Joe’s Blog

Demonoid: Messenger of Death (1981)

January 5, 2013 12:11 pm

Demonoid poster

Do you know what’s rubbish? Crawling hand movies. Yes, there are good films which use the idea of a severed, crawling hand as an idea for a part of its story, but films which are centred solely on such a device are, to a man, dreadful.

So, Demonoid was quite a surprise. Mainly because I didn’t know it was a crawling hand movie. Let alone a cheesy, if enjoyable one.

I’d seen the trailer a few years back and was fully expecting some demon/zombie/possession type thing, with Stuart Whitman filling in for the obligatory priest character/savant who was mandatory for horror films from The Exorcist onwards, and Samantha Eggar as the unfortunate victim of whatever was going on. This turns out to be the case, except the eponymous demon turns out to be a pesky, possessive severed hand.

Handy Andy is first seen in an obviously tacked-on prologue (when the producers realised the film didn’t feature any tits), where a lady in a white smock kicks seven shades of the proverbial out of some guys who appear to be wearing some filthy second-hand KKK outfits. They eventually overcome her, tearing the smock open in the process, chain her to a wall and chop her left hand off. A Pazuzu-like demon appears to a crescendo of storm sound effects records and drawn on lightening bolts. The hand tries to do a runner, but is caught, and encased in a metal box, which it perfectly fits.

demonoid3

This is not the greatest crawling hand movie in the world…

this is just a tribute.

We’re given no indication where or when this happening, but it’s clearly some time in the past. We are most definitely thrust back into the present day, in Mexico, thanks to an abundance of bad 70’s fashions and wah-wah music.

Jennifer Baines (Eggar) is in town to meet her husband, who is trying to get his crew of underpaid local miners back to work, because they’re scared of rumours of a curse on the mine. Eggar takes it upon herself to investigate, and within 20 seconds has found a hitherto undiscovered cave just by leaning on the wall and dislodging some polystyrene rocks. In the cave the happy couple found the encased hand. So pleased with their discovery are the couple that they get drunk, and Mr Baines decides to let the hand out and promptly falls asleep, leaving the hand to touch up his wife. He tries to stop it, whereupon the hand possesses his own left hand, leaving him only with a handful of dust. He then blows up the mine, killing a bunch of his miners, and goes on the lam.

Through a series of badly edited transitions we follow Mr Baines’ exciting adventures in Vegas, before leading to the hand possessing a cop, a doctor and eventually Whitman’s priest (who Mrs Baines enlists to help her find her missing husband).

This all sounds very silly, and to be honest, it is. What saves it are game performances from Eggar and Whitman (spouting a frankly ludicrous Irish accent) and some fairly effective hand effects. Given the age and budget of the film, these are far creepier and effective than the far bigger budgeted (and dreadfully dull) The Hand.

demonoid 1

This should come in handy

The main problem with crawling hand movies, unlike say slashers or ghost stories, is the inherent suspension of disbelief required by an audience. Most of us would find the idea of a nutter with a machete or spooky noises and apparitions scary. But the idea of a severed hand being able to move, and even think, needs such a leap of faith from an audience that it’s almost impossible. I’m sure the audiences of the 20’s would have been spooked by The Hands of Orlac, and even the 40’s viewers of The Beast with 5 Fingers may have been insufficiently cynical to take the concept at face value. But even by the 60’s the countless appearances of the abnormal appendage would become laughable (Amicus films used the trope countless times in their portmanteau movies, before giving (probably) the same prop a film of its own with And Now the Screaming Starts, a film much more memorable for a truly gruelling (though not explicit) rape scene, and the wardrobe department’s heroic attempts to retain Stephanie Beecham’s heaving bosom.

Demonoid, despite its many flaws, is head and shoulders above almost all the post-war crawling hand flicks. It is fully aware of its ludicrous premise and makes no attempt to hide the fact. Any film which contains the line “You either cut off my hand, or I’m gonna kill you” is surely not taking itself too seriously. Eggar and Whitman are game for just about anything, as their filmographies demonstrate, and are perfectly good as playing frightened, concerned, baffled and surprised when confronted with a rubber fist. Let’s not forget Whitman has already dealt with a plague of giant killer rabbits, whilst Eggar produced murderous dwarves from egg sacs growing in her lady area. These guys can take on a simple low-budget, Mexican shot crawling hand movie in their sleep.

Add in some good, if infrequent, gore and a wonderfully cheesy car chase (with music surely lifted from a 70’s TV cop show library) and you’ve got a sadly very rare gem.

Sadly, Demonoid is unavailable anywhere on DVD. It is available through the internet but I’m not telling you where. Try eBay.


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