Horror Bites - Finger Trap

THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS (1946)


Yeah, it's a killer hand movie, just check out that name - what a title. But bear with me, it's not total nonsense. Well sort of. While this kind of idea appears in all kinds of features from Dr Terror's House of Horrors to Evil Dead II, this one at least tries to maintain a certain tone of seriousness. Which is pretty difficult of course. But this is the 1940s, and Warner Bros have Peter Lorre on board for what will be their only horror movie from the period. Instead of going for silliness, this for the most part, plays out as a murder mystery plot inside a mansion in rural Italy. A wealthy pianist, left with only the use of one side of his body after as stroke gathers his acquaintances around him to witness his last will and testament. What could possibly go wrong?

Francis Ingram has become infatuated with his nurse Julie, and so his other associates and his next of kin are in for an unpleasant surprise when his will is read out to them. Of course this happens soon enough as he dies under suspicious circumstances after arguing with Hillary (Lorre) who lives in the house with them. He's obsessed with astrology, and needs Julie to care for Ingram so he can work alone in the library divining the secrets of the universe. Julie is in fact trying to escape them both with Ingram's friend Bruce, who has been writing the music which made him famous for all this time. But her plans to leave the country are cut short after Ingram has a fatal mishap on the stairs. Did he fall or was he pushed?

This general plot outline would normally be enough to build a detective tale from, but of course things are about to get more unusual. After Ingram's family arrives to find all their money has been left to Julie, suspicious lights are seen in his tomb - and they find his one working hand has gone missing. Clues found including finger marks on the ground and piano music coming from the house at night start to build a picture of what could be going on. The people being found strangled to death are also a sign that the place is either haunted, or someone is out to get their own back for those inheritance problems.

The idea that this could be a guilty conscious playing on somebody's mind is a neat idea, and there are enough severed hand scenes to suggest that it is in fact a supernatural occurrence. The effects vary as it crawls around (which isn't great) or plays the piano (which is an improvement). However combining this stuff with Peter Lorre's slowly deteriorating state of mind is the best part of all this. While the rest of the cast are pretty stiff playing greedy family members or dealing with romantic subplots, he starts to lose it with the notion that Ingram's hand is creeping around the place. It takes a long time getting there but his ranting and raving about what he's seen is the main highlight here. A lot of the elements are pretty pedestrian and it's got some slow pacing early on, but when things like that are the focus it kind of makes up for it. It's not an essential movie and the idea is probably better suited to anthologies and short sequences, but it's still entertaining when things fall into place.

3/5