Jennifer Baines (Samantha Eggar) visits her husband Mark (Roy Jenson) in Guanjuato, Mexico where his attempt to reopen an abandoned mine has hit a snag. Local workers refuse to go near the mine, fearing an ancient curse. To prove there is nothing to fear and save their business, Mr. and Mrs. Baines venture down the mine themselves. Sure enough they uncover an eerie, ancient burial ground where a demonically-possessed hand grafts itself onto Mark’s left hand. A month after detonating the mineshaft, killing everyone inside, Mark resurfaces in Las Vegas where his demon digits win big money at the Sands Hotel casino and squish anyone foolish enough to cross his path. Jennifer enlists mumbling priest Father Cunningham (Stuart Whitman) to help destroy the devil palm which latches itself onto one unfortunate bearer after another. But what it really wants is Jennifer.
Also known as Demonoid: Messenger of Death, this arrived in theatres sporting terrific, Frank Frazetta styled poster art with a horned demon surrounded by fawning naked ladies that sadly had nothing whatsoever to do with the film itself. Mexican director Alfredo Zacarias’ second stab at the American horror market, following The Bees (1978), gets off to a promising start with a prologue wherein crazed cultists in yellow hoods chain a hysterical, topless woman to a rock and lop off her hand. For the most part however, despite sporadic campy amusement, this is a sloppy entry in the “evil hand” subgenre encompassing worthier entries from The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) to The Crawling Hand (1963) and Oliver Stone’s flawed but interesting The Hand (1981) starring Michael Caine.
Outrageous in concept yet stolid in execution, Demonoid tries and fails to translate the unique tone of Mexican horror, with its strangely matter-of-fact approach to surrealistic subject matter, into an American milieu. Zacarias’ static direction scuppers whatever suspense is conjured by the atmospheric production design of Javier Torres Torijia and the occasionally intriguing cinematography by Alex Phillips Jr., while Richard Gillis’ score screeches and howls at nothing in particular - when not imitating cues from Jaws (1975), Halloween (1978) and about a dozen other classic horror film scores. The story is often incoherent and meanders all over the shop with attempts at drama that come across simply tacky and silly thanks to some hoary dialogue. “In the name of god, don’t do it!” shrieks Jennifer. “In the name of evil, you and I must obey”, says a demon-possessed cop (Lew Saunders) with ridiculous solemnity.
Samantha Eggar - whose career devolved from the highpoint of William Wyler’s suspenseful pyschodrama The Collector (1965) to the depths of schlock horror and TV soap operas, though she was great in The Brood (1979) - maintains a poker face throughout the nonsense while Stuart Whitman hams it up as the troubled, two-fisted priest. Former Russ Meyer regular Haji appears as a gangster’s moll whose face gets mashed into a bloody pulp. One ridiculous scene follows after another, from the charred zombie that bursts out of its grave like a jack-rabbit, the demon-possessed doctor clinging to the side of a train who laughs himself silly till he bangs into a water pipe (this is not a very smart demon), to the flying hand slapping the priest in the face. Given Zacarias biggest Mexican hits were monster spoofs featuring comedian Capulina, viewers may well wonder whether this was intended to play for laughs - especially the illogical, frankly hilarious would-be shock finale.