Sunday, July 11, 2010

“What does it mean I’m stacked?”

The early years of the Space Race are an interesting time for science fiction. Since not a whole lot was actually known about the effects of space travel on human bodies, you get all sorts of out-there ideas about what it can do to people, and in the land of schlock, the consensus was “bad things.” 1963’s The Crawling Hand mixes that in with a little bit of corrupted youth themes for a fresh pile of bad movie.

So the space program is sort of going well. The US has managed to put a couple rockets on the moon, which is good. Unfortunately, the astronauts sent up there never made it back home, which is bad. On the latest rocket, the oxygen runs out and the pilot is presumed dead, but the guy manages to send a transmission begging control to blow up his rocket before he gets back to earth. They do so, but little chunks of debris (and astronaut) manage to survive reentry, including his arm. Naturally, this arm is found by our Hero, a fairly ordinary med student who gets possessed by the hand and starts trying to choke people out. I mean, what else were you expecting it to do?

Paul Lawrence: Rod Lauren is our main character, a typical med student and a fairly ordinary guy. He’s dating a hot foreign exchange student (okay, so he’s not that ordinary), lives in a boarding house and, well, he’s pretty boring until he finds the hand on the beach one day with his girl. Then he starts acting like a drug addict in those after school specials; severely antisocial, holed up in his room most of the time, always mad and prone to trying to choke out people for no reason other than blind rage.

Marta Farnstrom: Sirry Steffen (a former Miss Iceland) is Paul’s girlfriend, a Scandinavian foreign exchange med student who’s visiting her scientist grandfather in the states, which sounds like “Dear Penthouse…” should accompany that sentence. And yes, she’s “stacked” as the kids used to say.

Steve Curran & Dr. Max Weitzberg: Peter Breck & Kent Taylor are space program guys who are trying to track down the wreckage of the rocket they blew up at the beginning. They don’t really do much relevant to the actual plot, despite showing up a lot to share exposition and be “important.”

Sheriff Townsend: Alan Hale Jr. (yep, the son of Little John and the Skipper of the Minnow himself) is the town sheriff who’s a fairly friendly fellow, until people start ending up choked.

Mrs. Hotchkiss: Arline Judge is Paul’s landlady and the first (and actually only) victim of the crawling hand to die. For some reason, she sleeps with chinderwear.

The Crawling Hand: The movie needs a badass, and here it’s a severed astronaut arm. Yes, ARM, so the title is a blatant lie. Anyway, whatever life form the astronaut encountered in space possessed him and sent him into a berserker rage, and apparently that same life form is capable of continuing that animating force even after being severed from the central nervous system. That’s dedication, right there, though the movie never asks the question “why?” Why would a presumably bacterial alien life form that can exist in the vacuum of space drive people into violent rages specifically and not, oh, I dunno, hunger or lust?

Herbert L. Strock (who in addition to a lot of TV work directed B films such as I Was A Teenage Frankenstein which I’m sure doesn’t live up to the potential of the title) directed this and well, there’s not a whole lot specifically bad about it, actually. It’s decently shot and competently edited, just not particularly engaging. Still, the scene where a possessed Paul breaks into the soda shop after closing and tries to choke the eccentric comic relief owner to death is actually pretty decent.

So, original story by Joseph Cranston, Robert M. Young & William Idelson with the screenplay by Idelson and Herbert L. Strock. The story is what it is, and I suppose you could read a little into the metaphor of youth corrupted by drugs, but there’s not much of it there. Dialogue is “meh” and while there are a few comic relief characters (the ambulance drivers, the soda shop owner) that are memorable, the main cast are all incredibly boring people when the hand isn’t trying to murderize them.

Original music by an unaccredited Marlin Skiles and its about what you’d expect. There’s also “The Bird’s The Word” performed by the Rivingtons that plays during the aforementioned soda shop assault.

The Crawling Hand isn’t actually that bad for a terrible movie. The cast is boring, the dialogue is bland, but the idea of a homicidal severed arm choking people to death is at least memorable. Nothing remotely close to good, but memorable in a so bad it's good way.

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