Monday, 31 March 2014

Hands of Doom! 5 Horror Films about Evil Hands

**Please note that there may be spoilers throughout the blog**

The say the idle hands are the devil's playground but in this selection of films the hands are so idle that they're not even attached!  Unfortunately, the lead characters in these films are artists and musicians who rely on there hands and lose them in one way or another but have been given another chance with either a mechanical hand or with groundbreaking surgery, with replacement hands! However their original hands or the former owner have the urge for revenge and redemption and end up haunting their new master, which drives him or her into madness!

5. Hands of a Stranger (1962) - Vernon Paris is a famous concert pianist, who is quite meticulous about his hands and even wears gloves around when he's not sitting at his piano.  So after what he considers his greatest performance, he sends his snooty girlfriend, his sister, Dina and his manager ahead to the party and he'll catch up later because he just wants to revel in his awesomeness.  After, I'm guessing, Vernon grabs a cab and chats with the driver, who recognizes Vernon from the poster.  The cab driver tries to show a picture of his son, loses control of the cab and it becomes a fiery wreck. whoops!
  Luckily, Vernon only has a skull fracture but his hands have been mangled so badly that they don't even resemble hands, only shapes of hands in those damn gloves!  Fortunately, skilled surgeon and part time mad scientist, Dr. Gil Harding is there and has an extra pair of hands lying around his office.  Dr. Harding or Gil to his friends, convince Dina and manager that replacing his hands is the only way to save Vernon sanity!
  The operation is a success! Unfortunately, Vernon's demeanor has changed and the new hands are driving him maaaaaad!  He accidentally kills his girlfriend in a dinner flare up, which she actually is burned alive because of some candles and cheap drapes, and he realizes that with these hands he can get revenge on the people who destroyed his career!  Or re-learn to play...Fuck it revenge is easier!  Can Dr. Harding and Dina save Vernon from myself or will Vernon have his revenge and hand out a symphony of terror?
  This wasn't actually too bad for what it was, which is a very low budget "Hands of Orlac".  There are some interesting deaths in this, including his ex-girlfriend going up in flames, which was brief but surprisingly really well done.  This was the Newt Arnold (Bloodsport, Blood Thirst) directorial debut and the last thing he wrote that was turned into a movie.  It starts off as a film noir but never ties anything up on that end with who the hands actually belonged to and why he was killed.  Also, Vernon's manager starts off as the love interest for Dina but mysteriously disappears after Dr. Harding arrives.  However, my big issue with Newt Arnold's directing is that his close ups don't match the scene and is it's almost comical as the movie continues.  This is a fun B-Movie if you can't get your hands around anything else.

4. The Hands of Orlac (1924) - Famous pianist, Stephen Orlac (your gonna see this name a lot) is a victim of a train wreck and has to have his hands amputated.  His wife, Yvonne begs the surgeon to see if he can to anything to save Orlac's hands and he decides to sew the hands of a dead criminal,he has out back onto Orlac.  The operation is a success but Orlac soon finds out that his new hands were those of a murderer!  He doesn't know if he can live with a pair of hands that have taken lives and worst of all, Orlac believes that the spirit in the hands is slowly taking him over!  Also he sees, what he believes to be the face of the killer in his sleep and that the hands are slowing driving him mad!
  Unfortunately, that ain't the only problem, those hands weren't free and now that Stephen is recovering instead of playing and the bills are adding up.  Yvonne goes to Stephen's evil father and begs him to help them but he refuses because he is a misery old man who hates everything, especially them.  Shortly after, the miserly old coot ends up dead and the police find a dead man's fingerprints everywhere, so they  don't know what to think.  Have these hands taken over Orlac and will he ever get a handle on his sanity again?
  This is the film that seems to have started this whole evil hands craze.  Director Robert Weine (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Ultimatum) brings us another cool silent film mind fuck picture.  There are some very inventive special effects that are still impressive to see, considering this movie is 90 years old.  I watched the restored DVD version, that was 113 minutes which I found a little long but it was still enjoyable.  Conrad Veidt (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Casablanca) is very impressive and can really drive home the character without saying a word.  There isn't a lot of violence or blood but fans can enjoy the dark look and feel of the film, which is just as haunting today as it was when it was first released. 

