For 90s horror fans, it doesn’t get much more nineties than 1999 horror-comedy, Idle Hands. From its soundtrack to its young, up-and-coming cast, this story of a boy and his possessed hand is like a fun cinematic time capsule. Too bad audiences and critics didn’t think much of it when it was first released. Despite its teen-friendly mix of stoner humour, Satan, and Jessica Alba, Idle Hands bombed hard at the box office. Yet as if often the case, Idle Hands has managed to find an audience in the years since its theatrical underperformance. But is it a horror-comedy that can broaden its appeal beyond a core group of 90s fans? Or is it best left in the decade of plaid flannel and burned CDs?
Anton is your typical teen slacker. Most days are spent lounging at home in front of the TV, with his friends Mick and Pnub, smoking pot, and fantasizing about the girl across the street. There’s only a couple of problems. Somewhere in his small town, a killer is leaving a trail of bodies. And Anton may be the killer. Or at least his hand. A demonic force has possessed Anton’s hand, proving that “idle hands” are indeed the Devil’s plaything.
Idle Hands Has Enough Gross-Out Comedy to Compensate for Silly Story
In terms of the balance between horror and comedy, Idle Hands clearly has no aspirations of scaring audiences. Instead, director Rodman Flender opts for mild gross-out horror and stoner comedy. Keep in mind, nothing here approaches the level of explicit gore of, say, an Evil Dead. Most of the blood-letting occurs off-screen, which is somewhat surprising. Still there’s more than enough here to entertain its target teen audience. All of the movie’s violence is delivered with a morbidly fun sense of humour. For instance, a severed hand in a microwave generates the right mix of laughs and relatively safe cringe. Expect absurdist stoner humour in heavy doses. Some of the jokes are a bit uneven and Flender lets his middle act drag a little. Nothing here approaches what you’d find in a Seth Rogen comedy. Fortunately, Idle Hands’ humour is as good-natured as its slacker characters.
Expect absurdist stoner humour in heavy doses.
Without a doubt, Idle Hands is a 90s movie, which might limit its appeal to pure nostalgia. If nostalgia is your thing, however, Idle Hands is pure 90s comfort food that channels the same vibes as The Faculty. Outside of the fashion, MTV videos, and corded phones, music fans will find lots to love. In fact, Idle Hands had one of the better horror movie soundtracks from the decade. Mötley Crüe, The Vandals, Static X, and Rob Zombie’s Dragula all find there way into the movie. It’s an energetic mix of 90s metal and alt-punk (and yes, 80s hair metal). What really dates the movie is an appearance from The Offspring – doing a damn good cover of I Wanna Be Sedated – in the movie’s Halloween dance climax. And if you’re not an Offspring fan, you can still enjoy watching a severed hand peeling off Dexter Holland’s scalp.
Idle Hands Benefits From Its Likeable Cast
From top to bottom, this is a “who’s who” of young, up-and-coming 1990s stars. Just one year away from headlining Final Destination, Devon Sawa brings the requisite slacker charm as “Anton”. Seth Green (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Elder Hansen (Daredevil) round out the ambition-challenged trio. Much of what makes Idle Hands work is the chemistry between these three actors and their sheer likability. Alive or undead, you’d want to spend time with this threesome and listen to their banter. Even when some of the humour feels strained, Sawa et al are enough of an amicable screen presence to earn a pass.
Much of what makes Idle Hands work is the chemistry between these three actors and their sheer likability.
While she’s not screen nearly enough, Vivica A Fox has a blast with her role, appearing to have a great deal of fun. Like a lot of the movie, not much about her character makes sense. Not that it matters. In a movie like Idle Hands, you’re watching for goofy horror fun, and Fox is more than up to the task. Unfortunately, Idle Hands wastes the recently deceased, and immensely talented, Fred Willard (Salem’s Lot) in an all-too-brief role. And Jessica Alba is stuck in an what’s an “eye candy” role that largely subscribes to “teen boy” fantasy. Nevertheless, Alba shows flashes of the charisma that would later make her a star.
Idle Hands Good-Natured, Laidback Stoner Horror
No one is going to mistake Idle Hands for a classic horror-comedy. But it’s hard to deny that this laidback stoner horror isn’t good-natured fun. True, some of the humour misses its mark. And the movie’s middle act is arguably too laidback, threatening to drag things too off course. Nevertheless, Idle Hands likeable cast and refusal to take itself seriously makes it an easy sell for fun horror viewing. Though nostalgia will likely mean horror fans who came of age in the 90s will get more out of it, the stoner mix of horror and comedy should still appeal to newer audiences.