Hand of Death

A particular shot commonly used in action flicks, gangster movies and murder mysteries. All that is shown is An Insert of a hand or a pair of hands, and possibly the murder weapon itself. This gives a sense of building tension without revealing the murderer's identity. Sinister black gloves are optional.

Often, the character is walking slowly—one might say...ominously—with a gun in his hand, held down by his side. He may well be wearing a trenchcoat.

Common in slasher films. Even more common in Giallo.


Examples:

Film
  • Used in Psycho's infamous shower scene. Anthony Perkins wasn't on the set while it was filmed; he had an engagement elsewhere.
  • A Shot in the Dark does this with several botched attempts at killing Clouseau.
  • Clue is full of these. Everyone seems to wear black gloves at one point or another.
  • The Usual Suspects does a fair amount of this.
  • Not only did Dario Argento use this trope a lot, he frequently donned the killer's black gloves himself for the inserts. In Germany, his The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was even retitled The Secret of the Black Gloves.
  • Subverted masterfully in The Sting. The audience knows that an assassin named "Salino" has been assigned to kill Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford). From that point on, there are numerous shots of a pair of hands in purple gloves doing various things. In the final shot they are loading a revolver. It turns out that they aren't Salino's hands at all. They are the hands of the bodyguard that Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) hired to keep an eye on Hooker. He shoots Salino.
  • Gloved in proper classic black in The Radioland Murders before some (but not all) of the titular hits. Appropriate since this was a homage to the radio era.
  • Modernized in Red Dragon gloved in latex. Traces of talcum powder imply the murderer removed the gloves at the crime scene. Sure enough, a partial print is found.
  • Used in Strange Days, since we see the murders through a recording of the killer's perspective.
  • Used for all the murders in the slasher parody Student Bodies.
  • For most of Circus of Fear, the killer is only seen as a gloved hand.
  • Subverted in the opening scene of Charade, where a gun pointed at the heroine by a black gloved hand turns out to be a child's water pistol.

Literature

Live-Action TV
  • Parodied by Police Squad!. We repeatedly see the killer's shoes as he walks, and we see his gloves and business suit sleeves as he sets up the bombs. When Drebin finally confronts the bomber, it turns out to be the suspect's wife, still wearing the glove, sleeve and shoes... and otherwise dressed like a housewife.
  • Used frequently in Midsomer Murders.
  • Also used frequently when showing the set-up to the murder in Whodunnit? (UK).
  • A frequent occurrence in the BBC Miss Marple adaptations.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The hand of the robot operator in "The Sontaran Experiment" is handled this way, to save his reveal for a cliffhanger.
    • "The Brain of Morbius" introduces Solon with a shot of his hands as they cover the sculpture he's making of Morbius's face.
    • This how the killer is depicted in the first episode of "Black Orchid", allowing for a dramatic reveal of his face in the second.
    • Heavily overused in "The Five Doctors" for the person responsible for bringing everyone to the Death Zone, until their identity is revealed.
  • Frequently used in the first season of Bron|Broen, although less so in the second.
  • Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: A gloved hand is shown drawing a knife and advancing on Osman Efendi in "Death Do Us Part". A spray of blood informs the viewer of his fate.
  • Frontier Circus: This technique is used in "Calamity Circus" to conceal the identity of the saboteur.

Theatre
  • In The Cat and the Canary, a hand twice emerges from a hidden panel, first to throttle Mr. Crosby and then later to steal the necklace from around Annabelle's throat.