Oliver Stone’s first directorial effort for a major studio (and his second horror film after the 1974 Seizure) came shortly after the phenomenal success of Midnight Express, which was based on Stone’s Oscar-winning screenplay. The director turned to Mark Brandel’s obscure thriller “The Lizard’s Tail” as source material for what is essentially a silly psychosexual variant on low-budget horror films like The Crawling Hand. The title appendage belongs (for a while, anyway) to smug, conceited artist Joe Lansdale (Michael Caine), who owes his success to a popular comic strip featuring a macho, Conan-type hero. After Lansdale’s drawing hand is sheared off in a grisly car accident, his career, dignity, self-control and even his sanity soon begin to abandon him as well. His tenuous relationship with his wife Anne (Andrea Marcovicci) falls apart as she takes steps to improve her own self-worth — something she had never had the strength to do before the accident. Bitter and paranoid, Joe begins to lash out in anger at everyone around him … and becomes convinced that his severed hand has come back, wandering in fields and dark alleys and squeezing the life out of everyone it comes in contact with. The question of whether the hand is real or merely a manifestation of Lansdale’s rage is never answered, even in the film’s “shock” coda. At any rate, it’s impossible to take the film seriously — the crawling-hand effects are laughably shoddy for a major studio production, reflecting none of the skills of effects wizard Carlo Rambaldi, and Caine’s sweaty, pop-eyed histrionics are too goofy to be convincing. On the plus side, James Horner’s score is remarkably chilling, contributing a great deal to a few effective suspense scenes — but it belongs in a better film than this.
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