Idle Hands (1999) Revisited – Horror Movie Review

The new episode of the Revisited video series looks back at the 1999 horror comedy Idle Hands, starring Devon Sawa and Jessica Alba

Last Updated on September 22, 2023

The episode of Revisited covering Idle Hands was Written by Emilie Black, Narrated by Niki Minter, and Edited by Ric Solomon, Produced by Tyler Nichols and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

1999, Y2K was pending, some folks were freaking out about it while most teens couldn’t be bothered. Things that stressed our parents didn’t worry us one bit and things we stressed about they found silly. Escape was found, as before and as still is, in horror movies. That year saw a few big releases, some great fun ones like eXistenZ, Deep Blue Sea, and Lake Placid, some that were meant to be great like Virus, The Haunting and The Astronaut’s Wife, and a whole lot of middle of the road titles like The Bone Collector, Resurrection, and From Dusk Till Dawn 2. The world was covered in the ooey, gooey goodness of horror and its special effects. Plenty of movie to choose from, so when a smaller title, one that seemed to evade most press outlets, came out, many skipped it, but those who saw it fell in love with “the touching story of boy and his right hand”. With that tagline and the trailer, Idle Hands’  (watch it HERE) marketing knew exactly who they were aiming at with their film.

As an 18-year-old who grew up on movies, a few of them starring Devon Sawa were watched and rewatched ad aeternum, just his presence sold me before I had even seen the trailer or even a poster. That main poster in black, white, and orange was on point for my taste at the time, the trailer was perfect to sell me on the film, and that tag line was just perfectly within my sense of humor. These days? That tagline still works, the theatrical poster used in Quebec is still the best, and I still love the film. A recent rewatch shows that the film still works, getting a modern, adult me to give it a solid 8 out 10. Of course, some things are truly puerile and just didn’t age well, but still, it’s fun and that is all that movie aimed to be.

What’s the story here? Well, Anton is a teenager who smokes Mary Jane, watches television, and listens to music while living with his parents, not a care in the world. Until an evil entity enters his life, kills his parents, and takes over his right hand. Once his hand possessed, Anton must figure out how to keep it from killing others after it has killed his two best friends who have come back as the best 1990s undead sidekicks a movie could ask for. They are ridiculous, they are dead, and they still love to get high. The two of them become sort of the Ganja Fairy Godparents to Anton’s desperately clueless self. Soon, the hand before separated from the teenager and it goes on a rampage. Along the way, we get to meet the love interest, Molly who is cute, intelligent and, well late-90s witty. Anton has been into her for a while, she seems attracted to partially possessed Anton. Also, along for the ride are a hunter named Debi LeCure and a metal head named Randy. The characters here are pretty much all caricatures of regular, generic horror characters, with a twist. Of course, more folks show up just to be killed by the hand, including people at a high school Halloween party and an appearance by The Offspring to make sure the era is truly marked with pop culture.

Idle Hands Revisited

The story here is basic, a bit simple even, but it’s how it’s developed and delivered that makes this film work where so many others with common elements failed. The film here is written as solid stoner comedy and a horror film, mixing the two in a way that works perfectly. The characters are a bit generic at first, but quickly becomes more than that, and the direction by Rodman Flender connects the dots. The script by Terri Hughes Burton and Ron Milbauer has some genuinely funny moments and lines. The characters, once brought to life by the cast, become a bit of what one would expect from a high school movie, but with a bit more to them. The pot jokes are varied and mostly visual gags, never becoming tedious. The humor is very much aimed at teenager, but a good dose of nostalgia, some high school memories, and an open mind make this a truly funny film. Of course, I have memories of seeing this at 18, so it helps.

The cast who is trusted with this most serious of material does great, or rather, you know, the young actors, some still teens, trusted with all the pratfalls, teen-minded dark humor, scenes that most actors would just not dare do, and everything else in here, do as best they can and really win over the audience. Of course, Devon Sawa is in the lead here as Anton, the fan of MJ who sees his hand possessed while being the utmost laziest version of himself he could be. His work here is great and having heard him talk about the part, he clearly enjoyed it. For those who don’t know, he actually did learn to knit for that one scene where Anton wants to keep his evil hand busy. His performance here is one that shows how committed Sawa is to his parts, with a scene where he hits his head and falls backward not needing sound done in ADR as he really did hit his head and then fall, causing the real noise caught on film. Playing Mick and Pnub, Anton’s best pals, Seth Green and Elden Henson become sort of guardian angels/fairy undead parents to Anton and their performances are never not funny. The two of them and Sawa, per an interview Green did, were playing this as a high school drama with comedic elements, something that is a bit hard to believe to be honest as to those who love the film, there’s not much drama to be had, but editing and reshoots can really change a film. The performances of these two are there as comedic relief of sort, to help bring some exposition, and to avoid having a loner lead. Jessica Alba plays Molly here, Anton’s love interest, the hottie next door, in what was her first horror film. Screen tests came back with audiences wanting her to lose some clothing, which was added in the ending released which was the second ending shot for the film. Alba is adorable and charming here, doing pretty well with a limited role that mostly just calls for her to be into Anton and Anton being into her. She does get a bit more to her part as the movie advances, but this had to be a thin part on paper. Alba makes the most of it. The other important roles go to Vivica A Fox and Jack Noseworthy, who both play their parts a bit over the top, which could have killed the movie, but it works here. In a surprising return to a part, well kind of, Christopher Hart plays the hand once it’s removed from Anton, a role that he was familiar with having played Thing in The Addams Family and Addams Family Values. His work here is just right. It’s hard to describe how a hand without a body can be the perfect performance, but this is it folks, this man knows how to create an entire character from just his hand.

