June 01, 1981 12:00 PM

Disarming in more ways than one, this chiller is about a comic-strip artist, Michael Caine, who loses his drawing hand in a car wreck and finds it coming back to haunt him murderously. No big deal; Alan Alda’s dad, Robert, got mixed up in a similar accident in the sturdy 1946 film The Beast with Five Fingers. In the grasp of Caine and director Oliver Stone, however, this minor notion is executed so well it becomes a major pleasure. Caine plays it straight, going edgy and sweaty as he begins to lose his wife, chilly Andrea Marcovicci, to a consciousness-raising movement and another man. Stone, who wrote Midnight Express but had previously directed only the obscure Seizure, adroitly milks the plot. Because even the most mean-spirited of hands is not all that menacing, Stone heightens the mood by ominous shifts to black-and-white, glaring flashes and lots of storms. He uses his cast well, especially fascinating newcomer Annie McEnroe, as a sweet but foul-mouthed coed Caine falls for. Stone also leaves some questions open, even after a climactic mano-a-mano confrontation between Caine and is ex-appendage. Are the attacks we keep seeing real or imagined? Is the vagabond hand real or a creation of Caine’s unconscious? If it’s real, how does it manage to get from Vermont to California—thumbing rides, spending money hand over fist, or letting its fingers do the walking? No matter; in this case one is happy the devil finds work for idle filmmakers. (R)

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