The Crawling Hand (1963)
Directed by Herbert Strock
Written by Josheph Cranston
Tagline: "It came from outer space!"
Run Time: 89 min
Other Titles: "The Creeping Hand "
“An idea has been buzzing around in my mind like a fly. A very persistent fly.”
Not too much can be said about this cheap flick. An astronaut is attacked by aliens, somehow going without oxygen for 20 minutes or so. Mission control blows up the errant ship, sending bits and pieces of the doomed craft plummeting to the Earth…including a ‘possessed’ hand. The hand is found by, of course, teenagers. Will the teens discover the truth behind the hand? Or will the evil space-hand kill them all? Or can the viewer stay awake long enough to make it to the end?
Oh yeah. Alan "The Skipper" Hale plays Sheriff Townsend. Just so you know.
Anyway, after the credits we cut to "Space Operations: Florida Division" where scientist Steve Curan is leaning on a desk smoking. The press calls and demands a statement regarding the recent failed moon mission. Steve almost tells them that "we’ve sent our second man to the moon…it looks like he’s not coming back either," but decides against it. (Gee, you think?)
After his secretary hangs up the phone, the White House calls (!!). Steve declines the call. (From the White House!) Steve and his scientific partner Max, inform the Secretary of Space Operations and end up having a shouting match regarding the astronauts readiness for the mission. As the overhead PA system announces that the moon ship has now run out of oxygen (?), Mission Commander storms off in disgust: "I’ll see you in Washington!" he growls.
"Well, you better write off four more men," nonchalantly mentions Steve’s partner. As Steve and Max discuss the possible causes of the disaster, a weak voice comes over a loudspeaker, "Do you read me? Do you read me?" It’s astronaut Lockhardt and he’s "approaching the ionosphere." (Uh-oh!) Max turns on a monitor and Lockhardt’s ghostly face appears. (Or maybe it’s a Cure video…)
Lockhardt begs them to "push the red button." I hope I don’t have to tell you that the red button will blow up the ship. As the ship plunges into the ionosphere, Lockhardt screams and begs them to push the button. Mercifully, Max pushed the button and the transmission ends.
Later that day, the next day, sometime, Steve and Max are trying to figure out how Lockhardt could have survived so long without oxygen. (20 minutes, we are told.) Jumping to the first reasonable conclusion, Max suggests that an alien life-form kept him alive. Steve is reluctant to go along with the theory, but the movie has to continue, so Max convinces Steve to support him and his (absurd) theory.
A long, boring conversation ensues regarding the possible origins of this so-called life form. If you’re watching this movie, then this is a good time to get a beer. Believe me.
Cut to the local malt shop. Teens dance, drink malts, and have fun. The grouchy malt-shop owner stomps around shouting "No dancing! No dancing!", which seems contradictory since he has a huge juke-box standing against the wall. Do the teens give a hoot? No way, baby! They ignore the cranky owner, pop in another nickel, and keep dancing! Such fun this all is!
Two girls are sitting at a table drinking milk (!). One hot girl, Marta, has a caged rat perched on the table top. "No rats! Not allowed!" shouts Grouchy Malt Shop Owner before stomping off behind the counter. (That seems to be a pretty reasonable request, I must say.) Said rat is of course merely a plot device so we can learn that Marta’s grandfather is a Swedish scientist. (Whatever, let’s get going here!)
"What?", asks Malt Shop Owner, the girls didn’t see the fireball that fell out of the sky last night? Hmmm. I wonder if this fire ball has anything to do with the plot? Hmmm.
Marta’s boyfriend, Paul, pops in and they head off to the beach. Yippee!
On the beach, Marta and Paul frolic in the sand, flirting and carrying on like teens in a 1960′s monster movie. (Well almost teens. Sirry Steffen who plays Marta was 25-years old while Rod Lauren who portrays Paul was 23. But you get the point. And by the way, Bert Reynolds auditioned twice for the role of Paul but was turned down. Ouch!) As they run off into the waves, the camera zooms in on a dial poking up from the sand, so I assume this means the remains of the destroyed craft are in the area.
After splashing around, and may I interject at this point: Let’s get on with it!!!!