 3. Mad Love (1935) - Famous surgeon, Dr. Gogol is smitten with an actress and spends most of his time at the horror theatre admiring his lady friend, Yvonne Orlac from the balcony.  At the end of their last performance, Gogol goes backstage and finally expresses his undying love for her and Yvonne is very flattered but she is already married to, world famous pianist, Stephen Orlac. Dammmmn! Crushed Orlac stays til the end of the cast party and buys the wax statue of Yvonne that sat at the entrance of the theatre. Creepy.
  Stephen Orlac is just finishing up another smash concert and is finally heading home by train.  He's not the only famous fellow on the train though, the convicted American knife throwing killer, Rollo is on the train as well and sitting only a few cars down from him.  Unfortunately, the train derails not far from the station and Stephen is rushed to the hospital.  At the hospital, the surgeon tells Yvonne that he must amputate Stephen's hands, which will crush Stephen's soul forever and ever.  Luckily, she remembers that she knows Dr. Gogol and rushes her husband to his place.  Sadly, Gogol tells her that he must amputate the hands as well but comes up with a plan so cunning you could brush your teeth with it.
  The next day Rollo is executed and Gogol has his corpse brought to him for "Medical Research" and removes the hands and stitches them on to Orlac! The operation is a success because Gogol plans to drive Stephen mad with the hands of a murderer, so Yvonne will have no other choice but be with him. Makes sense... right?  Will Gogol evil scheme come fruition or will Dr. Gogol be left with his dick in his hands.
  This was the final film directed by Karl Freund (The Mummy, Madame Spy) and now one of my favourite Peter Lorre (M, The Raven) pictures.  Most of the time, Lorre, who plays Dr. Gogol, usually plays these amazing secondary characters, but in this instance he is given the lead which he takes on masterfully.  He is fun to watch in this film because he's the bad and you're not suppose to like him but the character has such a flare that you can't help liking him.  Colin Clive (Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein) also shine in this but takes a back seat to Lorre's performance.
  Although, derivative of the Hands of Orlac (1924), I like that they focused the story on a different character.  Sure Orlac, has the same money problems, the hands are haunted and his evil step-father is killed, but it seems to be from the villains perspective and it's for the creepy stalker love.  How romantic.  Anyway, not a huge body count, but a real classic and underrated film here, that is worth checking out.

2. The Hand (1981) - Writer and artist of the comic strip "Mandro", Jon Landsdale is having a rocky time with his marriage.  His young wife, Anne doesn't like that they've moved out to the country and misses the bright lights of New York city.  One day as they're arguing in the car, Anne tries to get ahead of a slow moving truck and ends up having an accident that causes Jon to lose his right hand.
  Crushed, more like severed, Jon goes on the road to recovery but Anne still wants to move back to New York with their daughter Lizzie.  Jon gets a new mechanical hand and tries to get back to writing Mandro but his agent wants him to hand over the strip to a younger fellow.  After a meeting with the new writing team, Jon realizes that they are just trying to push him out and blows up!  He goes home and finds out that Anne and Lizzie have an apartment in NY, so Jon gives up and moves down to L.A. to teach Comic Strip 101.
  Meanwhile his hand, the one that he lost, has turned evil and is watching his every movement and eventually murders a homeless man that Jon ran into and had words with. I guess you have to start somewhere.  This murderous hand has a bevy of victims as Jon starts relationships with a number of bad people at the school where he now teaches.  Can this evil hand be stopped or has it given the finger to the society it wants to destroy?
  Before a string of hits in the 80's like Salvador, Wall Street and Born on the Fourth of July, director Oliver Stone brought us this movie.  After being turned down by Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman and Christopher Walken; Michael Caine decided to take the role, so he could build a new garage at this house.  It's all about the art, isn't it.  Anyway, I can see why Stone had such a hard did with this script because the Jon Landsdale character isn't that likeable and I can see why his wife would want to move back to New York.  Hell, I wanted to move back to New York after watching the first half.  Also, The Hand (which is the title) is barely in the film and doesn't really attack that many people or the at least the right people, he would want to get revenge on.  Luckily the last quarter of the movie gets back on track and there are some enjoyable creepy hand scenes.  The ending is really good and I wished the whole film could have been more like it.  

