November is Mystery Science Theatre 3000 remake month for Lost in Translation, where the column looks at some of the movies featured on MST3K and see where they failed and how to remake better. This week, The Crawling Hand, featured during MST3K‘s first season on Comedy Channel.
Originally released in 1963, during the Space Race portion of the Cold War between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Horror movies look at what’s happening and make events go wrong on the worst way possible. The first lunar landing, the Apollo 11 mission, was still six years away, so no one knew what could happen on the moon’s surface. This opens the door for horror movies to imagine whatever they want happening in the cold, dark depths of space.
The Crawling Hand begins with a lunar mission going wrong in the worst way possible. The astronaut on board the returning capsule has been out of communications for far too long with dwindling oxygen. When he finally does appear, looking gaunt and haunted, he begs mission control Steve Curan (Peter Breck) to hit the rocket’s self-destruct. With great reluctance, Curan does so.
When a rocket is blown to bits, bits of rocket tends to land on the ground. A young couple, Paul Lawrence (Rod Lauren) and foreign student Marta Farnstrom (Sirry Steffen) are at a secluded beach and spot one of those bits, the astronaut’s arm. With the romantic interlude shattered, the two leave, but Paul, being a medical student, notes the arm. As the young lovers drive away, the arm twitches.
Paul returns later to retrieve the arm and take it to the room he rents from Mrs. Hotchkiss. When no one is looking, the arm starts crawling around, the hand dragging the rest of the appendage. The hand is possessed by a murderous alien, somehow, and finds its first victim, Mrs. Hotchkiss. Paul discovers the body and calls for the police. Sheriff Townsend (Alan Hale, Jr, a year before landing the role of the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island) arrives to take notes, examine the crime scene, and start the investigation. After calling the coroner, he leaves to follow up on his questioning.
The hand is not satisfied with just one victim. Paul nearly becomes the next and is strangled, but instead of killing him, the hand infects him with the murderous spirit. The coroner arrives and finds the pick up to be a two-fer. Paul recovers in the coroner’s wagon beside Mrs. Hotchkiss’ body. He escapes and returns to his room.
The film becomes a fight between Paul and the alien within on controlling or succumbing to the murderous impulses. Paul becomes the Sheriff’s prime suspect after several attempted murders. Curan and his colleague, Dr. Weitzberg (Kent Taylor), arrive after hearing of some of goings on and tracking debris from the rocket’s explosion. The scientists have made the connection but, in order to prevent a panic in the general public, are keeping their hypothesis to themselves.
Paul has also come to a similar conclusion. He grabs the arm and makes a run to the town’s junkyard. The police are hot on his heels, but arrive too late to see the hand disappear into the piles of junk after it escapes Paul. The danger of the hand ends by the paws of two hungry cats, releasing Paul from the alien’s influence.
The biggest issue the movie has is budget. To quote Joel, “You can tell it’s a low budget movie because they can’t wreck the cars.” Throwing money at a problem isn’t always a solution, unless the problem is insufficient money. The Crawling Hand is a B-movie. There is potential, but budget limitations creates restrictions. The biggest restriction is special effects. Mission control is a meeting room, not the banks of computers and operators monitoring 24/7 that NASA regularly shows. The crawling hand is closer to Thing from The Addams Family than a creeping threat. Jump scares and hands pulling open gates and doors get used to build tension.
The start of the movie lingers on mission control longer than needed, especially considering the 89 minute running time. A shorter introduction at mission control, done by actually showing what’s going on, gives more time to the rest of the movie’s run time to build up tension. Again, part of this is budget; if the movie can’t damage a car, forget about blowing up a (model) rocket. The scientists are almost in their own movie, separate from Paul’s problems until they come in to save Paul’s bacon.
The ending has a serious problem. Cats eat away the muscle of the hand. That’s more, “We’re running out of budget,” than a proper ending. It takes away from the characters the audience has been following from the beginning. A Deus ex cattus that comes from nowhere. It’s not satisfying. Paul, Sheriff Townsend, Curan, any of these three stopping the hand would make the ending decent. A random cat that was never shown before? That’s more an ass-pull.
The general plot works, though. Something in space causing people to re-enact The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. While the film doesn’t reference the Robert Louis Stevenson story at all, and has its own approach, the two are similar. The main difference is that the change is caused by an external stimulus. For a horror movie, the key will be the build up to Paul’s first on-screen murder attempt. The hand needs to be a factor, being the title character. The effects budget for the hand needs to allow for it to lurk in scenes.
As for characters, the scientists need to either be limited to the initial scene setting up the arrival of the hand on the beach or be a presence throughout. They can’t disappear for half of the movie and reappear out of nowhere. Paul and Sheriff Townsend are needed. Paul’s love interest is almost an afterthought, used to show how far gone Paul is and what makes him fight back. A trope for the era, it won’t fly today.
The Crawling Hand has potential, but to fulfill the potential, it needs a proper budget, some adjustment in focus, and a far more satisfying ending. It did deserve its time in the MST3K spotlight, but only because it could have been much more than it was.