Ok. After splashing around, Paul and Marta return to the beach, and well, frolic some more. Marta runs off giggling, Paul playfully pushes her to the sand where she falls just in front of what appears to be a sleeve of space suit with a glove on the end.
Marta screams. Since she can’t see that there is a hand in the glove, I’m not sure why she goes into hysterics at the sight of a jacket sleeve. Oh well.
For some unexplained reason, well, I guess the script requires it, Paul wants to bring the hand back home, "Just trust me," he says in an effort to pave over that plot hole.
Later that evening, we see Paul return home. Paul proceeds to root around in a pile of old newspapers, presumably looking for a clue as to the hand’s owner, when his landlady, Mrs. Hotchkiss, pops out with a pistol in her hand. "Get your hands up!" she commands, but relaxes when she sees it’s just Paul, "As long as it’s you, it’s OK," she comforts the startled Paul.
After Mrs. Hotchkiss goes to bed, Paul takes a piece of plastic from his closet and fetches the hand from the beach. Back at home with his find, Paul stashes the hand, still in the glove, behind some mason jars on a shelf.
Sometime later, Mrs. Hotchkiss is awakened by the sounds of breaking glass from the kitchen. (We see the plastic package wiggling around on the shelf…) A thorough investigation reveals her cat perched on the kitchen countertop. Thinking that it was the cat that broke her jelly jars, Mrs. Hotchkiss puts her pistol down on the kitchen table and proceeds to clean up.
Cut to her bedroom. Here we see the Hand crawling across Hotchkiss’s bed sheets. The lovely thing about "crawling hand" movies is that the featured monster requires so little money to realize in the way of special effects. You can simply film a guy "crawling" his hand across something while keeping the rest of the actor off camera. (Of course, creating a "crawling hand" and showing the entire hand in the shot would actually require special effects, i.e., money. For this film, simply having somebody move their hand around in the shot was good enough.) And oh yeah. How did the hand "crawl" its way out of the glove? Just curious.
After a long, long, drawn out series of false-starts and fake-jumps, the hand finally gets its grubby fingers around Mrs. Hotchkiss’s neck. It’s not really clear how the hand actually got from the floor up to her neck before she could shout for help, but there you have it. In the struggle, Hotchkiss knocks over a lamp and wakes up Paul. Rushing to investigate, Paul sees Mrs. Hotchkiss’s lifeless form on the floor. Kneeling down, he notices a piece of torn space suit…hmmm.
Paul does the smart thing: he calls Sheriff Townsend. (The Sheriff is played by non-other than Alan "The Skipper" Hale Jr.) Upon hearing of the murder, the Sheriff calms Paul by telling him, "I know just how you feel," (?) and then promises to rush to the scene.
Upon arrival, Sheriff Townsend makes a casual examination of the body ("Strangled!") and asks a couple of perfunctory questions. Paul is fingerprinted (just for the hell of it), and given some sleeping pills (!) so he can go back upstairs and sleep.
One fingerprint is of interest at the scene. A strange print on Mrs. Hotchkiss’s medallion. Something else bothers Townsend, why does Paul want to spend the night in the house where a murder had just occurred. Hmmm…oh well, back to the station they go.
As soon as the police leave, Paul recalls a name he read in the newspaper, Dr. Max Weizberg, a scientists involved with the latest moon mission. Doing the logical thing, Paul places a call. (While the hand "crawls" out from behind a door….scary!)
You know, it’s just impossible not to forget the fact that the "hand" is just some guy sticking his arm into the shot. Sorry. I’m all for suspension of disbelief, but this is asking too much of me.
Anyway, just as Paul hangs up the phone, the hand pounces, yes, pounces and chokes Paul into unconsciousness. Why didn’t it kill Paul? The Script Says So. At that moment, 2 guys from the City Morgue arrive to cart away old Mrs. Hotchkiss. The two morgue guys decide they want a beer (!) and go downstairs to see if the deceased has any cold ones in her fridge. (!!)
On the way into the kitchen, they notice Paul laying on the floor. ("C’mon! Let’s get out of here!…We’re supposed to collect the dame and that’s all! This guy’s on his own!", shouts one of the morgue workers…talk about professionalism!)
