Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Hands of Orlac

Orlac's Hande; silent horror-drama, Austria, 1924; D: Robert Wiene, S: Conrad Veidt, Alexandra Sorina, Fritz Kortner

After a train crash, pianist Orlac loses his hands. His wife Yvonne is devastated, but a doctor manages to transplant new hands to Orlac. However, Orlac is shocked when he finds out that the hands once belonged to Vasseur, allegedly a killer who was sentenced to death. Plagued by fears and hallucinations that he cannot control his new evil hands, Orlac is even more disturbed when his rich father is murdered and the fingerprints match those of Vasseur. He is contacted by con artist Nera who wants to blackmail him by telling the police that Orlac performed the murder, since he now has Vasseur's fingerprints. However, the police arrest Nera, who killed the father and made gloves with Vasseur's fingerprints. Even more, Vasseur was innocent all the time.

"Orlac's Hands" has a very chilling concept about transplanted "murder" hands that makes it one of the forerunners of the 'body horror' subgenre, with the exception that there is no awful degeneration of those hands, just the notion that they are foreign and uncontrollable, thus sending a subtle subtext about split personality and schizophrenia. However, unlike Robert Wiene's much more famous - and better - "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", "Orlac" exhausts its premise already after the first third, and then fails to build up real suspense since it is dramaturgically flat, whereas the mood is too pale to carry the whole storyline where not much happens: there is only one murder throughout the film, and even that is not treated with enough skill to shape the rest of the gaps in the film's pace. It suffers from too much empty walk - the constant repeats of Orlac only walking with his hands stretched out again and again can only go so far - and an overlong running time, which nullifies a part of its pleasure, at least until the strong plot twist near the end. The possibilities of the concept were not exploited to the fullest, and a few didactic scenes bother, whereas the ending is almost uplifting, yet at least it managed to give a slice of eerie suspense in the psychological state of the hero.


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