Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Demonoid (1980)

The first and last time I got stitches was before I hit double digits.  I was bitten by a dog (which wouldn’t be the last time), and had to get four sutures in my right bicep (when you’re that age, it’s not a lot, but it sure as hell feels like it).  Since then, I’ve had injuries to my hands that I probably should have had stitched and didn’t, because that first time was more than enough for me.  While working at a fast food restaurant in my teens, I was hauling a box of shortening up from the basement, and my hand got caught on the hook end of an electrical junction box cover.  While working on a dryer, I split a knuckle open.  While removing a water valve from a washer, I gouged another knuckle on the same hand.  To this day, I maintain that the actual bone was bifurcated, but since no doctor was consulted, I guess we’ll never know.  Needless to say, I’m sure these injuries will come back to haunt me in short order, as I can already feel how arthritis is and will set in on my joints (not good for someone who works with their hands).  If you’ve ever stared at your hands for any length of time (like Felix Unger did in the “Odd Monks” episode of The Odd Couple), you really do discover what a marvel these appendages are.  They are one of the hardest parts of the human body to draw, too.  The things we can do with them are amazing, and, more often than not, we truly do take them for granted (until, of course, we are without their use, partially or in total).  I wonder, then, why, for as “important” a purpose as he has and as much work as he has to accomplish in a given day, Satan would cut off his left hand and send it to Guanajuato, Mexico, as he does in Alfredo Zacarias’ Demonoid (aka La Mano Del Diablo aka Macabra aka Demonoid: Messenger of Death)?  You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone. 

Visiting her husband Mark (Roy Cameron Jenson) at their Mexican mine, Jennifer Baines (Samantha Eggar) uncovers a chamber previously used for Satanic rites.  She and her husband remove a tiny “coffin” shaped like a human hand from which escapes the titular Demonoid (no one calls it that in the film; it just sounds neat).  The avaricious anatomical appurtenance proceeds to wend its way through a series of victims, all the while setting its sights on the woman who freed it (this becomes a rather perplexing point, as the entire film could have been about thirty minutes long, realistically).

Aside from telepathic/telekinetic heads/brains-in-tanks, the most filmed disembodied human limb has to be the hand (I know of no film where an evil foot attacks people, and even the penis got its own cinematic sojourn in Doris Wishman’s The Amazing Transplant).  Whether they are grafted onto some hapless sap or scuttling about under their own steam, hands just have a greater visual appeal than any other body part.  Plus, they’re really good for strangling (and crushing skulls from the evidence presented here; I had to resist saying “on hand”).  What the idea of a lone hand causing malfeasance does is brings up a discussion about accountability.  If the hand is attached to a person who then turns to evil (Mad Love, Hands of the Ripper, The Hands of Orlac, etcetera), we, as an audience, have to consider whether the flagitiousness is located in the hand or in the person it wields.  If it’s all in the hand, then the person abrogates their role in any villainy.  They are no more than another victim or a fall guy.  This additionally raises the question of where consciousness resides; in the mind, in the spirit, or in every part of the body (the last two being easily tied together)?  Like the alien in John Carpenter’s The Thing, maybe every microbe has an instinct for survival.  This is fine for straight forward horror/monster movies.  You have the good guys, you have the bad creature.  You don’t need any more.  

However, if we deem that the evil is inside the person and not the part, we have more possibilities to work with, a more nuanced premise.  Now, it’s the person struggling with the evil within them, the transplanted appendage being just an excuse for them to exercise their darkest desires.  We can even postulate that, even if the hand or whatever is, indeed, evil, its influence brings out the worst in its host rather than working strictly toward its own purposes.  In this sense, the chicken and the egg come into existence at the same time.  In Demonoid, we can say that Mark always wanted to blow up his mine with all his workers in it.  We can say that he always wanted to run away from his wife and head out to Vegas.  We can say that Father Cunningham (Stuart Whitman) always wanted to attack a woman.  They simply never had the stones/opportunity to do it.  Even when the Demonoid does things after its host has apparently died or is moribund, we can still say that the person’s psychosis is so deep-seated that they do these things subconsciously in order to keep their mental narrative going.  Bear in mind, I am in no way saying that the hand in this film isn’t its own thing.  We see it do plenty while unattached to anyone, and it clearly has an agenda (though said agenda is unclear; does it want to rule the world?  To just get joined up with Jennifer?  To play Craps until it runs out of money and credit?).  But we can still consider its host’s responsibility in the proceedings, the same as if they were being controlled by the “injecto-pods” in Zontar: The Thing from Venus or somesuch.  Just something to think about, I suppose.

What I find special about this film is not that it’s especially well-written or well-shot or well-acted (though all three jobs are performed competently enough).  Rather, Demonoid is mindful of its mindlessness.  It knows that the premise is silly, but it plays it straight.  It disregards the common theme in films like this of a crisis of faith (sure, Father Cunningham has a few scenes regarding this dilemma, but they never develop into anything all that important, and the idea of the power of God defeating in the power of Satan never plays out except on a surface level).  The filmmakers understand that all they have to do is say that this is Satan’s hand without any other background information and let it ride.  There is a gleefully grimy aura on the film.  It is utterly unafraid to go for the gore, and said gore is usually accompanied by/women with copious amounts of cleavage.  The big “shock” ending is as predictable as that of an EC Comic.  The film stands there in front of the viewer, warts and all (but especially warts), and it couldn’t care less if you believe in it.  It believes in itself.

MVT:  The serious/not serious attitude allows the film to keep going and drag you along with it.

Make or Break:  The vague prologue that kind of sets up the story but is really just a small showcase for some tits and blood.

Score:  7/10      

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