But hey! Paul’s alive! (Gee…who woulda thought, eh?) So they put Paul in the back of the ambulance along side Hotchkiss’s body (!). On the way to the hospital, Paul revives and sees his former landlady’s face staring at him with lifeless eyes. As expected, Paul freaks out, opens the back door of the ambulance, and runs off into the night. (I think there has been a serious breach of professional protocol somewhere here…)
Meanwhile, Steve and the other scientists have found out that the "dead" astronaut’s finger prints have been positively ID’ed in the Hotchkiss murder. Scrambling to come up with some sort of damage control, they concoct some BS story as a sop to the press. Steve and Max head off to California to figure out what’s going on.
We now see Paul returning home, panting and out of breath. (It’s also the middle of the day even though it was nighttime when he jumped out of the ambulance.) Coming inside, he is immediately questioned by a suspicious Sheriff Townsend. (Can he just ‘let himself in’? Didn’t they have, oh, what are those called again…oh yeah…warrants?) Paul dodges a few questions about his whereabouts and is warned to stick close to the house. Once again, Paul is told to go upstairs and get some sleep.
Paul goes upstairs, takes down a tape recorder, and leaves a message for Marta and her grandfather. (Her grandfather?) Whatever, the message is confusing and Paul eventually gets around to mentioning the hand that he brought back home.
OK, let’s see here. Paul starts shaking, throws the recorder on the ground and stomps it into little bitty tape recorder pieces. He then tumbles on the bed, shakes a bit more, then sits up…only to reveal he too has the strange "alien" eyes like astronaut Lockhardt had…This can’t be good.
Maybe that’s why the hand didn’t kill Paul. Maybe the alien ‘presence’ has to strangle you half-way in order to transfer, er, something to its victim…I…well…whatever.
Downtown, Sheriff Townsend reads a letter from "Washington." Uh-oh! The Feds are moving in to take over the case. All this seems a bit strange to Townsend, I mean, why would the Feds want to take charge of a local homicide case? (Are you still awake?) Townsend believes that Paul is the prime suspect, and sends Deputy Earl over to keep on eye on him.
Steve and Max arrive at the police station and butt heads with Sheriff Townsend. They aren’t allowed to go into the house because they are from the "Space Agency", not the Fed’s. Blah, blah. Anyway, Steve and Max drive out to Paul’s place anyway where they are stopped by Deputy Earl. Nope. No can do. They can’t go in the house.
Ok, wait. Paul is not under arrest, so can’t he just let them in? Under what authority does Sheriff Townsend think that he can prevent Paul from seeing visitors? He’s not under arrest!
Anyway, Paul sees Steve and Max talking to Earl and I suppose recognizes them as being from the Space Agency. (Maybe he saw their pictures in the newspaper…not really clear here…) Paul writes on a piece of paper, "Go To The Rear" with an arrow pointing to the back of the house, and hangs it in the window. Steve and Max take the hint and pretend to leave, driving around back instead.
Oh yeah. Paul looks normal again. Go figure.
When they get behind the house, Paul tosses a note telling them to come back that night. Once again…let’s get this movie going!
Deputy Earl hears Steve and Max drive off from the back of the house and runs around the corner with his gun drawn. I guess it’s not allowed to drive through alleys either. Alas, Earl is too late and can only stare in frustration as the two scientist leave the scene.
Of course, having Deputy Earl in the back allows Marta to run right into the house unobstructed. How convenient. Paul, in a semi-possessed state orders her to leave…because he fears for her safety should he go wacko again, you see. Deputy Earl runs in, escorts Marta from the house and orders Paul back to his room. (Again, under what authority?!)
Later that night, Steve and Max enter the house as Paul instructed in the note. Max immediately breaks out the Geiger counter, points it at the shelf of jars and gets a reading. Even stranger, there’s a reading on the ceiling. (Yes, that certainly would be strange. This reading is never explained.)
Let’s see, Paul comes into the room in his ‘possessed’ state, attacks the scientists, and flees from the house. Hearing the commotion, Deputy Earl holds Steve and Max at gunpoint and orders them in the house so he can call the sheriff. (Wasn’t he supposed to keep them out of the house?)
