Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Hand

Go To
"It lives. It crawls. And suddenly, it kills."

The Hand is a 1981 American psychological horror film written and directed by Oliver Stone, based on the novel The Lizard's Tail by Marc Brandell. The film stars Michael Caine, Andrea Marcovicci, and Bruce McGill. Special effects were provided by Carlo Rombaldi and Stan Winston.

Jon Lansdale is a comic book artist who loses his right hand in a car accident. The hand was not found at the scene of the accident, but it soon returns by itself to follow Jon around and murder those who anger him.

Tropes used in The Hand include:

  • Air-Vent Passageway: At the end of the film, the hand reappears emerging from an air vent in the mental hospital. Justified, as it is a self-mobile severed hand and has no trouble fitting through a vent.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Just how real is the hand? While the film initially seems to indicate that the hand wasn't real and was just a delusion of Joe's broken mind, at the climax it suddenly reappears to kill his psychologist and free him from the asylum. Only the film goes to black-and-white, as it had during his blackouts, implying this might just be another delusion.
  • Amicable Exes: Averted, as the film progressed, it becomes evident that Jon and Anne both hate each other and tried to compete to gain full custody of their daughter Lizzie.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Jon loses his hand in a freak accident when it gets caught between his car and a truck.
  • Artificial Limbs: After losing his right hand in a freak accident, Jon is given a prosthetic hand that works fine for most purposes, but lacks the fine control he needs to be able to draw properly.
  • Artificial Limbs Are Stronger: Jon's prosthetic hand is capable of a much stronger grip than his real hand, and he often causes people pain when he grabs them in a fit of anger.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Cartoonist Jon Lansdale loses his right hand in a freak car accident. Although all he wants to do is draw, his doctor tells him the prosthetic will never have the fine control to allow him to do that.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Jon sits bolt upright in bed following a dream where he sees his hand scurrying around the woodpile in the cabin.
  • Creator Cameo: Writer and director Oliver Stone appear as the bum who is the first victim of the hand.
  • Dead Man Honking: Brian slams his hand down on the car horn repeatedly as he is being strangled by the hand.
  • Disposable Vagrant: The first person murdered by the hand is a one-armed wino who bumps into Jon in the alley and harasses him.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Jon's cat senses the presence of the Evil Hand in the cabin long before Jon does. It investigates, is attacked and flees; never to be seen again in the film.
  • Evil Hand: Once separated from his arm, Jon's hand becomes an evil, independent entity: seeking out and slaying those who anger him.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: After losing his hand, and being dropped and fired by his agent, Jon takes a job teaching cartooning at a remote community college, to a class of students who seem largely uninterested in the subject.
  • Helping Hands: Jon's severed hand acquires a life of its own and starts murdering those who anger him.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The climax of the film (and most the violence) occurs around Christmas.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Is Jon's severed hand really responsible for the murders, or is it simply Jon's delusion that allows him to temporarily dissociate from his own crimes (the final scene seems to suggest that the hand is real, however, it could just as well be that we're seeing events from Jon's point of view).
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: This film showcased Jon's dark descent.
  • Punk in the Trunk: The police find the bodies of Brian and Stella stuffed into the trunk of Jon's car.
  • Smug Snake: Both Jon and Anne, who both arrogantly attempted to win over Lizzie's affection.
  • Spiritual Predecessor: To Monkey Shines, another horror film distributed by Orion Pictures based on a book about a bitter, disabled protagonist and how an evil, independent entity telepathically connected to him killed anybody who angered and/or wronged him. Even music composer James Horner's music score for this film had similar sensibilities to fellow composer David Shire's score for Monkey Shines. On a trivial noteinvoked, both films featured an actor would later have a supporting role in a 90s Jean-Claude Van Damme action movie directed by Peter Hyams and distributed by Universal Studios (this film featured Bruce McGill, who would co-star with Monkey Shines actress Janine Turner in Cliffhanger, who would later appear in Timecop, while Monkey Shines featured Kate McNeil, who would appear in Sudden Death). Also, both films each featured a cast member from the horror anthology film Creepshow (Monkey Shines featured Christine Forrest, who appeared in the anthology film's segment "The Crate," as the Battleaxe Nurse, while this film featured Viveca Lindfors, who appeared in the anthology film's other segment "Father's Day," as a psychologist).
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Jon has an affair with his student Stella while teaching at a community college.
  • There Are No Therapists: Jon refuses to see a therapist because they cost too much. If he had addressed his anger issues, much bloodshed might have been avoided.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Jon's severed hand goes around murdering people who have angered him. Or does it? At the end of the film, it seems that he has been committing the murders himself during disassociative blackouts, and created the murderous hand as an explanation for his acts. But, at the very end, the hand shows up to rescue him from the asylum, only the film goes black-and-white (as it has during his blackouts), leaving it ambiguous exactly how real what we saw was.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Everyone involved with the accident other than Jon is ultimately responsible for the chain of events that happen after:
    • The truck driver that Jon and Anne try to pass whose truck tears off Jon's hand as he signals towards an impatient driver behind him.
    • The impatient driver behind Lansdale's car, as they're the one who causes Jon to lean out the window and get his hand severed in the first place. Unlike the truck driver, they do nothing to help in the situation at all.
    • Anne herself, for trying to pass the truck when another car is coming down the lane she's trying to pass and slams the brakes hard enough to sever the hand.
  • Villain Protagonist: Jon Lansdale, a despicable character whose Sanity Slippage is followed by the audience.