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A British woman visits her husband at the Mexican mine he is attempting to reopen and discovers that the workers refuse to enter the mine fearing an ancient curse. The couple enter the mine to prove there is no danger and inadvertently release a demon which possess people's left hands and forces them to behave in a suitably diabolical manner. The only way for a possessed person to free themselves from this torment is to cut off their left hand after which it scurries away in search of its next victim. Written by
By the early 60s, the Mexican film industry was beginning its slow but constant decline after the Golden Age ended. Facing economic problems and a stronger competition from foreign filmmakers, the Mexican industry found itself at its darkest hours through the decades of the 70s and the 80s. Sadly, this is the period where director Alfredo Zacarías begins his work, starting as a writer under the guidance of his father, director Miguel Zacarías, and the legendary Golden Age director Gilberto Martínez Solares. Soon Alfredo Zacarías started making films on his own and found success directing the comedies of GAspar Henaine "Capulina", however, Zacarías had big plans in mind and by the end of the 70s, he directed two ambitious horror films co-produced with the U.S.A. and starring somewhat famous American actors: 1978's "The Bees" and this film, "Demonoid, Messenger of Death".
Also known as "Macabra, la Mano del Diablo", the film stars Samantha Eggar as Jennifer Baines, who is visiting the mining city of Guanajuato in Mexico as his husband, Mark (Roy Jenson) owns an important mine there that seems to be very rich. At the time when Jennifer arrives, Mark is facing the refusal of his workers to go deeper as they believe the mine is haunted. Thinking it's all mere superstition, Mark and Jennifer enter the mine and discover an ancient altar to the Devil, which holds the Devil's hand as a relic. Mark takes the Hand as a trophy of man conquering superstition, but soon he'll discover that the Devil's hand is not made for fooling around. The Hand begins to possess people transforming them in psycho killers, and only Jennifer knows the truth.
While the movie is written by Amos Powell (of Croman's "Tower of London" fame) and David Lee Fein (who later would write "Cheerleader Camp"), the film is obviously the brainchild of Zacarías himself, as he wrote the source story the script was based on. Unlike in "The Bees", Zacarías really attempts this time to create an interesting horror piece, and while he unashamedly lifts some ideas from Oliver Stone's "The Hand" (released previously that same year), it could be said that he succeeds in making a somewhat original tale of horror. Sadly, the plot lacks the coherency and the sense to put all the elements together and the bizarre story never really takes off.
Zacarías' direction is technically effective, but his style is outdated and unoriginal, and in the end this makes the film look 10 years older than its true age. To Zacarías' credit, he makes really original set-pieces aided by some good special effects and a somewhat effective musical score; however, the bad cinematography, together with the low-budget and the contrived plot, would diminish the power of those scenes. While he has proved to be good with comedy, he seems to struggle with the drama and the suspense of his film, as if he had troubles directing his cast. The various action sequences of the film are really good for the budget, although again, with a notoriously anachronistic look in the execution.
Samantha Eggar does her best with what she has to work and manages to carry the film despite the movie's obvious problems. Her character is really simple, almost typical, but she makes it likable and less two dimensional. The experienced Stuart Whitman is less successful, although overall he pulls off an acceptable performance as the Priest that helps Jennifer against the Hand. The rest of the cast ranges from mediocre to downright awful, although one can't tell if it's completely the actors' fault due to the bad way the script is written. However, to tell the truth, Roy Jenson did give an effective performance in his short screen time.
It's true that at first sight, one could blame the movie's flaws to it's low budget, it's bad special effects or to its director, however, I think that the real problem lays on the poor way the script was built. Contrived and fast packed, the story never really fulfills its main purposes (to scar and entertain), and never really goes somewhere. While the intentions of the writers were good, the plot was probably not meant to work in the first place. Zacarías has done better films when he has a good script to work with, but in "Demonoid", the lack of coherency of the plot simply make the film boring and tedious.
It's kind of sad that Zacarías had the chance to make this film when the Mexican film industry was at its lowest point, as the very ambitious idea (that without a doubt looked good on paper) simply couldn't work well on film. Fortunately, he finally would make a movie the way he wanted in 1989, with "Crime of Crimes", in the meantime, "Demonoid, Messenger of Death", ends up as another good idea that was just badly executed. 4/10
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