Fame is a fickle mistress. Few remember hand model turned horror movie star Charles Handley.
Charles was born shortly after WWII to Gregory and Sylvia (nee Flanges) Handley. Gregory Handley spent his time in a bomber during the War, pushing buttons to release payloads over Germany. Sylvia Flanges was a shipyard worker. She would push bolts into holes, allowing others to tighten them into place.
In his childhood, Charles found that his hands spoke louder than his voice. In an interview in “MovieTime,” his parents said that he didn’t actually speak until he turned five but they never worried about it. His hands always got the point across.
His abilities showed all through his school days, as he won numerous talent contests, initially making shadow puppets, then doing interpretations of music with his hands. Even science fairs were easily won. It wasn’t that Charles was particularly good at the subject, his hands enhanced even the most mundane experiment.
College further honed his skills. Charles found himself as the lead in productions of “The Clutching Hand,” “The Scarlet Claw” and, his greatest performance, “A Hand for All Seasons.” It was always thought that Hollywood would someday make a call at the Handley household.
But before that measure of fame knocked on the door, Charles would go into advertising.
His first job was for a popular deodorant soap. Few recognized him behind the suds for this very successful ad campaign. Charles became more visible as his hand was found opening the door of one of the more expensive sports cars, the Berkley XKZ1200.
Although he was well-paid in this profession, Charles wanted something more. He decided to try his luck in films.
Charles found several bit parts in the mid-1970s. His hand was shown snagging a baseball in “The Million Dollar Minor Leaguer.” He grabbed several diamond necklaces in “Really Hot Ice.” Then, he reprised his college role in a screen version of “The Clutching Hand.” Here is where Handley found his calling.
Charles was contacted by West Coast Production Inc., Ltd., an up-and-coming studio that specialized in horror films. He filled a spot in their lineup that included series for “The Swamp Monster of Monster Swamp,” “WereCamel,” “The Vampire Primer” and “Doctor Bloodletter.” Charles became “The Hand,” the only part of a killer to survive a plane crash, reanimated by lightning.
This vehicle produced classics like “The Hand Creeps,” “The Hand Murders,” “The Hand Crawls” and others. Although formulaic, the films were well-received by the general public, who filled theaters with each film release. Handley became the brightest star on the West Coast lot.
The critics were quite harsh in their assessment of West Coast’s film, particularly “The Hand” series. They pointed to a lack of substance and the constant repetition of plot lines. Some even referred to them as “boring.” Most fans ignored this, chalking criticism like this up to a prejudice against the horror genre.
“The Hand” series would reach 13 films, each one quite profitable. The Studio was happy as the box office take remained constant and the films were relatively cheap to make. Handley, now a star, found his time outside the lot had numerous demands. There were publicity tours, interviews and autograph parties.
At first, Handley liked the attention. Soon, though, he tired of the notoriety. He began to avoid public appearances. He refused to give autographs. There were even unconfirmed reports that he slapped several fans.
To try to get their star back in line, the Studio allowed him to star and direct the 14th film in the series, “The Hand Returns.” This would turn out to be Handley’s last film. He ruled the shooting with an iron fist, making sure he was present in every scene of the film. He alienated his co-stars and interfered with much of the editing in post-production. It went well over budget. When the studio heads got a look at the film, they realized that it could never be accepted by even the most ardent “Hand” fan. The movie was shelved. Handley’s job now hung in the balance.
But, suddenly, Charles Handley had bigger problems. As his film was being readied for its viewing by the studio brass, Handley’s past came back to haunt him. A porn film from the late 1960s surfaced starring someone name Chazz Handful, who was identified as a young Charles Handley!
The film was very graphic in nature, dealing in a variety of taboo sexual practices. Those who saw it were appalled. The Press was merciless, splashing screaming headlines on the front pages of many major national newspapers. Actors and actresses who were in this film were tracked down and gladly gave interviews that contained lurid details of the film. It painted a horrible picture of Charles Handley. Soon, other such films were found starring Handley, listed in the credits as Chuck Digits.
The Studio found their way out. They released Handley because of the scandal.
Although Charles Handley tried to regain his former fame, the fans were unforgiving. He did several interviews trying to explain his role in these films. Handley spoke of his youth, his inexperience and his lack of knowledge about the industry. No one listened. He tried making appearances at conventions. No one would pay for an autograph, much less acknowledge his presence.
Charles Handley disappeared from Hollywood.
In the early 2000s, Variety ran a series of “Where Are They Now?” articles. Charles Handley’s story was retold. In the end, his whereabouts were only speculative. Some say that he had changed his name and was living somewhere in New Jersey. Some believe that he had done a stint in children’s Dinner Theater at a resort in upstate New York. No one can really be sure.
To this day, “The Hand Returns” is not only unreleased, but it is also considered lost. West Coast Productions went bankrupt in the late 1990s. No one knows where their film library is, although it is felt that many of their films were destroyed in a fire shortly after the studio closed.
Filmography of Charles Handley (courtesy of IMDb)
A Real Handful (1968, as Chuck Digits)
The Hand Man Cometh (1968, as Chazz Handful)
My Hand and You (1969, as Chuck Digits)
The Million Dollar Minor League (1976)
Really Hot Ice (1976)
Catch and Throw (1978)
The Clutching Hand (1980)
The Hand Creeps (1981)
The Hand Murders (1982)
The Hand Crawls (1983)
Curse of the Hand (1983)
Death by Hand (1984)
Terror of the Hand (1985)
The Hand’s Revenge (1986)
Tomb of the Hand (1987)
The Hand Crushes (1988)
Scar of the Hand (1988)
The Hand Clutches (1989)
Mark of the Hand (1990)
Revenge of the Hand (1991)
The Hand Returns (1992, unreleased)