The disembodied hand theme has become something of a cliche on film, having been first dealt with in The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) and continuing through the likes of Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), The Crawling Hand (1963), Dr Terrors House of Horrors (1964) and the more spoofy likes of The Evil Dead II (1987), Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992), Quicksilver Highway (1997), Idle Hands (1999) and Bloody Knuckles (2014), not to mention a disembodied hand becoming a regular character in tvs The Addams Family (1964-6). The Hand emerges more as a variant on the monster from the id film along the lines of the likes of Forbidden Planet (1956), The Black Cat (1981) and Monkey Shines (1988), with the disembodied limb coming to act out the aggrieved individuals repressed angers. Alas, this leads to a film that seems like a single 90 minute misanthropic rant with the hand coming to exact Michael Caines ill feelings towards his wife, his possibly unfaithful girlfriend, the people who cheated him, even winos on the street (a cameo appearance from Stone). It is all a little heavy-handed.
Nevertheless, even when passing through hackwork like this, Oliver Stone succeeds in elevating it. He occasionally invests the film with a sense of ambiguity where we are never entirely sure whether it is the disembodied hand or else a demented Michael Caine doing things during his blackouts. In fact, The Hand is a film that could easily have come from the great producer Val Lewton whose films always dealt in psychological ambiguity between whether the supernatural was real or imagined see Cat People (1942). (The Beast with Five Fingers tried to be a Lewtonian film too). There are some fine scenes that touch upon this sinister uncertainty with Michael Caine going mad, threatening Annie McEnroe, and especially of his black-gloved hand appearing almost as a physical presence while he is in bed with her. There is one superlative piece of misdirection Stone creates that particularly stands out the scene where, through judicious cross-cutting, he lets us believe that Andrea Marcovicci has been killed in a car crash and even leads up to the sheriff coming to Michael Caines door to tell him, only to have Caine open the door to show Marcovicci standing there.
At the time he made The Hand, Michael Caine was caught in a career lull between being a brash young matinee idol in the 1960s, a disaster movie star in the 1970s and reinventing himself as a grand knight of the profession in the 1990s. He gives as an astonishingly over-the-top performance here, one that he almost entirely manages to deliver while yelling his head off. Caine can be a fine performer but unfortunately reserves types of performance like the one here for what he clearly regards as his bread-and-butter films. The climax with he wrestling and gasping around on a garage floor with a fake hand scales heights of overacting few other reputable actors would dare.
While these days Oliver Stone is more concerned with large, provocative message and political films, it would be interesting to see him revisit genre territory again. Certainly, some of his films have dabbled there Talk Radio (1989) could almost be construed as a psycho film of sorts, as could the film noir U Turn (1997). His most notable other genre work as director was the mass murder epic Natural Born Killers (1994). He also wrote the screenplay for Conan the Barbarian (1982). As producer, Stone has overseen other genre films such as Kathryn Bigelows psycho-thriller Blue Steel (1990), the superb Cyberpunk tv mini-series Wild Palms (1993) and Freeway (1996), Matthew Brights deconstructed version of Little Red Riding Hood.