THE CRAWLING HAND, d. Herbert L. Strock (1963)
The Crawling Hand is a super low budget film which uses the space race to colour a fairly traditional horror story. A moon shoot ends in disaster when, on the return journey, the rocket goes haywire. Despite having run out of oxygen some twenty minutes previously, the Astronaut's frightened (and frightening) face appears on the mission control monitors, alternately hissing ‘kill!’ and ‘press the red’, i.e. the button that will destroy him and his ship. As the ship is about to crash into a populated area, mission control press the button and the ship explodes, showering debris all over the coastline including, on a secluded beach, the Astronaut’s arm, sheared off at the elbow, but still wearing its glove and spacesuit sleeve (I was reminded of J.G Ballard at this stage, although it’s too early for his work to have been an influence. Perhaps Ballard saw this film?)
A brilliant but brooding young science student (‘I’m going to the top – and I’m making it on my own!’) discovers the severed arm, wraps it in a shower curtain and takes it back to his digs where it promptly strangles his landlady and then takes him over, forcing him to do bad things until he gets flu and his high temperature weakens the arm to the extent that he can break the link and stab the severed limb repeatedly with a broken bottle. Hungry junkyard cats finish the job. Or do they? No, not really. The uncanny is not so easily disposed of.
There is probably a monograph to be written about crawling hands in the movies, from The Beast With Five Fingers through to The Evil Dead and beyond. They're mainly horror films, of course, severed hands don't normally creep around in anything else.