When my kids were younger, if we went on vacation to the beach we would always end up bringing home a collection of things they found lying around in the sand. I mean it’s one thing for kids to collect sea shells, but there was some stuff that came back that wasn’t pretty. At least it never got as bad as what happens in today’s movie, in which a guy finds a possessed severed appendage lying on the beach. It’s film once featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, 1963’s The Crawling Hand.
As our story begins, an astronaut named Lockhart (Les Hoyle) is on his way back to Earth. Unfortunately, his air is running out and there is no hope of him surviving. Steve Curan (Peter Breck) of mission control is distraught that they keep losing men on these attempts to conquer the moon. I’m thinking bigger air tanks might be a good place to start. Just saying. Anyhow, things get really strange when a few minutes after Lockhart’s air runs out, they hear his voice coming over the radio. They then pick up a video image of the astronaut looking a bit like a zombie. He pleads with mission control for them to push the self destruct button. Eventually they do, and the capsule goes boom.
A short time later, dashing young med student Paul Lawrence (Rod Lauren) and his Swedish-born girlfriend Donna (Allison Hayes) are frolicking on the beach when they find a severed arm…it is Lockhart’s. Of course Paul does what we would all do…wraps it up and stuffs it in the trunk of his car. When he gets home he hides it on a shelf in the garage, but in the middle of the night the thing crawls into the house and strangles the landlady. Paul discovers the body and calls the Sheriff (Alan Hale Jr….Skipper!), but of course, Paul is the major suspect. However, there’s not enough evidence to hold him yet, so Paul stays in the house…with the landlady’s body still downstairs!?!?
It doesn’t take long for the hand to go after Paul. It strangles him, but doesn’t kill him. He gets picked up by the morgue boys when they show up to get the other body, but then strange things start to happen. Paul soon finds himself taking on a zombie-like appearance and being unable to control his own actions. He even tries to kill the poor soda shop owner to the music of “The Bird’s the Word” by the Rivingtons. Meanwhile, Curan and Dr. Weltzberg (Kent Taylor) from the space agency have showed up in town to get to the bottom of things.
I think it’s fair to say that you pretty much know what you’re in for with a movie about a severed limb that crawls around and kills people. We’re not exactly talking about a cinematic milestone here. However this is a film that is quite entertaining…for all wrong reasons. It’s pretty fun to see all these scenes of a hand crawling around and picture the poor sap who is just out of the shot, on his hands and knees, “playing” the hand. Apparently, whatever it is that has possessed the hand has Spider-Man type powers because it manages to climb vertically up various objects without even so much as digging in its nails. The makeup effect for the possessed people is also unintentionally funny. When Paul is possessed he looks a bit like a cross between Beetlejuice and Robert Smith from the Cure.
The funniest part of the film, though, is the extreme over-acting. Rod Lauren as Paul seems to have based his whole performance on James Dean’s “You’re tearing me apart!!!” moment from Rebel Without a Cause. It’s utterly ridiculous. Peter Breck’s performance as Curan is also incredibly overblown. Even in just a casual conversation the guy always seems to be angry about something. However, the Skipper, Alan Hale Jr., is a joy to behold. Yes he’s a bit over-dramatic, but he makes a great small town sheriff.
As mentioned earlier, this film was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I don’t feel that just because a movie was on that show that it is automatically “bad.” However, The Crawling Hand is one that fits squarely in that category. Even without the riffs, it’s a unintentionally funny watch all on its own.