cameo as a rapist (!). Zoë Tamerlis shot to cult stardom as Thana, a mute seamstress who’s raped twice in one day. She kills the second rapist with an iron, giving her a taste for vengeance. The film becomes an exploitation classic when Thana takes to the streets in form-fitting black leather and heavy make-up and dispatches a quartet of muggers with cool efficiency. (I guarantee Quentin Tarantino watched this a lot while writing Kill Bill.) But then Ferrara and writer Nicholas St. John put a twist on the material by having Thana start killing men just because they’re men. As Danny Peary has written, the film undercuts any possible misogynist reaction (the rapes are terrible to watch; a nude scene is interrupted by a seat-jumper). Some weaknesses: the film is consistently underlit to the point where we’re not sure what’s happening; the scenes of Thana back at work after her murder spree are dull. But who cares? This is yet another of Ferrara’s compelling studies in grunge, with a courageous performance by Tamerlis and a particularly disquieting climax at a Halloween party. Disappointingly, the version available on the (now out-of-print) Artisan DVD is significantly cut (and not letterboxed, either). In 2014 the film was re-released in theaters, and reissued on DVD/Blu-ray, by Alamo Drafthouse; that’s the version to get. In 1999, Tamerlis died of drug-related lung and heart failure. She was only 37.