Monday, November 30, 2020

“Either You Cut My Hand Off or I Kill You” - Demonoid (1981) - Film #192

Let us turn to the 1981 film Demonoid, a film from the writer of The Bees (1978) so ambitious it begins in the caves of Guanajuato, Mexico and takes us to Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Demonoid is a recognized classic, of course, but there are still some of your universe's critics that have a low opinion of the film. For example, reviewer Rodrig Andrisan writes, "There are no words to express how stupid it is this film." Reviewer The_Void writes, "the film is still very boring and the swiftness in the story's movement seems to be a lame attempt to mask this." And reviewer Scarecrow-88 writes, "The plot is preposterous, the severed hand gags are lame and laughable, and the actors attack their parts with an absolute seriousness which had to have been extremely difficult under the circumstances."

It is time to put these misconceptions to rest. Please read on for an accurate appreciation of Alfredo Zacarias's film Demonoid...

In a cave in Mexico, Satanists dressed in yellow guard a curved silver case (referred to later as a "coffin"). One of their number, a blonde woman, is a traitor, however. After she fights off a few of the cultists, she lifts one into the air with one hand and strangles him. Then, inexplicably, two others push her against a wall, chain her wrists, and, even more inexplicably, rip open her shirt. Then a cultist with an axe cuts off her left hand, which remains dangling in bondage.

Fortunately for the topless woman, her severed hand leaps out of the chain and crawls along the floor. Unfortunately for both the woman and her hand, one of the cultists stabs the hand and places it into the brass case, which is apparently sufficient to summon a sword-wielding Satan with no left hand.

After this striking opening, we are introduced to Samantha Eggar, who arrives in Guanajuato, Mexico to meet her husband, who has been running a mining operation. Her husband’s assistant, after picking her up at the airport, says her husband couldn’t leave the mine. “Mines are very jealous. Like most females.”

Dropped off at the mine, called La Quemada, Ms. Eggar enters the darkness. She gets about fifteen feet into the mine before she causes a minor cave-in, which exposes both a skeleton and a pouch full of silver ore. Also, the skeleton has no left hand.

“La mano de diablo,” explains the assistant later. “The devil’s hand. They say it first came out of hell from La Quemada. It’s a legend, but for our elders, this was our truth.” He adds, “Today, our fantasies are much more sophisticated.”

After the mine workers strike, Ms. Eggar hits on a fantastic plan to force them to work. “We’re gonna go down into the mine, you and I. We’re gonna go down into the lowest level. If they see a woman going down there are coming back safely, how can they refuse?” She leads her husband Mark into the mine. After a few minutes, she asks, “How deep is this?”

“Deep,” Mark says.

When they reach the bottom, they see altars set up. Ms. Eggar calls the place a torture chamber before a skull falls into her hands. Then her husband stumbles into a very dry patch of quicksand, through which he falls into a very very dry part of the mine. “It’s some kind of a…chamber,” he yells to her before finding an old ladder to help here through the sand-hole into the room. Inside is an even more elaborate altar that marks an underground Satanic temple.

They find stone coffins full of oil, so of course they light them on fire to provide light. They also find the hand-shaped case. Mark picks it up and says, “Devil, we have broken your curse.” He decides to take it to the surface to show the mine workers. Once out in the daylight, he lifts up the case to the workers, who have been inexplicably assembled in front of the mine for hours. “Nothing to be afraid of,” Mark says. The workers scatter in fear.

Back at their hotel suite, Mark complains about buying the mine. “I feel like some fool. Takes all his grandmother’s money and goes to Las Vegas and loses it all. Then blows his brains out.”

Later, when Ms. Eggar is sleeping despite the light shining through the windows, Mark opens the case to find only dust. He gets into bed and turns out the light.

In the other room, the dust forms itself into a hand, which creeps through the hotel room, climbs inexplicably onto the bed, and crawls up Ms. Eggar’s leg.

She screams. Her husband grabs the hand and wrestles with it, then reveals his hand is only clutching dust.

The next day, Mark somehow forces the workers to go down into the mine, after which Mark sets up explosives and blows up the entire mine, destroying the underground temple and killing the correctly superstitious mine workers. Then Mark drives away.

The film cuts to the Sands casino in Las Vegas, where Mark is winning a lot of money at craps…with his left hand. (On the PA system, a woman’s voice pages Rondo Hatton, oddly.) Ms. Eggar arrives at the Sands looking for her husband, who has appeared as a winner in a local Vegas paper.

Meanwhile, after Mark leaves the Sands, he is the victim of a kidnapping orchestrated by two gamblers at the craps table. They drive him to a shack in the desert and tie him to a table. Then they interrogate him to find out how he beat the craps table. Unfortunately for the gamblers, Mark uses his possessed Satanic left hand to escape and kill them. In a fit of guilt, he tries to cut off the hand with a machete, but the hand fights back, picking up a gasoline can and dousing Mark, then using a lantern to start a conflagration. Mark staggers, aflame, out of the shack, where the hand buries itself in the desert sand while Mark burns.

After Mark’s burned body is found but misidentified, Ms. Eggar emotionlessly tracks the body to a Los Angeles church where the priest is played by Stuart Whitman. She tells him she wants to dig up the body. Father Whitman replies, “You know, basically, the unearthing of a body is legally complex.”

