Monday, June 15, 2009

Idle Hands (USA, 1999)

(Trailer.) Idle Hands, with its mildly playful title and cover photo of typical teenage splatter victims, is probably not the first "unknown" film you would reach for at the video store when searching for the weekly trashy film. True, fans of hot babes might rent it because of Vivica A Fox and a then-unknown Jessica Alba, but nothing is initially evident to infer that Idle Hands is worth your buck-fifty, let alone your Saturday night. But surprise! This relatively unknown flick is an entertaining, low-budget and blood-drenched black comedy waiting to be discovered, a true gem hidden amongst a multitude of crap. Great music (supplied by that master of genre film scores, Graham Neville), fun acting, good editing and excellent pacing make sure that the film never bores or stagnates, always popping off into some new, sick direction just at the point when it should. Teenage trash or not, this flick is fun!
The idea itself, that of a hand being possessed by an evil force, is hardly new. In fact, it was old when Sam Rami made one of the seminal "possessed hands" comedies of all time, The Evil Dead II (1987/trailer). Indeed, as an obvious fan of gore and horror, director Rodman Flender has probably even seen the film—in fact, Idle Hands has so many references to genre and trash classics known and unknown, it is a given that the guy has seen Rami's earlier effort. But who gives a shit? Is the world too small for two killer hand comedies? Not when they are this quality.
In truth, however, Flender's history as a director would hardly lead one to expect such a good comedy. The Unborn (1991/trailer), an artificial insemination baby from hell flick, and In the Heat of Passion (1992/trailer), his mandatory foray into film noir, both have their moments, but neither is something to write home to mom about. Leprechaun 2 (1994/trailer), a high body count comedy sequel to the (slightly) better original has so few real laughs that it is almost hard to believe that his newest blood drenched comedy is so successful. (Still, any guy that manages to flash a scene from Glen or Glenda (1953), Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978) all in one film has a lot of leeway in my book.)
Scriptwriters Teri Hughes and Ron Milbauer probably watched dozens of horror films (and smoked a ton of pot) while writing this script, for the whole movie plays with ideas borrowed from films as diverse as Psycho, Carrie, Angle Heart (or maybe Alien III), The Crazies/Codename: Trixie, Night of the Living Dead and Re-Animator, to name just a few of the more obvious references. Made by obvious genre lovers and packed with little asides to numerous films, Idle Hands doesn't spare either the blood or the laughs, leaving nothing sacred and never stopping to ask any questions. Well scripted and featuring some excellent cinematography, the movie stays within the narrow limits of a teenage splatter flick while taking a piss on it all along the way. In doing so, Idle Hands becomes much better, more satisfying and definitely more entertaining than such un-understandably popular but empty and uninteresting pap like Urban Legend (1998) or Scary Movie (2000). Like Scary Movie, Idle Hands leaves no stone unturned, spitting forth a steady barrage of non-stop gore, sexual situations, drug use and bad language. But whereas Scary Movie is an obvious (but not very good) comedy of the Airplane (1980) mould going for easy laughs, Idle Hands manages to be hilarious and simultaneously even build up enough tension to occasionally surprise and scare you.
In regards to the tradition of body count gore in the vein of Urban Legend or Friday The 13th (1980), the buckets of blood in Idle Hands are not thrown half full. The gore level here is high, much higher than in either of the two films just mentioned, and comes complete with a beheading, a knitting needle through the head, a girl in a ventilator and much more. Hell, matricide is hardly something most people can laugh at, but in Idle Hands, it and other tasteless ideas gets big laughs anyway, generally without a loss to the suspense and tension. And as an added pleasure, some of the most absolutely fabulous love pillows are seen in a gratuitous sex scene (and three-handed grope) for a much too short 30 seconds before the KISS-groupie gets choked to death.
Devon Sawa, who also has the honour of being the star of the better true teenage horror films of 2000, Final Destination (trailer), stars as Anton, a teenage pot-head and good for nothing whose life consists of being a couch potato and taking drugs. Unknown to him, his right hand has become possessed by a wandering evil spirit out to open the gates of hell (his left hand was spared, it is later insinuated, because it had seen too much masturbatory movement). In no time flat it has killed his parents and two best friends Mick (Seth Green) and Pnub (Elden Henson), the latter two who come back as living dead. He amputates his hand after a few dead cops, but before he can destroy it, it escapes in pursuit of his object of desire Molly (Jessica Alba), who is at the school Halloween party. He and his clumsy, pot smoking un-dead friends – "As usual, marijuana saves an otherwise disastrous day" – set out to stop the hand, pursued by Debi (Vivica A. Fox), a priestess belonging to a sacred order whose sole aim is to destroy the evil spirit. She, in turn, is being helped by the neighbourhood's local heavy metal heartthrob Randy (Jack Noseworthy). The party quickly turns into mass murder as the hand wreaks havoc, always one step ahead of our heroes, and before long the beautiful Molly is strapped to the top of a car in the school car shop, about to be squashed to death against the roof as the hand, un-dead and Anton fight over the hydro-jack control....
The DVD also features the original ending, a bigger budgeted special effects extravaganza that eventually got dumped for the simpler, funnier and obviously much more low-budget car shop ending because it didn't seem to fit with the overall flow and mood of the movie. With either ending, Idle Hands would have still remained what it is: a bloody, tasteless and completely enjoyable black comedy that continually surprises and entertains from start to finish. Rent it now!

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