When hands go bad, they betray our mechanical control over ourselves.
Horror works best when it makes us distrust those things which are closest to us. Think about movies that inspire fear of our kids, their dolls, our dogs, our wild-eyed writer dads. Some films get even more intimate. These infect our bodies. Hands, whether they are attached to a genetically-enhanced arm in a Rick & Morty episode or those mangled in Doctor Strange, are the representative physical instruments of our power. It’s only logical that they retain a certain psychological power over us.
Like other films that reduce our ability to control our own bodies (“body horror”), those that focus around our hands hit the ideas of autonomy and identity hard. Little is more recognizable as human than a simple hand and little more painful than seeing that hand perform inhumanly.
This is the subject of the video essays created by One Hundred Years of Cinema, a channel producing monthly examinations into films year by year, starting with the advent of the medium. They’ve made it up to 1933 so far, but one of their most fascinating films has been focused on this theme of hands in horror, specifically in reference to 1924’s The Hands of Orlac. I’ll let you find out more for yourself and if you’re so inclined after, you can throw a few dollars their way to keep more cool videos coming.