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Posted on September 23, 2016

It’s Alive! Why so Many Hands in Horror?

Dawn Keetley

Hands play a huge role in the horror film: there is the shot of the hand (alive or dead) grasping for its victim, the severed hand lying inertly on the ground, the detached hand crawling across the floor, with a life of its own—and the hand that has a life of its own even though it’s still attached.

So why is the hand so crucial to the horror film tradition?

Noël Carroll has argued that the notion of “impurity” is a defining characteristic of horror’s “monster”—and that one particular kind of impurity is “categorical incompleteness”: the monster doesn’t have all its parts, or is made up of parts, or is only one part: “detached body parts are serviceable monsters,” Carroll writes, “severed heads and especially hands.”[i]

But why does Carroll write “especially hands”? He explains why body parts recur in horror, but not hands specifically—and it does seem to me that hands (followed closely, perhaps, by brains) play a special role in horror films. Read more

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