Slight change of plans. Turns out, the planned “So You Want to Adapt a Story” is far more involved than I expected. That will come next week. Enjoy the round up of adaptational news in the meantime.
What could have been: Hayao Miyazaki wanted to make a Pippi Longstocking movie in 1971.
Concept art for the work has come out. The only thing stopping the adaptation was Astrid Lindgren, Pippi’s creator, saying no. Studio Ghibli just didn’t have the world renown in 1971 that it has today.
2014, the Year of the Bomb?
Of the fourteen potential major failures coming in 2014, twelve are adaptations and remakes. Of note, Edge of Tomorrow is based on the Japanese light novel, All You Need Is Kill. If Divergent and The Maze Runner both do poorly, this could signal the beginning of the end of Young Adult novels being adapted. Guardians of the Galaxy is a wild card. Marvel is taking a huge risk, but, as Steve put it, what has Marvel got to lose?
Sin City sequel and TV series on the way.
The Weinstein Company is getting Robert Rodrigues and Frank Miller to create Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is expected out August 29 next year, with a TV series to start afterwards. Meanwhile, the company is also working on a ten part miniseries based on the theatrical adaptation of the Stephen King novel, The Mist.
Two versions of 50 Shades of Grey adaptation to be released.
The first will be rated R. The second will go for the dreaded NC-17 rating. The problem with NC-17 movies is that there are few theatres willing to screen them. 50 Shades might be an exception, but there could be issues when someone who was expecting the R version sees the more explicit NC-17. The producer also said that she doesn’t want the film to be seen as “mommy porn”, which will be a neat trick considering that the original book is exactly that. Filming has started, with Vancouver, BC, standing in for Vancouver, Washington.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone to be adapted.
The first of a trilogy by Laini Taylor, the YA novel Daughter of Smoke and Bone is being adapted by Universal. The novel originally came out in 2011; the adaptation has no release date yet.
Cats may be next Broadway musical adapted to film.
Andrew Lloyd Webber confirmed that Universal is working on the adaptation. Cats itself is an adaptation of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot. Main challenge is convincing the audience that people dressed as cats and signing is worth seeing, but the stage version also had that issue.
Veronica Mars due out March 14, 2014.
After a very successful Kickstarter campaign that saw the movie funded in under twelve hours, Veronica Mars will hit the theatres next March. Most of the core cast has returned for the movie.
Also out March 14, 2014, Need for Speed.
Electronic Arts teamed up with Dreamworks for the adaptation. The video game series focuses on street racing, and includes police pursuit as part of the challenge. Each game in the series has a different focus, giving a bit of room for the movie to work with.
Warner Bros/DC may have a low-budget series of movies.
Three lesser known titles, Suicide Squad, Team 7, and Deathstroke may get lower budget movies, in the range of $20-40 million. The lower budget may reduce audience expectations and allow for a decent return. DC just needs to avoid looking desperate compared to Marvel’s approach.
MTV to adapt Shannara.
MTV’s network decay continues, but this time, it’s not a reality series. The former music network will be adapting Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, hoping to jump on the fantasy bandwagon led by A Game of Thrones. The advantage with Shannara is that twenty-five books have been written, so there’s no chance of the TV series catching up and overtaking. Brooks himself is involved in the project.
Heathers to run Off Broadway.
The 1989 movie, Heathers, has been adapted as a musical slated to run Off Broadway beginning March 17, 2014. The original was a dark comedy starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, where the two took revenge on a clique of mean girls all named Heather.
NBC to air Rosemary’s Baby miniseries.
NBC continues to ride the adaptation train with the announcement of the four-hour Rosemary’s Baby miniseries. The miniseries will go back to the original book of the same name by Ira Levin.
The Sound of Music Live! a sign of things to come?
Still on NBC here. The live musical broadcast garnered ratings for the struggling network, leading to the confirmation that there will be another musical for next November. Which one has yet to be decided. The Sound of Music Live! may have brought in an audience in part from novelty and in part for the potential train-wreck it could have been.
Sony takes a page from Marvel Studios.
Sony announced that they will be producing two Spider-Man spin-offs, Venom and The Sinister Six. Both movies will focus on Spidey’s rogues gallery. No dates for either production start or release were given.
Animated Anne Frank in the works.
The Diary of Anne Frank is being turned into an animated feature, with the blessing of the Anne Frank Fonds Basel, the foundation created by Frank’s father. Ari Folman, director of Waltz with Bashir will direct and will have full access to the foundation’s archives.
The Naked Gun to be rebooted.
Paramount is looking to reboot The Naked Gun, with Ed Helms to fill Leslie Nielsen’s role of Sergeant Frank Drebin, Detective-Lieutenant, Police Squad. David Zucker, one of the original creators, is on board.
Disney to create series based on animated villains.
Descendants will look at the lives of the teenaged offspring of Disney villains. The live-action work will premier in 2015.
Next week, “So You Want to Adapt a Story”.