Hands of a Stranger 2003 Horror Movie Review
Horror movies Review
Even if you haven’t seen this film, you may actually have seen it - in another form or, to be exact, another movie. The fact that Hands of a Stranger is one of several versions of the same story seems to have a real bearing on any given viewer’s opinion of the film, so I’m going to touch on that issue right here at the start. Way back in 1920, Maurice Renard’s novel Les Main d’Orlac (The Hands of Orlac) was published; it was the story of a classical pianist who lost his hands in an accident, became the first recipient of a hands transplant, and went on to do evil things ostensibly due to the fact that the hands’ original owner was a murderer. Some movies based on the story soon followed, the most famous being 1935’s Mad Love. In 1961, The Hands of Orlac, starring Mel Ferrer and Christopher Lee, was released. You wouldn’t expect to see another remake for quite a while, yet Hands of a Stranger debuted only one year later. The timing of this film’s release has thus been, in my opinion, an unfortunate liability. Obviously, with two films in two years telling basically the same story, some viewers are going to be less than happy about one or both of them.
I happen to think Hands of a Stranger is an unusually effective, impressive film, despite its relatively low budget. This isn’t your standard golden age science fiction/horror/suspense film, as Hands of a Stranger has a look and feel all its own - and that, for me, is what really allows it to stand out from the crowd. The plot is actually rather simple and predictable, yet the story doesn’t always follow the beaten paths you expect it to. Part of the reason, I feel, is the somewhat misleading plot summary you’ll usually find with the film. The implication is that the transplanted hands come from a murderer and somehow force the hands’ new owner to go out and start killing people. If you’re me, you read that and expect to ultimately see a guy scrambling down the sidewalk trying to regain control of the hands that are leading him down a dark path. That would make for a stupid movie, and Hands of a Stranger isn’t a stupid movie. Yes, our young musical genius, Vernon Paris (Paul Lukather), has his hands mangled in an accident just when his musical career was about to really take off, and yes, Dr. Gil Harding (James Stapleton) takes it upon himself to try and preserve the guy’s career and life by giving him an entirely new pair of hands, and yes, Vernon is rather upset about the whole business, and yes, a few people do in fact die because of the whole mess - but the ultimate conflict actually plays out in a fairly intelligent manner. Rather than following uncontrollable hands around all day, these characters probe the ethics of the whole situation and get downright philosophical every now and again.
Now if I were a gifted pianist on the verge of stardom and had my hands injured beyond the point of preservation, I would be delighted to learn that my doctor had tried to keep my dream alive by sewing some other guy’s hands on to my body. But does Gil get any love for doing just that - and succeeding, I might add? Nosiree. When Vernon’s sister finds out what the doctor has done, she worries that the dead guy’s personality will be transmitted to her brother through his hands, and Vernon just blames the doctor for making him a freak (like he wouldn’t feel like a freak if the doctor had just amputated his hands and left it at that).
There’s a distinct flair of melodrama throughout this entire film. In fact, the sets and atmosphere sometimes take on the look and feel of a classic daytime soap opera, especially when individuals are arguing over the ethics of what has been done to Vernon. At first, I found this a little annoying, but it really grew on me as time passed. It gave the film a unique quality, a little flair of its own - and it made for a perfect patch with the sometimes melodramatic dialogue. Where I see effective melodrama, however, some may well see bad acting. For what it’s worth, I personally look upon Hands of a Stranger as an underrated semi-classic.