Possessed-Paul heads to the malt shop, where, gee, the owner is cleaning up all by his lonesome. Hmmm…what’s going to happen? Big surprise. Paul overpowers the owner, takes away his mop, and chokes him with it. But the irony is that he chokes him on the same jukebox that played the music thereby causing teens to dance thus making the owner mad hence having to tell the teens to stop thereby being ignored thus creating a comical moment earlier in the movie.
Ok, beer break.
No wait. Paul didn’t kill the owner. Because he’s not possessed any more, indicated by the lack of black mascara around his eyes. As Paul regains control of his body, he looks about in confusion and runs from the malt shop.
At Marta’s house, she is so concerned about Paul that she can’t eat, drink, or study for her exam tomorrow. Poor kid. As she lays on her bed, consumed with worry, Paul taps on her window and is let inside. Paul tells her he’s "going away", but first he wants her to know that he definitely did not kill Hotchkiss. Ok. We believe you. Let’s get on with it.
Needless to say, Marta is confused by Paul’s rambling speech (and bad acting). Uh-Oh. Paul transforms again, complete with black mascara Marta screams like a good girl as Paul starts to strangle her on the bed. Her screams bring her grandfather upstairs and Paul flees again. I hope this all reads with the same amount of boredom as it is to watch. You’re not going to get out of this movie that easy!
Back home, Paul looks around for the hand. Somehow, the hand is on top of a shelf in a closed closet. This can only mean that the hand opened the door, climbed to top shelf, and closed the door behind itself. Now that’s a trick I wish they would have shown…
The hand topples into a laundry basket. Maybe it jumped. I don’t know. Anyway, Paul wraps it up in a tablecloth without too much trouble. With the hand safely wrapped up, Paul tosses it into the trunk of his car and drives off. Alas, he is spotted by the cops and Sheriff Townsend (along with Steve and Max of course, because, you know, they’re scientists) scurry off to arrest him.
As Paul drives to the city dump (as we learn via helpful exposition), the hand somehow climbs from the trunk into the front of the car. (Now really, how in the hell did it manage that?!) The hand starts choking Paul, but Paul manages to come to a safe stop at the dump.
Paul struggles with the hand in a scene which looks as silly as it sounds. Paul eventually gets the upper hand (Ha! Ha! I bet you never saw that coming!) just as the cops arrive. Armed with a broken bottle (that he used to slash up the hand in a truly ridiculous scene), Paul is told to drop the weapon and himself up.
But wait. Paul is possessed again, I think. It doesn’t look like he has black mascara on, so I’m not sure, but he isn’t putting down the bottle, so who knows. As this drama unfolds, sort of, we see a couple cats eating the hand! Man, this film just gets better and better.
The hand shakes a bit, Paul shakes a bit. Ok, we get the connection. Paul collapses, so I guess that means the hand is "dead". As Paul is hauled off to be taken to the hospital, Steve finds the hand laying in the dirt.
"Fingerprints don’t lie," says Steve. Ummmkay. I guess they don’t. Thanks for the insight.
At the hospital, Paul is radiation free and improving. Paul, groggy and totally out of it, asks what was wrong with him. Max answers, "Let’s just say that life forms can exists under different temperatures and a fever of a hundred-and-four was enough to finish it off." (I think what he probably meant to say was "…but a fever…", anyway.) Yes, the alien life form in Paul’s body was killed by a fever.
Marta pops in to say hello. She intends to stay in America. Yippee. Paul and Marta kiss.
The hand, locked in a metal box is to be delivered to the airport where Steve and Max will take it with them back to Washington. The men that are chosen to deliver the hand are none other than the ‘comedy’ relief pair of morgue workers from earlier in the film.
Just when you thought the movie was mercifully ending…
Curiosity gets the better of the two, "What’s the matter," the curious one teases his reluctant partner, "it can’t bite you!".
The box is opened…
Dennis Grisbeck (July 2005)
Biggest problem: the hand. It just doesn’t work. How can it climb things? How can it, when you think about it, do anything? Couldn’t a person just run away? And even if it managed to sneak up and grab you (doubtful in itself), well, just pull the damn thing off!