About the Author: Shannon Briggs has been a passionate fan of cinema ever since his grandmother recorded The Monster Squad on VHS through cable and gave it to him. You can see more of his musings on Twitter @MisterShannonB and read more his reviews at https://letterboxd.com/MisterShannonB/
Just a few seconds into the opening titles of “The Devil’s Hand”, the viewer isn’t greeted with the ominous score you expect from a horror film about a deadly cult. No, Baker Knight’s theme for the film is instead a surf-rock medley that would be a comfortable fit for a fun beach comedy with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. It’s a head-scratching choice. This is indicative of the film’s overall out of touch nature with tone and how incredibly goofy it is when tackling the subject of cults.
The plot of The Devil’s Hands consists of Rick (played by character actor Robert Alda, probably best known for his guest roles in a plethora of 1960s and 1970s television shows and was Alan Alda’s father.) haunted/mesmerized by vivid visions of a beautiful woman (Linda Christian, from the 1954 television adaptation of Casino Royale) and is shocked when he passes by a doll shop and sees a doll identical to this mystery woman. He brings his fiancé, Donna, (Ariadna Welter) to the shop and not only does the shop owner, Francis Lamont (Neil Hamilton, Commissioner Gordon from the 1960s Batman) recognize him, but states that it is of Bianca Milan and also declares that Rick ordered the doll. Rick has no memory of this, and things get even weirder when a doll that looks like Donna is discovered by the couple as well, but Francis refuses to sell it because it already belongs to someone else.
As soon as Rick and Donna leave, Lamont walks into a secret room in his shop and stabs the doll that looks like Donna with a pin. Donna collapses and is taken to a hospital for heart spasms. Rick has another vision of Bianca and tells Donna he wants to deliver the doll to Bianca but pledges his loyalty to Donna. However, minutes after meeting Bianca, Rick folds like a poker hand and is immediately DTF for Bianca. Turns out Bianca was using thought projections to appear to Rick and convinces him to join a cult meeting of the devil god, Gamba, led by Lamont. The meetings consist of bongo playing and interpretive dance around a statue of Buddha for some reason. Oh, and the occasional human sacrifice as well. Can Rick withstand Bianca’s charms enough to realize that joining a death cult probably wasn’t probably the best idea?
The Devil’s Hand attituded towards cults seems to mix fear of otherness pertaining to African/Asian iconography and huge smattering of voodoo. In fact, the most notable scene is when the worst undercover reporter is discovered, and Lamont stabs a pin through the head of the like-like doll of said reporter. The reporter is seen immediately clutching his forehead in pain and the car comically goes off the road and falls down a cliff where it immediately explodes. The voodoo stuff, while obviously ignorant, at least makes sense in the plot. When the film is trying to convey the evils of Eastern religion through bongos and sensual dancing, it’s just embarrassing.
As far as the cast, Christian’s Bianca is really the main focus as the story focuses on her allure and sensuality. However, the film cannot seem to make its mind on if she is a femme fatale or a more sympathetic character. Her scenes with Lamont seem to hint at a seething animosity but nothing really comes of it, and she mostly comes off as a loyal second in command. Alda’s Rick is the most frustrating because it never really confirms whether his initiation into the cult is due to brainwashing or lust. At times he seems to be under some sort of spell. For example, after joining the cult, it is revealed that Rick has done substantially well financially and has newfound luck. You think something may come of this revelation but…shrug. Most of the time, he seems to have all of his senses and eventually reconciles with Donna after basically gaslighting her for the second act of the film (our hero). Hamilton’s Lamont is by far the best performance even if saddled with some of the silliest dialogue in the film. Weltner’s Donna isn’t given much to do outside of advancing the finale and being a link to Rick’s humanity when the film decides to make him a loyal fiancé again.
Directed by William J. Hole Jr., The Devil’s Hand (a.k.a. Witchcraft, The Naked Goddess, Devil’s Doll and Live to Love) was completed in 1959 but wasn’t distributed until 1961, when Crown International Pictures acquired it. Surprisingly, while mostly filmed in Los Angeles, some production was done in Mexico City, Mexico. Hence, the use of Mexican actresses Christian and Welter (whose stilted English is noticeable). Not surprisingly, the film seemed to made on cheap and quick and most of the cast wasn’t fond of it, specifically Christina and Alda. Screenwriter Jo Heims would go on to write the Elvis as twins’ vehicle, Double Trouble, and Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut, Play Misty for Me. Hole Jr., primarily a television director, would do a few more B-movies throughout the 1960s but finish out his career directing episodes of The Bionic Woman.
The Devil’s Hand is a more of a curiosity than an enjoyable movie. It’s 50’s viewpoint of cults and primarily Satanism is so quaint that it would make 1975’s The Devil’s Rain chuckle. Like I said at the beginning, having a surf rock score for your Satanic horror film was a choice.