Hmmm, let’s see… Alan Hale before he was the Skipper, Peter Breck before he made it to the Big Valley, Alison Hayes years after she made it big (quite literally) in Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, all working off of a script by veteran B-movie writer/director Herbert L. Strock (Blood Of Dracula, I Was A Teenage Frankenstein). Yes siree, Bob, The Crawling Hand is that bad! So terribly, fascinatingly, wonderfully bad!
Which is actually a recommendation of sorts, because the movie could easily have been just plain old fashioned terrible. After all, The Crawling Hand has all the ingredients of a cheap quickie drive-in movie from the late 50s (which should immediately be a warning since it was made in the early 60s). There’s tons of inane dialog (“What does it mean that I’m stacked?”), a baffling plot (the hand can strangle full grown human beings but is apparently powerless against irritated housecats), and absolutely no budget for special (or even ordinary) effects. And I mean NONE. I’m guessing they were unable to afford to build models, because the opening sequence in which the spaceship runs into trouble is actually animated in the same style as South Park or the old Space Angel cartoons. And as for the crawling hand itself, in the few scenes where it’s not obviously a mannequin arm being pulled by a string, you can often see the head and shoulders of the guy who the ‘severed’ arm is attached to.
Fortunately, the movie’s got some charm to offset the stink, mostly due to all the loopy characterizations. Not necessarily the main girl, whose sole qualification for the job consisted of being an ex-Miss Iceland who was willing to disrobe for the international version of the movie, or the main guy, who apparently saw a film still from Rebel Without A Cause, mimicked James Dean’s facial expression from it, and called that acting. No, not them, but the other folks playing bit parts. There’s the “is he mentally challenged or just drunk” sheriff as played by Alan Hale, who seems to have made a decent non-Gilligan career for himself in such roles (see The Giant Spider Invasion for further evidence). And then there’s the crotchety old soda shop owner who serves ice cream floats to his teenage customers while telling them, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.” Not to mention the landlady who constantly walks around her boardinghouse wielding a pistol… just in case. Or the ambulance drivers who come to collect the landlady’s corpse, only to decide to raid the fridge because, you know, women like THAT always keep a house stocked with beer. Every person in this film is just a tad bit off their rocker, and it rescues the film from what could have been an otherwise tedious and silly waste of time. I mean, come on, the whole concept is silly. A demonic alien force taking control of a severed arm? What could be goofier than that? It’s not like it could happen in real life.
Or could it? (Dom Dom Dommmmm!!!)
Well not literally, of course. But metaphorically, that’s another story. Take for example the fairly new Christian community in Corinth as depicted in in St. Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians. They were only just getting started as a community, and yet they were already beginning to experience a divisive factionalism over a variety of issues such as the picking and choosing of doctrine, misuse of the Eucharist, and arguments of the nature of marriage. To address the situation, St. Paul fired off a letter which, in the part covered by this week’s second reading, reminds the Corinthians that “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” Basically he was reasserting the rather common sense notion that certain parts of “the body” shouldn’t try to creep off and do their own thing.
You know, it’s been almost 2,000 years since St. Paul wrote that, but he could probably send out the exact same letter to local parishes today without changing too many of the words. Except instead of just calling what the Corinthians were up to ‘sin’, he might possibly adopt our modern way of breaking our indiscretions down into more specific categories and call it individualism. The old Catholic Encyclopedia interprets religious individualism as “the attitude of those persons who refuse to subscribe to definite creeds, or to submit to any external religious authority. Such are those who call themselves freethinkers, and those who profess to believe in Christianity without giving their adhesion to any particular denomination. In a less extreme sense all Protestants are individualists in religion, inasmuch as they regard their individual interpretation of the Bible as the final authority. The Protestant who places the articles of faith adopted by his denomination before his own private interpretation of the teaching of Scripture is not, indeed, a thorough-going individualist, but neither is he a logical Protestant. On the other hand, Catholics accept the voice of the Church as the supreme authority, and therefore reject outright the principle of religious individualism.” Well, Catholics do that in theory anyway. But it’s probably safe to say that today, just like back in the time of the Corinthians, there are plenty of parts of Christ’s body who want to ignore what the head is saying and crawl off to pursue their own agenda.
Part of the problem, as Archbishop Francis E. George notes in his recent book, The Difference God Makes, is that “In the United States, individualism as an ideology is so closely associated with creativity and personal freedom that the Gospel's injunction to surrender oneself to Christ and to others in order to be free has become largely incomprehensible.” And that’s mostly due to a misunderstanding (or intentional reinterpretation) of what freedom truly is. Deacon and Prof. of Philosphy Doug McManaman explains that, “Freedom does not mean creating my own nature. Rather, it involves both knowing how I ought to choose so as to fulfill my nature which I have in common with every other human person, and having the habits (both the virtues and divine grace) that will enable me to make those choices. In other words, freedom is an achievement. In this light, authority can be seen to exist for the sake of my freedom, not as an enemy of it. The authority of a parent, for example, exists for the benefit of the child. This is true because what is beneficial for one person is beneficial for all, for we are all of the same nature (human nature). And so if my father, as a result of his life experience, has a better grasp of the goods of human nature than I do, it is in my best interest to listen to him. For the more I listen to him, the more I learn about myself… This relationship between freedom and authority is especially intensified in the context of the Catholic faith, which is an ecclesial faith, not something private and individual. For the faith that we appropriate is the faith of the Church (Eph 1, 15-23; 3, 1-13). A person is baptized into the Church, that is, into Christ's Mystical Body (1 Cor 12, 13). Now this Mystical Body is not merely an association or an impersonal institution that exists outside of us. It is a living Body through which we receive the life of grace (Jn 15, 1-7). If the Catholic lives in the Person of Christ, he does so as a member of his Mystical Body.” And as a part of the body, he doesn’t go crawling off after his own destructive pursuits. That kind of false freedom may make for an entertainingly crappy drive-in movie, but it ain’t no way to live in real life.