Film: Scream Teens

'Idle Hands' follows Hollywood's recipe of the moment: laughs, horror and young faces

A boy and his killer hand: Idle Hands' Devon Sawa

"He's laughing his ass off." That's the response Devon Sawa, star of the horror comedy Idle Hands, gave when asked if Satan might feel slighted when he finds out human filmmakers are personifying him as the demented appendage spidering from victim to victim.

The humor behind the film seemed, well, obvious: a killer hand possessed by the devil goes whacko. On the way to the press screening, a few of us took a poll on how many masturbation jokes would be featured. (There was a grand total of two. I was the closest with three. The other guys grossly overestimated.)

But the real challenge Idle Hands faces is how to stand out from the current teen crop.

Can anyone remember a time when there was this much young talent roaming around? Post-Scream Hollywood is still going at full speed.

Each subsequent film brings a lineup of fresh new faces. It's not just Drew Barrymore and Neve Campbell anymore. Each new outing offers a veritable menu of potential studs and ingenues: Rachel Leigh Cook, Julia Stiles, Josh Mennert, Jordana Brewster. With this much competition and with two major trends — teen-agers and horror — the new question now is how to make a film that's different from all the rest? What does Idle Hands have that was missing from the Screams and the I Know What You Did Last Summers?

"I've been reading a lot of the recent horror scripts that have been coming out," said Sawa, speaking at a Los Angeles hotel, his face heavily laden with makeup (why he felt he had to look his best for a few goofy reporters is a mystery). "And this one was just wacky. What we definitely wanted to stay away from was the I Know What You Did Last Summer thing where there's just the scream and that's it. We wanted the hand to be a Bugs Bunny character with me being Elmer Fudd."

Jennifer Todd, the producer of Now and Then, G.I. Jane, and the two Austin Powers films who was asked by Columbia/Tristar Pictures to handle this project, was concerned about standing out from the current horror glut.

"We didn't want a traditional horror movie," she said. "But at the same time we didn't want pure spoof. We wanted the scary moments to play scary and the funny moments to be funny, as opposed to certain other recent films that were neither. I mean, we're talking about a killer hand. So obviously it's not that scary. But we didn't want to make too much of a camp movie."

Seth Green, who took the time to play Mick in the film between his co-starring role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and his continuing part as Dr. Evil's son in Austin Powers, sees the horror genre as both a blessing and a headache.

"I've seen a lot of good films, and I've seen a lot of bad films," he said. "You get guys like Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson who generated a resurgence of the genre because they created something that's worth seeing. I believe in the market. I believe the market goes to see movies that are good. The reason some of these films didn't do so well is because they suck, and it's as simple as that. Producers in charge aren't concerned with the quality of the film. I had a conversation with (Urban Legend producer) Neal Moritz just when they were gearing up for I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and he actually asked me if I wanted to write it. He didn't care. He figured the movie was going to make what it would make and then drop off. It's that kind of apathy that perpetuates the degeneration of the genre. If you spend a lot of money making bad movies you're going to lose a lot money."

Finding the right balance between horror and comedy proved to be problematic for Todd, a concern that eventually led them to completely reshoot the ending.

"We wanted special effects, but too much," she said. "The ending became a typical supernatural showdown. So we dumped that and injected a few more jokes. We decided that we couldn't be heavy on comedy initially and then do an about-face and suddenly just become pure horror. But that's a part of making movies. You don't want to be just on auto pilot and shoot what's written. You have to ask yourself, is this as good as it can be?"

The original ending involved a wall of idle hands coming out of nowhere and attacking the cast. Anton (Sawa) dutifully sacrifices himself to save his girlfriend, and there's the usual tears before he triumphantly wakes up. Although this scene was cut from the film, that doesn't mean a lot of hassle didn't go into making it. Vivica A. Fox, who plays the sleuth investigating a pattern of losers who suddenly turn into serial killers, had an occupational accident.

"The crew didn't think the hand was handling me violently enough," she said. "They said it looked like it was massaging me. One hand was just hanging out on my boob, and they wanted it to grab harder, and it ended up ripping out my bellybutton ring."

In the original script, Fox employed a number of different disguises to get information about the killings. Some of this footage was cut, resulting in a slight dilution of her character.

"I'm just happy I didn't die early," she said. "I like to show my versatility, and it's been a long time since I've done that. I know I'll only be the hot babe on the block for so long, before some 19-year old replaces me (little bitch). Once you get a little older, you get stuck playing mothers and grandmothers. I'm ready for the next chapter of my life. I got married and I'll be having a child. But I still want to work."

Idle Hands pays homage to the 1980s in the form of Randy (Jack Noseworthy), the metalhead neighbor who listens to Mötley Crüe. Because of his musical tastes, Anton assumes he's an expert on Satanism and seeks his advice. The film is also appropriately rife with splatter, bad language and drug use, fairly typical stuff for a horror film. Todd said she's surprised that Columbia/Tristar let them keep as much of they as they did despite their concern about the racy content. Marijuana use is actually what saves our hero's life.

"Marijuana is flavor for the film," she said. "Columbia was concerned with drug use and language, which is a normal thing. It's like you can kill people, but you can't swear. And sex and nudity, even after all this time, is still the worst."

It's a bizarre paradox best exemplified by the fact that the studio wanted a lower rating for the film despite the graphic violence.

"They asked me if we could get a PG-13," said Todd. "And I'm like, 'No, he kills his parents."

Studio flaps aside, Todd said she's happy with how things have turned out. "I'm happy with Columbia," she said. "Particularly because the finished product looks more like something from New Line or Dimension. Even the poster looks good. It's not a bunch of teen faces with bright, shiny cleavage staring at you."

The horror film trend is destined to die out soon enough. Sawa said he'd be just as happy if Idle Hands became a midnight movie if not a smash at the box office. If that were the case, how about a sequel?

"I don't think so," he said. "They cut off my hand, you know."

Sure, but you have the other one.

"I suppose," he sighed. "Maybe we could make Idle Feet."

Or possibly another body part?

"Sure," he replied. "The John Holmes story." ©