Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Crawling Hand

(1963) ****

You know those movies that are so bad they're good. The Crawling Hand is so bad it's AWESOME. This movie charmed the socks off of me every second.

This was another missed title last year; they got it from the back for me, and the box was empty. I'd watched The Beast with Five Fingers and Body Parts as research into the crawling hand phenomenon.

We open on a tiny office with beehived secretary and hard-smokin' head technician. The phone rings. "Space operations, Florida division" she says. Then: "It's the press. What do we tell them?" I was already cracking up. I'm giggling now as I write this.

The performances fluctuate between wooden and ham-fisted, and it's impossible to tell which is more entertaining. The script is silly but it has an appealing logic to it. The idea even borders on spooky. It starts with the second man on the moon dying on the way back, just like the first. Twenty minutes after his oxygen is gone, he manages to make contact. Only our head technician and his smartypants doctor friend see his transmission (because after his air ran out everybody turned off their shit and went home). Suddenly the movie dips into some creepy territory, as the astronaut's face shows on the monitor, his eyes ringed in black. He's urging them to blow him up, which he'd do himself but he can't move his arm. They blow him up.

Smartypants doc theorizes that some hitherto unknown form of life is created in space, a product of cosmic rays and airborne germs, and is so untenable it must latch on to the pilots to have any kind of chance of survival. That the pilots die in the course of this gave a neat space-zombie implication, especially when the infected astronaut is cycling between "blow me up" and "Kill! Kill!"

Cut to hunky lug hero and his curvy Swedish girlfriend on the beach in California. (We're told this is the site the debris landed by the close-up on the brass ship compass in the sand.) They're frolicking around and find the hand, which still has some arm attached, with sleeve. He takes it home and hides it in the kitchen, supposedly to "make a name for himself." He has Dr. Smartypants's book entitled "Space Medicine," so I guess it has to do with that. The arm gets out and takes freakin' forever to get around to strangling the landlady as she keeps getting up for more booze and pills. Finally it springs off the floor and gets her by the neck. I'd think if you're a crawling hand, getting the neck on the first shot would be a pretty big deal.

There's a standoff scene towards the end, man vs. hand, that kind of bears out my general point about self-propelled extremities. My point being: So the fuck what? Good god, we've got foes with whole bodies -- and tools! The rubber snake in Cult of the Cobra has a better chance of killing me. I'd rather take on a crawling hand in a fight than the Eraserhead baby. Sure enough, the hand faces off with Hunky Lug, Hunky breaks a bottle, stabs the hand several times, and then some cats eat part of it. Set and match.

There's a seemingly endless cast of appealing supporting characters, too. The Old Man of Warning runs the soda fountain, there's the beer-swilling ambulance drivers, the Einstein grampa, and none other than Alan Hale as the sheriff. For a retro B-movie goof romp, especially with friends, I couldn't recommend better.

1 comment:

Octopunk said...

As I was searching for images, I discovered that this movie was on an episode of MST3K, which doesn't surprise me one bit. I've never seen it, though; it was one of those weird first season eps that never got broadcast after that first year, but later Rhino put if out on dvd. Now you know.