The Crawling Hand
Herbert L. Strock
Herbert L. Strock
My first exposure to The Crawling Hand came in 1986 during. The Canned Film Festival, a sort of proto-MST3K that showcased b-movies and featured related skits before commercial breaks. A few years later it was featured on MST3K. It wasn’t a film I thought a lot about, disembodied hands have never particularly struck me as frightening. They are usually good for a few gags, but I feel it's difficult to structure an entire movie around one (Idle Hands (1999) I'm looking at you). VCI recently put out a cleaned-up version of The Crawling Hand in widescreen and I sat down to watch it without skits or puppets in the mix and I surprised at how much I enjoyed it.
Captain Lockhart (Ashley Cowan) looks to be the victim of yet another unsuccessful attempt to send a man to the moon. Just as two members of the Space Agency, Steve (Peter Breck) and Dr. Weitzberg (Kent Taylor) have given up hope, the astronaut appears on screen looking awful and begging for death. This made even more notable by the fact that he’s been without oxygen for over twenty minutes. Steve finally decides to blow him up, sending at least a hand (and who knows what else) smashing into a beach in California. That hand is discovered by a teenage kid, Paul (Rod Lauren) and his girlfriend, Marta (Sirry Steffen). The hand is not as dead as advertised, and after Paul stupidly hides it in his garage, it decides to honor the title of the film and crawl around looking for victims to strangle.
The opening of the movie is surprisingly grim for 1963, having characters sitting around waiting for someone to die as an anonymous voice counts down the time, is dark enough, and then only to have that character appear begging to be killed is a delightful twist of the knife. I also really enjoyed the hints that there is some kind of malevolent force in space that is killing any astronauts we send up. It’s only briefly discussed early in the film leaving it a nebulous and frightening notion.
Later, Paul survives an attack by the hand only to discover himself falling under the control of whatever is animating it. He attempts to kill several people, resulting in an attack on a malt shop proprietor. This sequence is where the film begins to turn into a black comedy, as the owner is strangled to the tune of ‘Bird is the Word’ while light and shadows dance over everyone’s faces from the jukebox. It’s the stand-out bizarre moment in a bizarre film. The finale in which the hand succumbs to some junkyard cats, and equally odd epilogue, only serve to underline the comedy.
There are major flaws: Sirry Steffen is pretty obviously reading her lines off of cue cards throughout the film. There isn’t a single character that is sympathetic: Paul who should be the main protagonist ends up becoming a dark eyed strangling enthusiast, leaving us with either two ineffectual scientists or a stubborn sheriff (Alan Hale Jr.) to identify with. It’s a little sad when a severed hand shows the most character out of anyone else in the movie.
The Crawling Hand is in no way a masterpiece but it is several degrees more clever that it’s trash credentials would have you believe, in fact it can be quite gripping.