At night, we see something jump out of a fresh grave with no headstone. Then Ms. Eggar and Father Whitman approach the empty grave. “He did it,” she says. “My husband. The man that you buried.”

“Well, uh. Come on, let’s go.” Father Whitman leads her back to the church. A few minutes later, a policeman arrives to inspect the vandalized grave. While he inspects, Ms. Eggar and Father Whitman have a deep theological conversation.

“Father, do you believe that God is the ultimate source of good?”

“That’s not a serious question.”

“Do you?”

“What’s your point?”

“My point is that if you do, you must believe in an evil force opposing God, capable of causing destruction.”

“Not in the form of a 300-year-old hand that crawls. No!”

Meanwhile, in the cemetery, Mark’s burned zombie corpse uses the police car door to sever the hand again. (The pedantic viewer might question why the hand simply did not allow Mark to sever it with the machete back outside Vegas, but the pedantic viewer would be unaware that the hand needs to be in contact with other people to possess their left hands.) The hand waits in the car for the officer, jumping onto his face and possessing his hand.

The next day, Father Whitman confronts the policeman in a gym. When he tells the policeman he found a body last night without a hand, the policeman replies, quite reasonably, “Maybe a cult of, uh, weirdos out to cast a spell. Maybe a group trying to appease an angry God, huh, Father?”

“It’s a possibility,” the priest concedes.

Oddly, the two decide to spar in the boxing ring. They look evenly matched, despite Father Whitman’s flailing punches, until the policeman hits him a few times in slow-motion with his left hand, producing a fascinating “boing” sound on the soundtrack. After this, the policeman notices that the priest has been wearing a crucifix around his neck. The policeman backs away and leaves the ring.

Later, the policeman arrests Ms. Eggar on an imaginary car theft charge. In one of the film’s boldest narrative choices, he drives her to a plastic surgery center, where he forces the plastic surgeon at gunpoint to cut his left hand off. “Either you cut my hand off,” he says, “or I’ll kill you.”

The surgeon, of course, complies. The procedure takes nearly a minute. 

After the hand is severed, it manages to shoot the nurse using the policeman’s gun, then it grabs the policeman’s face for no apparent reason and breaks the poor man’s neck. It next possesses the plastic surgeon, who subdues Ms. Eggar by repeatedly pressing a hypodermic needle against her skin. He begins to cut off his own hand, apparently to transplant it to Ms. Eggar, but he is interrupted by Father Whitman. The doctor runs away, resulting in a car chase with Ms. Eggar, Father Whitman, and another policeman chasing the doctor in his convertible Cadillac. The car crash causes two cars driven by innocent people to flip through the air.

At the end of the chase, the doctor climbs from his car onto a moving train, but he falls off and his left hand is severed when his arm is run over by the train. The hand grabs the underside of the train, making its escape.

On the drive along an LA freeway back to her motel, Ms. Eggar calmly explains the situation to the priest. “We gave it its freedom so when Mark died, the hand became mine. Oh, it captured others, yes, but inevitably just to get back to me.” She then asks, “Do you believe that there is a hand?”

“Well, there’s something,” he replies, despite having seen the hand escape from the doctor’s body. “Do you think that this hand will destroy me?”

“It has others who’ve been vulnerable.”

Later, in her motel room, the hand crawls across the shag carpeting to get to Ms. Eggar when she finds the hand’s case has been destroyed.

Father Whitman finds her and drives her to the church. We discover the hand has somehow tagged along by holding onto the rear bumper. It also manages to disconnect the phone line and turn off the power. In the darkened church, Ms. Eggar and Father Whitman separate, but the priest is attacked by the hand, which substitutes itself for the hand of a statue.

Father Whitman finds the hand has turned to dust, which apparently means his own left hand has been possessed. He tells her, “I will have to destroy you to keep it. I will kill you and then it will be mine.”

He chases her through the church. When he confronts her behind a movable frame with stained glass and punches his hand through the glass, she pretends to sacrifice herself by, oddly, giving him a sharp tool and placing her head in his possessed hand. When he tries to stab her, she moves her head and he impales the hand. No longer possessed fully, he uses a blowtorch to burn the hand, fortunately feeling no pain. “If thy hand offend thee, cut it off and cast it aside, for it is profitable for thee that one of thine members should perish and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell,” he recites.

Later, after they drop the ashes into the water at a marina, Ms. Eggar receives a package. Ignoring the water and seaweed on her tile floor, she opens the package to find more seaweed and a black candle.

Then the hand emerges from her sink, flies through the air, and grabs her hair as the black candle lights itself. The hand smashes her head into a glass table.

The End

Alfredo Zacarias created a jet-setting masterpiece when he wrote The Bees (1978), and his follow-up directorial effort is just as ambitious, though perhaps even more personal. It cannot boast a performance by the legendary John Saxon, but its performances from the near-legendary Samantha Eggar and Stuart Whitman make up for that loss.

How did the hand mail a candle to Ms. Eggar at the same time, presumably, as it was crawling through plumbing to reach Ms. Eggar's house? How do the severed hands transfer the evil demonic energy to their victims before the previous hand crumbles into dust? Why is Satan unable to possess right hands (are they not sufficiently "sinister")? All these questions are dumb. The only answer is to experience Demonoid and understand the power of the devil's hand.