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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this movie as part of one of those 50 pack public domain DVD
collections, which means I paid something like 50 cents for the
privilege of viewing it. Well, it's not like I want my 50 cents back,
but this was a frustrating film.
There's a good looking, reasonably talented cast at work here (although Lukather comes across as a bit of a one-note stone face), some crisp black and white photography that makes it easy to see what's going on in any given scene...even if the actual art direction is risible. (You've never seen so many ham-handed (hah) attempts at visual metaphor and symbolism.) There's even a decent (if somewhat dated) premise to drive the story.
But the screenplay loads the actors down with several long tons of the most affected, mannered dialog this side of an Ed Wood Jr. film, and the resulting tar pit of inaction just kills any forward momentum the story might develop. It's the kind of dialog that reads on paper much better than it works in the mouth of live actors, and there's just way too much of it. Also, some of the line readings are weird - the actors apparently devoted so much energy to memorizing and delivering their page-long sentences that they couldn't spare any to figure out where to pause, or take a breath. (I fault the director for this).
It's as if someone locked themselves in a room with the entire oeuvre of psychological thrillers and noir styled movies from the last 20 years, watched them all straight through, learned all the wrong lessons,and went right out to make a movie. (Although I understand this is actually a remake of sorts of a particular earlier film.)
"Hands of A Stranger" isn't all that bad, mind you. The people who made it tried so hard to be intense and expressionistic and psychologically subterranean that they probably gave themselves mental hernias, and you can't help but enjoy the results...in the same way you would enjoy a high school version of "The Crucible".
Based on the results here, I wouldn't balk at watching another movie with this director or this case, but I also don't imagine I would be in a big hurry to do so.
It is nowhere mentioned in the credits but this movie is a retread of the
classic horror tale "The Hands of Orlac",so memorably filmed in 1935 as "Mad
Love",and done competently in 1961 under the original title.
It sticks in my craw that nobody associated with this awful version has the
common decency to acknowledge the source material and the rancid odour of
plagiarism hangs over the whole sorry enterprise.
The plot is a direct steal from the Maurice Renard source novel-a gifted
pianist loses his hands in an automobile accident,and the hands of a brutish
criminal are grafted on as replacements.The pianist then finds himself
driven to acts of violence ,with his flighty girl friend and the driver who
caused the accident his particular targets.Eventually he turns on the
surgeon who performed the operation.
Poorly acted ,and with a dull script and harsh ,flat lighting that makes the whole thing look like a cheap TV show this is best forgotten.Track down the 1935 film with the great Peter Lorre ,or keep an eye out for the Mel Ferrer version of 1961 but trouble yourself not with this excresence.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
My God, this was terrible. The acting of the brother and sister varied from histrionic to dead flat. The directing was incredibly stilted and, in some cases, made no sense at all. It seemed like 50% of the shots were of one person in the dead center of the screen looking at the camera and talking and talking and talking some more. In one scene, when the bad guy was emoting the two other main characters stood fully twenty feet away - and they talked across that space. Then, after being warned something bad would happen if she went closer, the girl did actually cross the gap. And guess what, the bad guy grabbed her. The the other guy approached and said,'Let her go' - and the bad guy did! How's that for motivation. Then the bad guy gets shot by an unseen gun - the absence of a gun goes unremarked. The makeup looked like a thick coating of spray paint, not a pore or wrinkle to be seen. Everyone had the complexion of an Asian Indian - but it only went so far. The little boy's makeup only went to his Adam's apple and the white of his lower neck looked like a bib. It's difficult to believe this was on TCM and the host talked about it with a straight face. Truly a horror show.
What strong hands. My hands. What about my brother's hands? Transplant the hands. Who's hands are those? Enough about the freaking hands! After about thirty minutes I wanted to take this movie out of my DVD player and skeet shoot it in the yard. They say that brevity is the soul of wit. Something this movie sorely lacks. There are no yes a no answers in this film as every reply resembles more a college dissertation than a retort. If these actors got paid by the word than surely they became millionaires after filming this. What's so frustrating is all the words spoken to advance such a thin plot. I can summarize this movie in one sentence. A skilled pianist has his hands replaced after a car accident and becomes resentful of his new circumstance. That's it. Why he chooses to lash out on the very people who tried to help him, especially the doctor who gave him hands, is never really explored and makes him appear as an ingrate rather than a victim. Without the operation he would have NO hands at all. By the way, what kind of insurance plan covers trips to the amusement park with your doctor? That's gotta cost a pretty penny. No doubt he has one of those "Cadillac" insurance plans the current administration wants to tax so desperately. There is also a detective who constantly questions the doctor about a murder case that he clearly has no involvement with. At one point the "interrogation" takes place as both the cop and the doctor lean on the same side of a desk about six inches apart. Just kiss him and get it over with flatfoot! A mouthy and unsuspenseful limb replacement thriller that has been done far better by other films. Toss a couple of shekels Jeff Fahey's way and watch Body Parts instead.
This is the talkiest movie I've ever seen. I have a simple rule of
thumb: if you watch a movie on fast forward and it still seems too slow
you've got a problem. By editing out the slow, pointless, redundant
dialogue you might be able to trim this film down to a serviceable 30
minute short, but in its present form I find HANDS OF A STRANGER just
intolerable. I found the sloooow talking philosophical police detective
a particular nuisance. I'm sure the writer/director meant to craft an
intelligent, literate horror film but all he ended up with is a
pretentious bore. Sorry. I'm not a guy who enjoys trashing other
people's hard work, but there you have it.
On the plus side, there are a couple of creepy touches (including nice use of a fun house mirror --- I'd seen a still of this shot in a horror movie magazine years ago and always wondered what movie it was from!) and the aforementioned good intentions. The hand motif got to be a joke after a while. And the scene where the pianist's girl friend accidentally dies (possible spoiler) was truly absurd. She falls back, knocks a candle off a table and into some curtains, and the whole room instantly goes up in flames. It's like she kept her curtains constantly soaked in gasoline in case of just such an event. And the boy friend just stands by watching while she's immolated in a matter of seconds.
By the way, I'm a little surprised by the members who irately commented that the plot was a steal from HANDS OF ORLAC. I thought everyone knew HANDS OF A STRANGER was a remake of ORLAC --- although I suppose it is a bit suspicious that neither ORLAC nor its author is ever mentioned in the credits. Maybe I'm the one being naive.
This has potential but is filled with unanswered questions. Modern medicine being what it is, I don't know how anyone could do such a thing. When dealing with new science, we have a set of rules we need to adhere to to claim credibility. How does this doctor get the power he has, and how does he manage to survive professionally. Is there a story coming after this. The pianist/ victim is entitled to feel as he does. He sees himself as a true victim and doesn't want to live. This would be true without the transplant. So is all this anger and furor over his accident or over what the doctor and his compatriots did. We don't know. Did the hands reject the situation and begin to act on their own, or is it in the psyche of the central figure. This could have been done in a much more subdued atmosphere. I can't believe the doctor and the sister took the young man to that crazy amusement part. He's the one that wanted patience and you take the guy to a bizarre setting such as this. The story moves to its logical conclusion with very predictable ease. It just could have been better with a more intriguing script.
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