Friday, September 20, 2013


An avalanche strands a group of travelers in the mountains at a hotel built on the ruins of an old abbey. As they begin to exchange spooky stories to pass the time, they hear gunshots outside and a nervous one-handed man named Roland arrives, clutching a package and seeking a room. At dinner, the lights go out and mysterious prankish things happen—doors open and close, a man's nose is tweaked, a woman's ass is pinched. After realizing his package is missing, Roland tells the guests his story. Years ago, he was an aspiring artist with great ideas but little talent. A successful chef offers to sell him a talisman—a human left hand—that will give him success. Roland buys it and the chef's left hand suddenly vanishes; it turns out that the talisman is of Satanic origin, and if the owner of the hand can't sell it before he dies, he loses his soul—if he sells it, he just loses his hand. Roland has artistic success, but is followed around constantly by a strange little man who warns him that now, like the chef, he must sell the hand. Eventually, Roland believes he has found a way out of the bargain, but he must find the body of the monk who began the passing of the talisman, and he thinks it's buried beneath the hotel. And he must reunite the hand with the body—but the hand, which is in the package, is now missing.

I had never heard of this French film before TCM ran it in their Imports slot one Sunday night. It's a unique little gem, with a tone that feels like a cross between a fairy tale and the British supernatural classic DEAD OF NIGHT—a little whimsical, a little dark, and a little "shaggy dog" story. The director, Maurice Tourneur, was the father of Jacques Tourneur, who directed some of the Val Lewton classic horror films of the 40s (I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE) and the 50s classic NIGHT OF THE DEMON, and father and son share a similar style, with nice use of shadows and sets. This film, though shot during the German Occupation and probably on a low budget, looks great with atmosphere to burn. The French title, LA MAIN DU DIABLE (The Devil's Hand) is a better title, but the "Carnival" sequence near the end is reason enough to watch the whole movie: Roland (Pierre Fresnay) meets up with the spirits of all the previous owners of the hand and, in a series of expressionist tableaux-like scenes, he sees what happened to each of them. If this pops up again on TCM, catch it. [TCM]

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