HALLOWEEN 2K16: A Review of “The Devil’s Hand” (1961)

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I don’t often have a soft spot for bad movies, especially horror ones since they are a dime a dozen. Where The Devil’s Hand is concerned is that it is a little piece of film history and you may not even know it. The United States underwent a Satanic scare in the 1960’s. Cults were popping up around the country and people in general were breaking from traditional societal norms, and maybe had a reason to be scared. Add to that the paranoia of the Cold War, and you get a treasure trove of low-budget horror and science fiction movies that capitalized on the atmosphere in which they were made. The Church of Satan wouldn’t be founded until 1966, but even before that, filmmakers started to tackle this dark subject. The “Satanist next door” motif is an often used one, and it may have begun here with this movie. No, the name “Satan” is never uttered once (replaced by the fictional “Devil god Gamba”), but that may have been too shocking for the time. The portrayal of evil has gradually evolved, and plots tended to dance around it until Rosemary’s Baby blew the top off in 1968.

The character of Rick Turner is played by Robert Alda, who begins to have visions of a beautiful woman in his dreams. This presents a problem because he is engaged to be married to someone else. He shakes it off as just having nightmares, until things begin to come full circle. He visits a doll shop where he discovers dolls that had been created to look like him and his fiance. The owner of the store tells him that he made the order himself, though Turner doesn’t remember it. He thinks a friend has played a prank on him. Sure enough, these are voodoo dolls, and his fiance becomes hospitalized with a strange paralysis shortly after. He eventually meets the woman from his dreams (Linda Christian) who tells him of the cult she belongs and entices him to join.

The shopkeeper is actually their high priest, and their meetings and rituals take place in the basement. Like many similar films, Turner is lured in by the prospects of being able to cast aside his now crippled fiance for the beautiful “witch” (as he calls her) and also have unlimited power thanks to the supernatural strength he will acquire through joining the cult. Also like other “Satanist next door” films the followers are quite varied—white, black, Asian, beautiful and ugly, thin and fat, tall and short. This truly drives home that evildoers can literally be anybody. The film ends with a couple of predictable conflicts and scenes, before a pretty weak culmination. However, the brief closing scene presents a slight twist which sets The Devil’s Hand up for a sequel which never came.

This is not a good movie but there is something about it. The acting isn’t terrible, nor is the script or story. It just lacks the punch that such a dark theme would require. The atmosphere is creepy and aside from the voodoo doll aspect, the story is actually quite sincere and realistic. What The Devil’s Hand is really missing is color. I do look at most black-and-white movies and think to myself that it would not have looked better in color; that the lack of it adds to that creepiness. This is an exception. Color film would have done wonders for the scenes in the temple as your imagination can just picture the robust reds of the satin-lined walls of the temple and robes of the high priest.

The low-budget apparently did not allow for it. Yes, this is a “midnight movie”, something you would (and I did) find in one of those box sets of bad, public domain horror movies. Indeed, watch it late at night. The 71 minute running time was actually fitting of the plot. Except for a scene or two, it did not really drag at all. I will give this a 5.5 out of 10 stars, which is a lot higher than I thought I would.

More posts in my HALLOWEEN 2K16 column can be found here

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