1. The Beast with 5 Fingers (1946) - Francis Ingram is old piano playing curmudgeon confined to a wheelchair, who lives in his mansion with his nurse, Julie Holden and an astrologist/musicologist, Hilary Cummins (Hilary is a guy).  He invites them plus his lawyer, Duprex and younger friend, Bruce Conrad to dinner to have them sign his new will.  They do and after dinner, Bruce and Julie go out to the garden and Hilary secretly follows them.  Julie and Conrad are in love and want to run away together but Julie cares to much about Ingram, in a nursing way, to leave him now.  Hilary returns inside and joins Ingram in the study.  There Ingram expresses his love for Julie but Hilary tells Ingram of what he heard outside and Ingram attacks Hilary with a vicious choke hold.  Luckily, Julie stops him in time!  Ingram throws Hilary out and goes to bed an angry man.  That night in a state of old man delirium, Ingram accidentally wheels himself down a large set of stairs, which kills him. How convenient.
  He is discovered and Comissario Ovidio Castanio says that he detects no sign of foul play and the cause of death is natural.  He naturally fell down the stairs.  Like vultures, Ingrams brother in-law, Raymond and nephew, Donald Arlington arrive to take their inheritance which Hilary takes offense too.  He claims all the books are his and he will keep them, hell or high water.  Shortly after, Duprex reads the will and everything as been left to...........wait for it...Julie!  Angry, the Arlington family vow that they will get what's coming to them and secretly make a deal with Duprex to steal the inheritance and split the money.  However the "ghost" of Ingram does not like this and his hand, just one, comes back for revenge!  It kills Duprex and haunts the rest of people to no end by playing the piano and trying to take their very souls by hand.  Can anything stop this annoying and sometimes jaunty menace or is this hand hare to stay and rub everybody the wrong way?
  This was pretty enjoyable and not what I was expecting.  More of a mystery thriller than a horror but still pretty decent.  Experienced director Robert Florey (Murders in the Rue Morgue, Cocoanuts) puts together some good scares and Peter Lorre (The Maltese Falcon, The Comedy of Terrors) is in it but this time as the strong supporting character, Hilary Cummins, which of course steals the show.  Robert Alda (Imitation of Life, Cloak & Dagger) and Andrea King (My Wild Irish Rose, Red Planet Mars) are adequate as the leads, Conrad and Julie, but it seems to me that these are characters we've seen before and are somewhat forgettable.  Even J. Carrol Naish (Dracula vs Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein) seems to bring more to the table with his portrayal of Commissario Ovidio Castanio and his humour and wit are certainly more memorable.  This is a good story but again there isn't a lot of gore, in this, it's 1946, but still I like what the did as far as special effects goes for the hand, they kept it simple and it made the creeping hand looked good.  This is a fun little thriller for a dark and rainy night, if you can get hands on it. 

  These are some terrific horror films to have on hand if you are looking for something a little lighter and more classic.  The body counts may be low but the atmosphere and the feeling of dread from  watching these devilish hands creep across the room will certainly have the hair on your arm standing on edge and by the end you'll be counting all your fingers, just to make sure.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Cheap Thrills (2014)

Cheap Thrills (2013)
Director: E.L. Katz
Starring: Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton and David Koechner
Running Time: 88 min

I've wanted to see this for a while now, ever since I heard about it last year when it premed at SXSW film festival.  Although, I wasn't that crazy about Innkeepers, I thought Pat Healy and Sarah Paxton worked really well together and I was interested to see what David Koechner would bring to the table because this seems a lot darker than his usual fare.  So, with my fingers crossed I delved into some Cheap Thrills.

