Idle Hands

(Rodman Flender, USA, 1999)


Ghostbuster Debi (Vivica Fox), who never minces words, offers a succinct description of how Satan enters our worldly affairs. The evil gent looks for "the laziest fuck-up he can find", and takes over that person’s body as a host.

In fact, not even a whole body is necessary – one wicked hand will do. And this hand is only interested in pursuing a single act: murder. Despite its evident religious undertones, Idle Hands is not finally interested in Satan or God. As in much pop culture, other-worldly beings are rendered anonymously as mere wisps of dark smoke or bursts of bright light.

"Idle hands are the devil’s playthings", one character solemnly announces. The teenagers on display here are the laziest bunch imaginable: terminally unemployed, crashed on the couch, watching trash television and smoking dope. At least Satan gives Anton (Devon Sawa) a little exercise, forcing him to chase his troublesome, mischievous hand all over town.

For half the film, this hand remains attached to Anton’s body. After the meat cleaver comes out and an amputated hand roams free – straight to the local high school Halloween Ball – all hell breaks loose. Meanwhile, the best buddies that Anton has already reluctantly killed, Mick (Seth Green) and Pnub (Elden Henson), resurrect as the ugly undead, decapitated or mangled.

Without even seeing the film, horror aficionados will be able to identify from this synopsis homages to everything from The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) and Carrie (1976) to Re-Animator (1985) and Evil Dead II (1987).

I am up for a teen-horror-comedy any day, but Idle Hands is pretty dreary stuff. The proudly tasteless, party-all-night ethos of the genre wears quickly thin, and endless jokes about having dirty, low-down sex with the undead fail to amuse. It was all done so much better, over a decade previously, in such movies as Beetlejuice (1988) and Return of the Living Dead (1985).

There is one priceless moment, however, when Anton begins to swear off drugs, and Mick mercifully cuts him short: “Please, no Kevin Costner speeches!”

© Adrian Martin December 1999

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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