The Hand [DVD]
Director : Henry Cass
Screenplay : Ray Cooney & Tony Hilton
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1960
Stars : Derek Bond (Roberts Crawshaw), Ronald Leigh-Hunt (Munyard), Reed De Rouen (Michael Brodie), Ray Cooney (Pollitt), Bryan Coleman (Adams), Walter Randall (Japanese Commander), Tony Hilton (Foster), Harold Scott (Charlie Taplow), Gwenda Ewen (Nurse Johns)
I Bury the Living is a corker of a horror-thriller that draws you in, but ultimately lets you down with an “explanatory” ending that just doesn’t fit. Made quickly on a shoestring budget, it was one of an onslaught of small-scale drive-in flicks that poured out of scrappy independent studios in the 1950s and early 1960s, most of which were immediately forgettable. I Bury the Living, though, has the kind of style and pacing that overcomes its budgetary limitations and minimalist script—it’s a throwaway, but a good one.
Richard Boone, a stoic, craggy actor known primarily for commanding roles as generals and leaders in war movies and Westerns, is perfectly cast against type as Robert Kraft, an upright, no-nonsense businessman who becomes the chairman of a cemetery owned by his family business. It’s a temporary rotating job and shouldn’t amount to much more than signing checks. In the film’s opening scene, Robert meets the cemetery’s slightly off-kilter Scottish caretaker, Andy McKee (played by versatile character actor Theodore Bikel) and then lets him go after 40 years of service (with full pension, of course).
But, things start getting strange when Andy shows Robert a map of the cemetery that hangs on the wall in the office. Each plot is represented with either a black pin (meaning it’s filled with a body) or a white pin (meaning the plot has been purchased, but not filled yet). When Robert accidentally places two black pins where white ones should go and the owners of the plot die almost immediately in a car accident, it seems like just an eerie coincidence. But, when it happens again … and again … and again, Robert becomes convinced that either he or the map (or both) have a supernatural ability to cause death.
It’s a creepy premise, to be sure, and one ripe with possibilities. For most of the film, screenwriter Louis Garfinkle builds the tension by making it more and more obvious that Robert is dealing with forces outside of his control—something he is clearly not accustomed to. Veteran schlock director Albert Band, then a novice with only one film to his credit (1956’s juvenile delinquent Western The Young Guns), shows a sure hand in maintaining the film’s ever-increasing pace. He knows to keep it slow at the beginning and let the scenario take hold before letting Robert slide into a spiral of existential despair. He also cranks up the atmosphere with creative stylistic choices, such as shooting the cemetery map in extreme close-up and using angled lighting on the hundreds of pins to make them look as if they are somehow alive.
All of this works surprisingly well, giving that the movie’s premise isn’t much more than fuel for a half-hour episode of The Twilight Zone. Yet, just when you think the filmmakers have pulled off something really good, the last 10 minutes slam down on you like a lead weight, offering a credulity-stretching explanation for everything that has happened that simply defies logic, not to mention crushes the supernatural aura that made the film so watchable in the first place.
The Hand is more of a mystery story than a horror movie, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to I Bury the Living’s engrossing B-movie charm. Rather, it is quite dull, dragging through a rote murder-mystery plot that, despite the movie’s brief running time, is still quite convoluted and not terribly convincing.
The movie opens in Burma in 1946, with three British soldiers having been captured by the Japanese. In an attempt to torture information about them, the caricatured Japanese officer (played by clearly non-Asian Walter Randall) cuts their hands off with a samurai sword. Flashforward to the present day (in this case, 1960) in London, where two Scotland Yard investigators are looking into a mysterious case in which a homeless drunk was paid 500 pounds to have his hand amputated and was then murdered. More murders ensue, and it’s no surprise that the investigators are led back to the men we met in the prologue.
The Hand is a rarely seen potboiler, and, despite the generally monotonous nature of the narrative, it has a few striking scenes (and at least one memorably gory moment involving a severed hand in a box). Director Henry Cass had already directed more than a dozen cheapie programmers, including 1958’s Blood of the Vampire. Unlike Albert Band, though, he is a largely uninspired director, clearly more interested in just getting the project done than investing it with even a modicum of style. The screenplay by Ray Cooney and Tony Hilton has its share of dry British wit, including some amusing back-and-forths between the two investigators regarding the younger’s devotion to his girlfriend. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly enough to redeem this run-of-the-mill quickie.
|Drive-In Discs Vol. 3: I Bury the Living / The Hand|
|This is the third entry in a multi-volume collectible DVD series from Elite Entertainment, each of which contains a double-feature and memorable drive-in extras such as cartoon shorts, commercials, coming attractions, and intermission.|
|Audio|| English DISTORTO! In Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround |
English Dolby 1.0 monaural
|Supplements|| Two Gumby shorts: “Robot Rumpus” and “Mysterious Fires”|
Shut-In service announcement
Fourth of July Fireworks ad
Rodeo Joe ad
Theatrical trailers: Blood Creature and The Creature From the Haunted Sea
“Let’s All Go to the Lobby” intermission
Student Discount ad
Dutch Treats ad
Senior Citizen Discount ad
Huston’s Hallucinations ad
Enjoy a Hotdog ad
Flick a Bic ad
Monsters Pay TV service announcement
“Please Replace Speaker” announcement
|Release Date||August 5, 2003|
|Both films are presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1). I Bury the Living looks better than the films previously available in Elite’s Drive-In Discs series. It is largely free of any major blemishes, with only a few scratches here and there and some traces of dirt. The image is somewhat soft, as the transfer was likely taken from an older source print. The image is more gray than black and white, without a whole lot of contrast or shadow detail. It is better than the public-domain DVDs that are available, but not as good as MGM’s 2001 release of the same film (which begs the question, why release it again when there are so many junky drive-in movies out there awaiting a DVD premiere?). The Hand, which has not been previously available on DVD, looks about the same, with a somewhat grayish, generally soft image that is marred from time to time with black speckling, but otherwise is largely free of distracting blemishes. The Hand did seem to be missing quite a few frames, though, which makes for some unintended jump cuts and rough transitions.|
|Once again, the third volume of the Drive-In Discs series utilizes the aural gimmick of DISTORTO!, which is actually in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, but the soundtrack from the film is in one-channel monaural and is isolated in the left front speaker, thus mimicking the drive-in single speaker that you used to affix to your driver’s side window. The other four channels are then used to emit various background noises that you might hear at a drive-in: crickets chirping, people chattering at the concession stand, cars driving in and parking, and the crunching of gravel beneath people’s feet. The 5.1 surround soundtrack does an excellent job of making these background noises subtle, but effective, with creative imaging between the two rear speakers. While the movies are playing, the surround channels generally emit only the sound of crickets chirping. One new aural gimmick on this disc is a brief rainstorm during the intermission, which unfortunately sounds more like static than raindrops hitting a car roof.|
|This third disc features a myriad of new drive-in extras, including a Dutch Treats ad, a “Flick a Bic” ad, and a rather bizarre ad for a touring illusions show titled “The Original Huston’s Hallucinations,” which boasts “the burning of a she-devil” and a topless girl on-stage. Also new this time are two Gumby animated shorts (which I’ve always thought were a little weird, as well) and a couple of fantastic previews for The Blood Creature and The Creature From the Haunted Sea, which will no doubt appear on Volume 4 of the Drive-In Discs series. As before, the disc offers the option of watching the double-feature presentation straight through as if you were actually at a drive-in theater, which means that all the extras are shown in a particular order structured around the two movies. Or, you can view the features, ads, and shorts separately.|
©2003 James Kendrick