Idle Hands (1999)


USA. 1999.


Director – Rodman Flender, Screenplay – Terri Hughes & Ron Milbauer, Producers – Jennifer & Suzanne Todd, Photography – Christopher Baffa, Music – Graeme Revell, Music Supervisor – John Houlihan, Visual Effects – VCE (Supervisors – Peter Kuran & Ted Rae), Special Effects Supervisor – Lou Carlucci, Makeup Effects – Cannom Creations (Supervisors – Greg Cannom, Brian Swipe & Todd Tucker), Makeup Effects Designed & Produced by Keith Vanderlaan, Production Design – Greg Melton. Production Company – Licht-Mueller Film Corp/Team Todd


Devon Sawa (Anton Tobias), Seth Green (Mick), Eldon Henson (Pnub), Jessica Alba (Molly), Jack Noseworthy (Randy), Vivica A. Fox (Sister Debi Liquer)


The town of Bolan is being terrorized by a killer. After finding his parents murdered, teenage slacker and dopehead Anton Tobias realizes that he is the killer and that his right hand is possessed by a demonic spirit that takes over the laziest person it can find. The murderous hand then kills Anton’s two best friends and they return as zombies. However, the three of them find that not even severing Anton’s hand manages to stop it and it takes on a life of its own.

In the late 1990s, the teen horror film made a revival. It was all begun with Scream (1996), which nostalgically looked back to slasher films of the mid-1980s while wittily parodying the conventions of the genre. Its success was followed by the likes of the I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Urban Legend (1998), Disturbing Behavior (1998) and The Faculty (1998), as well as the cult success of tv’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2002). If Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980) and their copious imitators were horror films of the early 1980s Me Generation leftovers, then these are Generation X horror films. Here the anonymous teens that filled the mid-1980s equivalents have been replaced by a group of cynical teens who come wittily post-informed by the conventions of the genre and compare and paraphrase their situation with in-references to other horror films at the drop of a hat. At their best – the likes of Scream and The Faculty – these films are witty and intelligent genre deconstructions; at their least – the likes of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998) and Urban Legend – these are sad copies of films that lack the wherewithal to see they are jumping on a bandwagon that roots itself in a recursive media self-awareness and end up as a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes, of merely being slasher film imitators made on an A-budget.

If the Scream films et al are Generation X horror films, then Idle Hands is surely the first slacker horror film – one of its continuing comic riff concerns itself with the three principal teens’ dope-smoking habits. Sadly there is not much to Idle Hands beyond half a concept. Most of this film’s ideas are stolen from other films – the possessed and severed hand idea seems a feature-length expansion of the comic sequence that was done with far greater sophistication in The Evil Dead II (1987), the two comic undead friends are a blatant steal from An American Werewolf in London (1981). The overall idea of a possessed hand is lame – and in terms of horror the hand holds so little threat as to border on the laughable.

There is nothing on screen has any imagination that transforms the film anywhat either – the scenes with Devon Sawa contorting about as he fights his hand come out as singularly unfunny. A good comic performer and mime artist could have made this work but Devon Sawa’s performance abilities are thoroughly unexceptional. There is one mildly amusing sequence where Sawa’s hand makes aggressive moves on (a then unknown) Jessica Alba leaving him torn between its aggression and his natural introversion, which she decides she likes, even taking him tying his hand up to the bed as something kinky. The film gives the impression of wanting to open up into something much more raucous and vulgar, but director Rodman Flender does the criminal thing for this type of film – he is too tame, his vulgarity lacks imagination.

Rodman Flender had previously made The Unborn (1991) and Leprechaun 2 (1994). Flender subsequently made the werewolf comedy Nature of the Beast (2007) and has mostly worked in tv.

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