 Craig, played by Pat Healy (InnKeepers, Ghost World) has a lovely wife and child and he seems really content with his life at home.  However when he leaves for work, he is reminded by an eviction notice on the door that he is 4, 500 dollars behind in his payments, his once aspiring career as a writer has gone down the tubes and after a number of years spent in college and university, he is changing people's car oil.  On top of that to put a final nail in the coffin of his ambitions, at the end of his day at work, his boss tells him that their company is downsizing and he is being let go.  Bummer.
  Beaten and ego bruised, Craig calls his wife and lies to her, that he is going for drinks with a friend and winds up alone at a old local bar.  While there he is approached by an old friend from high school, Vince, played by Ethan Embry (Vacancy, The House Across The Street) and they catch up on the last five years.  Vince is impressed with how well things seemed to have turned out for Craig, a good job and wonderful family and he lets Craig know that his life hasn't turned out as well as he would liked it.  Vince seems to be doing some repo jobs on and off and lets Craig know that he's seen some shit that he wish he hadn't.  Feeling bad for lying to Vince, Craig comes clean and tells him about his money problems and Vince offers him, a couple hundred buck but Craig refuses and tells him that it wouldn't help that he's in too deep.  So the two decide to have another drink and Craig heads to the restroom.  When Craig returns from the bathroom, Vince calls him over to sit with some new friends, Colin, played by David Koechner (Anchorman, Piranha 3DD)  and Violet, played by Sarah Paxton (The Innkeepers, The Last House on the Left (2009)) and join them for a drink.  It's Violet' birthday and Colin is taking her out and nothing is too expensive for his lady.  Colin orders a bottle of the bars most expensive tequila and gives the waitress a large tip.  If you know what I mean.  Impressed, Vince and Craig thank them and offer toasts to the birthday girl.  While hangin with their new friends, Colin starts offering the guys money to do silly harmless things at the bar, like be the first to down their drink gets 50 bucks or 100 dollars if they can get a crackhead lady to slap them.  Vince seems to be able to accomplish many of the tasks that Colin is asking for and collecting some good cash for it, but Craig finally steps up when they are being chased from a bar by a bouncer and Colin offers him 500 dollars to punch the bouncer.  Which he does and then Craig wakes up battered and bloodied at Violet and Colin's home.
  Back at their home, the game starts to get out of hand but Craig and Vince really want to win the money.  As the night progresses the guys get more competitive and the things that Colin ask them to do go from silly to depraved.  How far will Craig go to save his family from ruin and is there any whim of Colin and Violets' that can't be bought?

I really enjoyed this movie, I like what first time director, E.L. Katz does with these characters and how he slowly tears apart the relationship and humanity of these two friends.  With each new task assigned to them and as the dollar amount the dollar amount increases, the two become wild animals trying to out do one another.  The script that David Chirchirillo (616: Paranormal Incident) and Trent Haaga (Deadgirl, Citizen Toxie), although relatively thin is strong enough is simple and effective enough to demonstrate that some people will go to any lengths to win money.  You could look at this film in many ways, as a social commentary on what we've become as a society where television is so deeply rooted in culture now with and so many reality game show over the years, that some people have become lost the fantasy of these shows and believe this is another way to survive.  Or it could a look at the class system that is starting to evolve in America and it has become so bad the affluent rich need to the lower classes to serve as there playthings.  I couldn't tell you what their intentions were but their story line makes for one hell of a disturbing flicks.

  The casting is small, unlike similar horror game movies like "Would You Rather"  and "13 Tzameti", which are also good, I think it really makes a big difference because we can really focus on just these four characters and they have the time to really develop.  Pat Healy and Ethan Embry are amazing as Craig and Vince.  It is amazing to watch these old friends change and turn into these monsters.  Sarah Paxton, I think is  a little under used in this and would have liked to have seen more of her as the birthday girl Violet but she still does a killer job.  I was most impressed with Dave Koechner.  He's mostly in roles as brash idiots and or bullies but in this he plays the shit out of this Colin character.  There are moments when he is what you expect, party idiot, loud and obnoxious but then he changes up and brings some real emotion to some of the screen.  This is probably Koechner best performance that I've seen.