Now, let’s visit the soundtrack for a moment. This film has a ton of music, all of it very much well-chosen and working with the characters and story. The music selection is very, very 1999 and for anyone who didn’t live back then or didn’t listen to this genre of music, it may seem unknown, but to those of us who did, or rather were always listening to music like I was, that soundtrack was a great buy. To this day, I randomly pull the cd out and put it on. It’s even on my car playlist, which is about 2000 songs long, but still! To go with the soundtracks to the Scream movies, The Crow movies, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and a few more to come after this movie, the collection of songs put together for Idle Hands seems to have a genre theme, something that connects it all, and a great mix of music that made the CD really enjoyable at the time. It has some punk, some rock, some metal, all kinds of guitar-driven goodness and a little bit of techno because it was 1999 after all. The songs here include Shout at the Devil by Mötley Crüe, Santeria by Sublime, Bloodclot by Rancid, Dragula by Rob Zombie, Mindtrip by Zebrahead, and a cover of I Wanna Be Sedated by The Offspring who perform it in the film, at the Halloween dance. As a nightclub kid and a concert goer who went to just about anything I could get to, this soundtrack was amazing. Now, it’s mostly nostalgic, but it’s still so much fun. A few tracks in the film did not make it to CD, but that’s easily fixed in a playlist these days.

Back to the movie itself… Another big aspect of this films fun, at least as a horror fan, is the special effects. Watching now, it’s clear that most of the effects were practical, saving the film from falling under the weight of CGI that didn’t age well. If the 2005 King Kong already shows its age in terms of computerized effects, a film with a much, much lower budget, made in the late 1990s has no chance of having CGI that isn’t horrible by today’s standards. The folks behind Idle Hands made the right decision here and went with pretty much just practical effects. There are seen on the hand of course (where some CGI and trickery had to be used obviously, on Mick and Pnub, where Mick’s look seems to be 100% practical effect and Pnub had to have some CGI to allow for his decapitated head to be carried around for a while. The film does what it can to avoid the CGI and it works great on the effects from because of that and because of the work by the effects team. Considering Cannom Creations is the effects house in charge here, one can expect things to look right, but also expect a lot of blood, a lot of goo, some general grossness, and a few funny effects gags. This team at Cannom, including Greg Cannom, are really talented and have some serious cred behind them. Before Idle Hands, they had worked on Blade, Thinner, The Puppet Masters, and since Idle Hands, they have worked on The Passion of the Christ, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Watchmen, and a ton more.

Idle Hands Revisited

Another thing here is when the film was released. The late 1990s had a ton of horror films come out theatrically and even more direct to video. This was the pre-VOD days, when you actually had to get to the theater or the video story to be able to see a film. It required effort and folks made some effort in general, but a lot of people waited to movies to hit cable to even antenna television. Idle Hands has trailers that ran in front of carefully selected films and it had features in magazines like Fangoria, but it was no Scream or I Know What You Did Last Summer. It had marketing, but the budget was limited for this as it had been for the production. The film cost $25 million USD to make compared with Scream 2’s $24 million USD, so production budget-wise, the film was in the same ballpark as it’s competition, but it seemed to have less of a general public appeal, so it was wise to push this one to horror fans and potheads. However, the lack of a commercial push, the lack of marketing to general audiences basically killed the film. When the comparitively similar in cost Scream 2 was released, it made $172.4 million USD at the box office. Idle Hands? A measley $4.2 million USD. The film was a failure and a lot of it could be due to a studio and distributor that didn’t believe in the film. It could also be due to the film being released at the end of April. This is a Halloween movie, a party movie, release it at Halloween time, end of summer, or during a party season so that it can use that aspect for sales. But nope! They released it at the end of the school year. Also, it came out against The Matrix. One of the biggest movies of 1999, all genres included. It came in number 6 on its opening weekend, but it didn’t have the general public, so its total was really bad in the end. Noteworthy here is the fact that another young adult drug film was on the top ten that week, Go! Which was a whole other ballgame.

Idle Hands was releasef in theaters and in Montreal it seemed to have only a few screens, one logically near a film school, which is where I got to see it as midnight movie with a friend after a full day of class, an evening of work, and a few drinks, in that order. We both adored the film and awaited its DVD release when I bought it on day of release at HMV downtown. Yes, HMV, something else that has disappeared like the theater where we saw the film. I also picked up the soundtrack from a used music store near Musique Plus, a copy that was marked as a promo copy, most likely coming from one of the music reviewers at the television station nearby. Back then, seeing a movie, picking up its soundtrack, then getting the film on DVD or VHS was the way to support films and this nerd has one hell of a collection of music and films, like the proper pop culture nerd I was becoming.

Nowadays, Idle Hands seems to have gained a much larger audience, a lot of it coming from word-of-mouth and from friends just making their friends watch it or having it on during parties. It’s a particularly 1999 film with a look, a style, an approach that could not be repeated now. Considering that it recently got a new Blu Ray re-release with all the bells and whistles, it’s clear that those of us who saw it back in the day and pushed it onto everyone one we knew were onto something. Of course, I was that nerdy film teen in a fashion college, so I was far from the cool kid, still I pushed plenty to see it. I still do. If you haven’t seen Idle Hands, what are you waiting for? Grab your drink of choice, imbibe if that’s something you’re into, and join me, and us all, in being a fan of this special horror comedy that will either bring you back to the days or show you the late 90s in all their glory.

Two previous episodes of Revisited can be seen below. To see more of our shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals channel – and subscribe while you’re at it!

Source: Arrow in the Head

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