Thursday, October 16, 2014


CROWN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES:  THE SYMBOL OF QUALITY.  OK, actually the symbol of mediocrity.  Whenever I see the Crown International logo on the front of a movie I know I'm in for . . . well, not much, really. 
Such a logo appears on the beginning of THE DEVIL'S HAND and the film is indeed . . . not much.  Mediocre just about covers it; however, it's not without some merits.  In fact, it held my interest throughout it's hour and 11 minute running time and that's more than I expected going in.  The greyish black and white photography puts me in mind of such late fifties horror B-films as VOODOO ISLAND or, indeed, early 60's television.  In fact, the whole movie to me seems like it could've been an extra-long episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE or BORIS KARLOFF'S THRILLER series; not one of the better ones but an OK outing.  In fact, THE DEVIL'S HAND was made at exactly the same time both shows were airing and, with a little editing, it could've indeed been made into a hour-long episode of THRILLER.  

The opening credits roll while an early 60's rock'n'roll surf tune grooves underneath it all. 
Rick Turner (Robert Alda) reveals to his fiancée Donna Trent (Ariadna Welter) that he hasn't been sleeping lately due to constant haunting visions of a mysterious woman beckoning him from, what appears to be in the movie, the cloud-covered sky.  Later, Rick somehow ends up (as if he was being controlled) in front of a doll shop; in the front window of which stands a doll that looks just like the mysterious woman of his visions.  Rick returns to the shop the next day with Donna and goes in to inquire about the doll.  The shop keeper Francis Lamont (Neil Hamilton) recognizes Turner and says that the doll was made on Rick's instructions from a photograph of the woman he himself provided.  Rick, however, doesn't remember any of this.  Donna then sees another doll on a shelf which looks exactly like her! 
That doll, Lamont informs her, belongs to another client named Bianca Milan (Linda Christian) who commissioned it's appearance.  The couple leave the store and Donna is immediately struck down by incredible pain and hospitalized with a coronary condition.  At the same moment inside the doll store, Lamont puts on a spooky robe and thrusts a long needle into the doll that looks like Donna.  Here there be voodoo methinks.  That night, unable to sleep, Rick again sees the vision of the mysterious woman who this time speaks to him and tells him to go buy the doll in the shop and take it to the address on the gift box.  Rick returns to the store and picks up the doll (which Lamont insists Turner has already paid for) and goes to the address of Bianca Milan.  

Bianca lets Rick into her apartment and before you can say sexy diaphanous slinky negligee he's hopelessly smitten by her. 
"What are you?" Rick helplessly asks, "You're beautiful . . . fascinating!  You're a she-devil".  "I'm a witch" Bianca smiles matter-of-factly.  In truth, she belongs the the cult of the devil-god Gamba and in record time seduces Rick into dumping Donna and joining the cult.  So here we have witches, devil worship AND voodoo all mixed up into one plot; as if they're all pretty much the same thing.  And in 1962, in the public consciousness, I suppose they were thought to be.  Bianca and Rick go to the doll shop so that he may be initiated into the devil cult by the "high executioner" Francis Lamont.  There's voodoo-drumming, interpretive dance and cult members sitting cross-legged on cushions about the room.  In a final example of the film's complete lack of any understanding, there is a giant statue of Buddha in the room; I suppose it's supposed to look exotic and somehow "culty" to the middle American yobbo. 
Anyhoot, Rick swears to unquestioning obedience to the devil cult of Gamba and lickety-split, he's a member.  Next, Bianca uses her demonic powers to give him stock tips and incite into how to pick a sure-fire winner at the horse track.  Gamba, apparently, keeps his demonic ambitions low.  This part of the movie becomes a little unclear to me:  Rick is obviously really intoxicated with Bianca but he also sneaks into the doll shop at night and removes the pin from the Donna doll.  Some lines of dialogue make it seem like Rick has joined the cult and taken up with Bianca in order to be able to cure Donna; however, other lines of dialogue spoken by Rick seem to indicate he's still finished with Donna even after she leaves hospital.  Whatever the truth of the matter, the next meeting of the devil cult finds a kidnapped and catatonic Donna on a sacrificial slab while Lamont orders Rick to sacrifice Donna himself as a test of his obedience.  Stuff happens and the movie comes to an end; I'm not going to spoil it because, even though the film is lackluster, it is worth a watch.

Robert Alda is, of course, perhaps best known today for being Alan Alda's father but he was a successful Broadway star (GUYS AND DOLLS) as well as battling a disembodied hand in THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS.  Alda's performance here is adequate.  Neil Hamilton as the cult leader Lamont is probably best known for playing Commissioner Gordon on the sixties TV show BATMAN as well as for appearing in TARZAN THE APE MAN and TARZAN AND HIS MATE alongside Johnny Weissmuller.  Hamilton, too, is adequate in his performance.  Adriana Welter is a veteran of those Mexican horror films that emerged from the studios of Churubusco-Azteca:  THE BRAINIAC, THE VAMPIRE and it's sequel THE VAMPIRE'S COFFIN.  Welter's performance as Donna is mostly adequate. 
The real find of the movie and the biggest reason to watch it is Linda Christian as Bianca.  I can honestly have no trouble believing that a guy would fall helplessly under her spell after a mere five minutes.  She has a beautifully mellifluous voice which is often only slightly above a sinister whisper and she's very effective as a cult member/witch/whatever she is.  And her endless series of see-through negligees are a heartstopper in themselves.  Whenever Linda Christian is on-screen, you can look nowhere else.  The only other film I'm familiar with that she was in was
THE V.I.P.'s with Liz 'n' Dick.  It's something of a mystery to me that she didn't have a bigger career as the camera clearly loves her.  She's got something of that mesmerizing Kim Novak in BELL BOOK AND CANDLE witchy thing going on and I think she's just terrific.  It's a real shame we didn't get to see her in more horror roles.  It's also interesting that, in real life, Linda Christian (real name: Rosa Welter) is the sister of her DEVIL'S HAND co-star Ariadna Welter.  The depiction of modern-day urban witches - many of whom sitting around on cushions in the cult ceremonies are drab, dumpy and middle-aged - hearkens back to THE SEVENTH VICTIM and would reach it's apogee with ROSEMARY'S BABY.  There is even a subplot involving a reporter who has secretly infiltrated the cult and meets a grisly end.  While THE DEVIL'S HAND is no great shakes as a horror film, it is perhaps just good enough to be worth a watch.   

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