The most surprising thing about the new teensploitation horror film Idle Hands is the lack of masturbation jokes. It is a movie about a seventeen-year-old boy who loses control of his right hand to an evil demon, yet there's only one such obvious crack. As the gloriously lazy hero Anton (Devon Sawa) prepares to slice off his possessed paw with a bagel guillotine, he explains why he's attached to his other hand: He needs it for channel surfing, lighting up his bong, and "relieving tension." And when his friends (both zombies back from the dead) leave to get a first aid kit -- "and burritos!" -- it's obvious that the film is answering to a higher power, that it's not a metaphorical trip into teenage sexuality or tedium or toilet humor. This, horror fans, is a good old-fashioned monster movie.
Amid a frenzy of films pitched at the wallets of today's teenagers, we're seeing young stars crammed into dozens of well-worn plots and genres, with mixed results. But this shot at the good old days of gory, over-the-top horror flicks (1950s werewolf movies, Sam Raimi and Roger Corman stuff from the 1980s) nails the mood of the moment: Enough, already, with that aging-Gen X-irony-and-self-reference-Scream thing and the tedious stalking of Jennifer Love Hewitt. This wry and surprisingly high-gloss production brings back the good stuff: zombies, latex body parts, screaming women on altars, errant eyeballs, and guys with no necks trying to eat burritos. Director Rodman Flender, a Corman disciple, revels as much in the mundaneness of the teen years as in the biology of the dismembered. But the script keeps these disturbing images behind such a smart layer of detached humor that the whole thing comes off as a lively, if empty, romp in the plasma.
Somehow (and who cares exactly how) Anton's right hand becomes possessed by a demon that forces him to kill and kill again, starting with his parents and his basement-dwelling stoner buddies (Seth Green and Elden Henson). All this happens without his leaving the house or even putting on pants. His pals, too lazy to trek through a bright afterlife tunnel surrounded by "uncool music like Enya," return, and crash on the sofa, as zombies with makeup right out of Night of the Living Dead, one with a beer bottle stuck in his temple and the other holding his own head. The hand then goes after a nubile next-door love interest (Jessica Alba) while Anton searches for answers about "evil" from a metal-head neighbor wearing a Quiet Riot muscle shirt.
The possessed-hand metaphor has seen a good run in horror films but usually as a serious psychological device: Tortured pianists lose control of their digits in both Mad Love (1935) and The Beast with Five Fingers (1947), and Oliver Stone's The Hand (1981) tells of a flawed cartoonist. Anton is just lazy. That's all. The metaphor is simple. There's something grotesquely fascinating about a man who can't stop his own hand from performing unspeakable acts, and Sawa stretches this extreme bored-evil duality into some great slapstick moments.
Just about nothing in this film is original, but it borrows so well from the classics that it seems almost natural for George A. Romero's blue-faced zombies to go to the school dance with the cast of Dazed and Confused. Fans of Raimi's Evil Dead movies, perhaps the best examples of latex/slapstick horror, will feel right at home in the landscape of vaguely silly terror. And instead of simply updating an old story with a young cast (as the bland, very-Stepford Disturbing Behavior did this past year), Idle Hands slyly swipes and parodies, skewering, for example, the cliched high school dance finale featuring some hot band. (The Offspring! Squeal!)
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But this fun comes at a price. The characters' total disregard for the living, the dead, or the undead can get under your skin, especially when coupled with their constant puffing of pot. Anton doesn't notice that his parents are dead for days, and one zombie passes the time throwing Chee-tos into the mouth of his buddy's lopped-off head. But the, um, lovable Seth Green (Oz on Buffy and Scott Evil in Austin Powers) pulls off a cool little asshole zombie so lackadaisical and chummy that you kind of want to sit in his basement smoking weed and eating Chee-tos, too.
You still don't care when he dies, though. Or when anybody dies. They all deserve it, or maybe they don't. Nothing's clear, nothing matters, and the outrageous violence is only slightly quelled by the kids' postmodern detachment from it: It's not really happening. During the climactic battle against evil (we're not giving anything away here, believe me), the hand just quietly disintegrates. No explosions. No squealing. No coming back for more. Green's zombie protests: "What -- is that it?" He's watching the movie, too, and he's just a little disappointed.
Directed by Rodman Flender. Written by Terri Hughes and Ron Milbauer. Starring Devon Sawa, Seth Green, Elden Henson, Jessica Alba, and Christopher Hart as the Hand.