The only thing really disappointing about this film is the limited theatrical release but fortunately, in this digital age, it should be on a VOD system near you pretty quick.  This is a real slow burn and reminds me a lot of Red Room because when you start watching it, the people are doing such silly things at first, you get worried about what you've gotten yourself into but by the end of the film, all the cards are on the table and you understand the real game that's going on.  There is nothing cut-rate about Cheap Thrills.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

In Fear (2013)

In Fear (2013)
Director: Jeremy Lovering
Starring: Iain De Caestecker, Alice Englert and Allen Leech
Running Time: 85 min

  Again, I was totally blind coming into this one as well and what was worse I didn't even recognize the cast or director, with the exception of Allen Leech (Downton Abbey).  Branson! All I knew is that this was going to be available on March 13, 2014 at the Cineplex and there were some good buzz going on about it.  So, crossing my fingers I plunged into the dark woods of "In Fear".

After just dating for two weeks, Tom, played by Iain De Caestecker (Filth, The Little Vampire) and Lucy, played by Alice Englert (Beautiful Creatures, Ginger & Rosa)  head out together to meet some friends at a music festival.  During the trek, they stop at a pub and there is an altercation between Tom and some of the locals that Lucy and the we the audience miss because we are exploring Lucy's bathroom ritual.  We watch as she squats and adds her mark to the bathroom stall poetry.  Anyway, when she's done, Tom rushes them out to the car, explains the situation and assures her that everything is fine.  He then proposes that before they meet their friends, that they spend a romantic evening at an out of the way Hotel that he found online.  She mulls it over and luckily she agrees because moments later, the truck that is to lead them to this romantic getaway beeps behind them and they begin to follow for their passionate evening.
  After quite some time of driving into the middle of nowhere, the road forks and the truck takes a right while waving to them to keep following the road.  Tom and Lucy get out to open the gate and see a truck load of locals from the bar.  They hoot and holler at Tom and Lucy as they try and open the gate and continue to drive down the same right as the other truck.  They get the gate open and Lucy tries to call their friends to let them know about the change of plans, unfortunately there isn't any cell reception that far in the boonies.  This does not detour them though and they continue on the road, leaving no bread crumbs behind.
  As they search for this hotel, they enter a labyrinth of winding roads and night begins to fall.  There GPS system is now down, the road signs keep leading them in circles and the map that Tom downloaded has a useless yellow dot in the middle, so no directions can be read.  Lucy starts seeing things, like people lurking about and thinks that they may have been lead into a trap by some of the locals that Tom had an altercation with.  She begs Tom to find out if anything happened in the pub and Tom assures her that everything is fine.  After condensed hours of driving, Tom and Lucy eventually run into, literally, a very beaten Max, played by Allen Leech (Cowboys & Angels, Rewind) who assures them that locals from the pub are after them but he knows the way out of this hellish maze.  With their petrol running out, can Tom and Lucy finally escape this horrible romantic excursion and the wrath of locals or are they doomed to spin their wheels into oblivion.

  This is the first feature film, written and directed, from long time television director Jeremy Lovering (Sherlock, Sex & Lies).  I really like the set up of the story and how brilliantly Lovering keeps us on hour toes at the very beginning of the film.  Every turn is a new hope for these characters, that they will either find the hotel or find a way out but each road seems to lead back to the same place.  I also like, how he paces the story and it turns into an almost unbearable pressure cooker of terror.  Like Lucy, the audience starts feeling the same paranoia, unable to be sure if what they are seeing is real or just a figment of their imagination.  Iain De Caestecker and Alice Englert play their roles in the first two acts brilliantly and even Allen Leech, who starts off with a very cat and mouse way of helping them is excellent too.  It's a very heavy thriller and you want these people to escape.

  Unfortunately, the third act goes off the rails.  There is a few really good fight scenes and a very highly charged hostage scene near the end but it doesn't really tie up together in a way that rings true.  It is far too uncomplicated that it's almost insulting and you start to dislike the characters for putting themselves into the situation.  Also, the ending really leaves you hanging in a way that isn't necessary and by this time, you don't really care.

This is a good movie that could have been a really great movie but like in Haute Tension, the third act really ruins a movie.  I think Director Jeremy Lovering creates an amazingly frightening atmosphere that will give you the chills but I wish he hadn't made the third act so frustratingly simple.  With that said, I would still recommend checking it out because it may keep you out the woods at night and there are far worse things out there.