“The dead hand that crawls KILLS and LIVES!!!”
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Starring Peter Cushing, Stephanie Beacham and Herbert Lom
Catherine (Beacham), the young bride of Charles Fengriffin (Ian Ogilvy), dreams that she is violated by a one-handed spirit on her wedding night. As time passes, she is haunted by the figure of a peasant with his eyes gouged out, and by the creepy woodsman with the huge red birthmark, Silas son of Silas. When she learns that she is pregnant she is horrified, and goes a little loopy. Her husband calls in alienist Dr Pope (Cushing) to investigate.
Anyone who tries to tell Catherine what is happening gets offed through the agencies of a disembodied hand. Eventually Charles explains to Pope that this grandfather, Henry Fengriffin, raped a girl called Sarah, the virgin bride of Silas, father of Silas son of Silas, on her wedding night. When he tried to fight off his feudal running-dog overlord, Henry cut off Silas’ hand. Silas swore the next virgin bride of a Fengriffin would be violated as Sarah was, and Charles’ mother was a widow, meaning that the curse falls on Catherine.
The child is born one-handed and sporting a huge red birthmark. Charles shoots Silas son of Silas through both eyes then smashes up Henry’s corpse and Catherine goes nuts.
What’s wrong with it?
Produced by Hammer rivals Amicus studios, the flaws of ANtSS run counter to those of their contemporary opposite numbers. While Lust for a Vampire was boring us with gratuitous nudity, Amicus offers Henry Fengriffin, the world’s tamest libertine, and his gang of loser friends; you can tell they’re debauched, they’re speed-drinking yards of ale! It al seems rather pitiful. And Silas son of Silas is kind of creepy, but the same guy playing Silas father of Silas son of Silas doesn’t convince as seethingly angry over Henry’s vile behaviour.
What’s right with it?
The ghostly appearances of Silas are good for their time, and kind of scary. Stephanie Beacham is fetchingly bonkers and Peter Cushing is always worth the admission; even in Biggles.
How bad is it really?
Not terrible, but not great either. It’s not on a par with Hammer at its best, but beats all hell out of Hammer at its worst. The main problem is that they’ve chosen such an explicitly sexual tale and tried to take out most of the sex.
Learning that she is almost certainly preggers by the ghost of Silas, Catherine tries to stab herself in the belly, only to find that the disembodied hand of same has leaped in the way of the knife and taken one for the team.
What’s up with…?
- The ghost of Silas finding out what people are planning by having his disembodied hand spy on them? I mean, spy with what? It has no eyes, no ears! I realise that a disembodied hand requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but really…
- The Bible with the scratched out name? I guess that was supposed to be the dead child got on Sarah by Henry, but would they really write a bastard child onto the family tree in the family Bible?
- The ghost having its eyes shot out? Was this then the pre-ghost of Silas son of Silas?
Production values – For their time, pretty solid; no messing around. 3
Dialogue and performances – Ian Ogilvy is a little wooden, but basically the real letdown is Geoffrey Whitehead as Silas. Otherwise the playing is pretty solid. 9
Plot and execution – Somehow, despite a few creepy moments, the film fails to build much tension. The phantasmal appearances of the hand are only so-so at the foreshadowing, and the music is too light for real terror. 14
Randomness – The hand is kind of explained, but pretty random in its use. It’s unclear why the ghost is young Silas, and why that name appears in the book. Not a parade of randomness by any means, but kind of iffy. 8
Waste of potential – Poor direction lets down a solid suspense story, but many a film of this ilk is much worse. 9