Idle Hands (1999)
Directed by Rodman Flender
Cast: Devon Sawa, Seth Green, Elden Henson, Jessica Alba, Vivica A. Fox, Jack Noseworthy, Katie Wright, Connie Ray, Fred Willard.
1999 92 minutes
Rated: (for violence, gore, profanity, nudity, and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, May 1, 1999.
If "Idle Hands," the new horror-comedy directed with devilish glee by Rodman Flender ("Leprechaun 2"), has it's fair share of problems, which it does, you'll just have to excuse me for not mentioning some of them. First and foremost, this film was an extremely nostalgic experience for me, a fun and twisted throwback to the goofy slasher films of the '80s. Last year's crummy "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" was also exactly like '80s horror, but was tiresome and had no true entertainment value. In other words, "I Still Know..." took itself way too seriously, and therefore suffered the consequences, while "Idle Hands" knows exactly how to have a good time, be damned.
The film gets off to a fabulous start, as a kooky middle-aged married couple (Fred Willard, Connie Ray) has just settled down for the night. Seeing the words, "I'm under the bed," sprawled on the ceiling, they immediately hear a noise downstairs. The husband goes down to check it out, and never returns. Then she goes down to see where he is. You know the procedure, but instead of feeling cliched, the scene is both genuinely suspenseful and had me rolling in the aisles at its already over-the-top, sick humor.
The next morning, we meet 17-year-old slacker Anton Tobias (Devon Sawa), a clueless teenager who spends his days loafing on the couch watching television and smoking marijuana. After not seeing his parents for a couple days, he tells his friends, Mick (Seth Green) and Pnub (Elden Henson), but doesn't really think anything of it. After accidentally discovering their bodies (whose location in the house will remain unsaid so the surprise will be kept), Anton quickly discovers that his right hand is possessed by Satan, and is starting to control him, killing anybody in its path, including Mick and Pnub. When Anton confronts him about his unfortunate situation, his dark, brooding neighbor (Jack Noseworthy) remarks that, "Idle hands are the devil's playground. Just keep them busy." Ultimately, the violent proceedings lead up to the school's Halloween dance, in which the now-severed hand goes on a murderous rampage.
"Idle Hands" is a delirious, no-holds-barred attempt at creating a slasher movie with lots of campy and outrageous humor. While some of it fails (including the whole subplot dealing with Mick and Pnub, who return from the grave), much of it really is funny, and I couldn't help but be reminded of the so-bad-they're-great '80s horror flicks that this film obviously gets its inspiration from. Back in those days, there were very few redeeming qualities, just gory killing after gory killing, intermingled with a helpful dosage of gratuitous nudity. In the '90s, however, things have matured a bit, there isn't quite as much blood to be had in these types of movies, and there is never any T&A. With "Idle Hands," this has all changed, and you would not believe how much enjoyment is to be had at seeing a film like that once again, and on the big screen.
For one thing, this film does a much better job at portraying All Hallows' Eve (my favorite holiday) than the self-titled "Halloween: H20," and the very first shot in the film is an instant classic (at least for me), as the camera starts on a brightly-lit pumpkin, travels through a heavily Halloween-decorated front yard, and finally rises into an upstairs window. Due to this example and several other impressively shot scenes, the cinematography is distinctive and well done, as is the memorable music score by composer Graeme Revell.
Once Anton's hand is possessed, "Idle Hands" unfortunately begins to meander with an overemphasis on slapstick, but once the hand is cut off and it sets out for the dance in the last thirty minutes, the movie returns to its high-energy mode and is a treat from there on. The rock band Offspring makes an appropriate cameo at the dance as they sing the Ramones songs, "I Wanna Be Sedated," while nubile teens are dispatched in gruesome ways, and two particular girls, one whom happens to be Anton's new girlfriend, Molly (Jessica Alba), must escape through the ventilation system and crawl through a sharp, spinning fan that has been stopped up (but for how long?) by a shoe wedged in its blades.
In the central roles, Devon Sawa is an adequate protagonist who is given plenty of opportunities to show off his talent for physical comedy. Seth Green and Elden Henson have some fun with their respective roles, especially after they have been killed (with Mick having a beer bottle engorged in his forehead, and Pnub actually carrying around his severed head). Jessica Alba is nice eye candy, in a ditsy female sort of way, but as was so evident in the older slasher movies, is a one-dimensional damsel in distress. Finally, Vivica A. Fox is hysterical in the smallish role of Deb, a spicy druid priestess who sets out to find the possessed hand.
"Idle Hands" is bloody, violent, and smart in its dumbness, boasting some clever ideas amidst the rising body count. It may not be a great movie, but it's one of the most amusing times I've had at the multiplex this whole year.
©1999 by Dustin Putman