Horror in the 1990’s was a very different thing from the ‘80’s. Where the previous decade produced cult classic after cult classic (with the titles that didn’t make it to theaters becoming big hits on video) almost every genre piece in the ‘90’s flew under the radar. Many of them have still not found the audience that they probably deserve. Idle Hands had it worse than most, though. It should have been a part of the renaissance of the later decade, the post-Scream horror movies that were really successful. But despite its witty script and talented cast, that just wasn’t in the cards. It wasn’t a problem with marketing or studio mishandling. More than anything else, it just came down to really bad luck.
The film, which is about a teenage slacker who learns that his right hand has been possessed by the devil and is killing people behind his back, happened to open just ten days after the Columbine massacre. There was no saving it at that point. It died in theaters before simply being pulled. It’s such a shame too, because it’s one of the funniest of its decade. Horror comedy aside, it’s one of the best comedies of the ‘90’s.
What’s great about Idle Hands is that it is not comedy in the Scary Movie tradition. What would it parody, Evil Dead 2? That was already a comedy. Still, the horror parody nearly killed the subgenre and we’re very lucky that Idle Hands managed to avoid that. Instead, it treats the subject and the characters seriously, but overloads the whole situation with humor. Ultimately, we have a story about a character who can’t even bother to put pants on when he goes outside dealing with responsibility and accountability for the first time in his life. As much of a stoner as he is, Anton accepts accountability for what his hand has done and makes an effort to stop it before it kills his new girlfriend, Molly.
Of course, he couldn’t stop the hand from killing his two best friends. In a nice nod to—and inversion of—An American Werewolf London, his buddies Mick and Pnub return from the grave, but only because Heaven was way too far to walk.
The 90’s gave us some new teenage cultures and counter-cultures that hadn’t been as present in the ‘80’s. The grunge kids, the gamers, etc. But until Idle Hands there hadn’t really been a movie for the kids who didn’t do anything. This is their anthem. They may know when they need to take matters into their own hands, but none of them change terribly much by the end, even the dead ones. That’s part of the feature’s ultimate charm.
Idle Hands deserves credit for its balance of tone alone. Aside from the great comedy and characters, there are some truly well executed scare sequences. It shines in both areas and that’s something that is incredibly hard to pull off. It’s drenched in Halloween atmosphere as well, which makes it solid holiday viewing too. It’s actually one of the few horror flicks from the ‘90’s to be set on Halloween that wasn’t a kid’s movie.
It’s as self-aware as Scream, but for the most part, the comedy in Idle Hands comes out of the situation and the characters. More than any of the other post-Scream ‘90’s horrors, Idle Hands feels like a completely different movie. It does its own thing and that’s the key to its success. That’s what makes it work. It’s a shame that it has yet to truly find its audience, but people are starting to come around to it more and more. Who knows? Maybe 16 years later it can finally have the chance to become a cult classic that it never had when first released.