Charting the Dumb Charm of 'Idle Hands' Through its Soundtrack
Still from Idle Hands

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Charting the Dumb Charm of 'Idle Hands' Through its Soundtrack

...because Halloween.
Emma Garland
London, GB

The years directly sandwiching the millennium were buckwild for the entertainment industries. A long way off the financial, artistic and spiritual shafting of the 2007 recession, those in charge of signing off on productions seemed to do so with the reckless abandon of someone who doesn't get that Instagram polls aren't anonymous. There was less resistance to concepts that weren't guaranteed to make a shit-ton of money (which is why the only cinema listings at the moment are based on comics or have The Rock in), and more artistic license placed in the hands of creators (which is how films like Josie and the Pussycats ended up being made).

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Like, there are just so many things that have no place outside the cultural window of 1998 to 2002: the Teletubbies, Brendan Fraser; the fact that Tom Green got 20th Century Fox to distribute a film called Freddy Got Fingered about a failed sandwich assembler with daddy issues off the back of an MTV show that mostly involved sucking off cows, men falling down, and a song about putting your bum on stuff. For better or worse, those years produced some of the most unique and influential films ever made – Dogma, Ghost World and SLC Punk!, for example. But they also produced a colossal amount of shite that realistically should never have seen the light of day, like The Hole – a psychological thriller in which four privately educated British teens bunk off a school trip to get pissed down a hole and then die. The funding-to-shite scale is most askew, though, at the intersection of 'teen film' and 'stoner comedy'. On that note, let's consider Rodman Flender's 1999 horror spoof Idle Hands.

With an all-star cast of Devon Sawa, Seth Green, Elden Henson, Jessica Alba and Vivica A Fox, Idle Hands follows a teenage boy called Anton (Sawa) who is mostly interested in weed and wanking. Aren't we all. Anyway, in a thinly veiled metaphor for sexual awakening, Anton's right hand becomes possessed and goes on an unstoppable killing spree – murdering his parents, his two burn-out mates (Green and Henson) and a few cops, as well as groping the girl next door, Molly (Alba – and don't worry it was the 90s so any unwanted advances were packaged as flirting, so it's fine). To prevent further carnage, Anton cuts off his own hand with a meat cleaver.

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The hand, however, continues its rampage independently, leaving Anton to "finish it off" along with Molly, his friends (who come back from the dead after deciding white light of heaven was "too far" a journey), and a druidic high priestess whose job it is to hunt the hand (Fox). Long story short: the hand is defeated by a puff of weed after it scalps The Offspring's Dexter Holland at a Halloween party and Anton ends up in a full body cast unable to masturbate for the remainder of his days. This masterpiece cost an estimated $25 million to make and grossed $4.2 million at the box office – although that is, in part, because it was rated R and therefore kept its core demographic of horny teenagers at bay.

Ordinarily, this would be the point where I flip the script and list some of the film's redeeming qualities in an effort to assert its underrated cultural importance. After all, it's become a cult treasure for a reason and sold pretty steadily on DVD after its release. But there's no secret magic here. No deeper meaning. It is, simply, a garbage film. Will I continue to watch it every Halloween? Yes, of course, but would I stick my neck out for a film that's essentially Evil Dead II via Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back but somehow even worse than that sounds? Absolutely not. Instead, I would ask you to turn your attention to the soundtrack. The musical selections are key to understanding just how much of a bad-but-watchable product of its time it is. So now we're going to chart the dumb charm of Idle Hands through some fairly terrible music, because Halloween.

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Graeme Revell – "Idle Hands Theme"

A promising start. Graeme Revell has written music for The Crow, From Dusk Til Dawn, Bride of Chucky, and Sin City, and this well-crafted and suspense-building industrial composition that definitely gives you the impression you're about to experience a work of integrity – a real genre classic. Unfortunately it's wasted on "the touching story of a boy and his right hand."

The Offspring – "Beheaded"

As well as making a cameo appearance in the film itself, covering The Ramones at a high school Halloween party, The Offspring also contribute this banger from the portion of their career that was extremely good (RIP). When I was 12 I thought this was very #edgy music and would blast it between classes while judging normies. Now I mostly think about how it's definitely a bit weird that a song about someone beheading their mum, dad and girlfriend is the only track on their debut album to be co-written with drummer James Lilja, who left the band to become a gynecologic oncologist.

Read More: Revisiting Josie and the Pussycats, The World's Greatest Fictional Pop-Punk Band

The Living End – "Second Solution"

"Green Day, but make it rockabilly," requested precisely nobody in the late 90s. And yet here we are with The Living End, who prove that Australia since the Europeans arrived has the absolute worst musical history of any country on Planet Earth. Contained within this song is the memory of that kid two degrees of separation away from your friendship group who spent his Saturday afternoons loitering outside a piercing shop necking a flagon of beer in a pork pie hat. So it's nice for him to be represented in this film for outsiders. On that note – one semi-interesting point about Idle Hands is that it totally side-steps the "cool guy" vs "loser guy" conflict that drives most other teen films of its ilk. Instead, Idle Hands plays out within a self-contained bubble of heroic slackers united against evil – a universe in which it's an unquestionable norm for a low-achieving manchild with a rotting stump for a hand to end up with Jessica Alba, just as it was acceptable for Jason Mewes to end up with Shannon Elizabeth in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. The gender politics is fucking terrible, essentially a direct inversion of the way masculine stereotypes are sort-of-challenged-but-not-really in something like Varsity Blues, only this time it's stoners being enabled instead of football players.

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All that said, I'm pretty sure The Living End only appear on this soundtrack because their name is "The Living End" and this film really isn't that deep. They also played some shows supporting The Offspring in 1997, so this is yet another thing we can blame Dexter Holland for.

Zebrahead – "Mindtrip"

This song is so 1998 it just bought me a zebra-print rug and braided my soul patch.

The Waking Hours – "Mama Said Knock You Out"

Your Refused-loving boyfriends have discovered LL Cool J's fourth studio album and decided they can do its title track justice by turning it into a wanky post-punk interlude. Unfortunately the only element of the original they didn't decide to scrap was the rapping. Seems fair to assume this gained its place on the soundtrack because the rights to the original were too expensive, although it does have the added benefit of accurately representing the number of characters wearing cargo pants.

The Vandals – "My Girlfriend's Dead"

Remember when four terribly dressed men who have looked middle-aged for three decades released a song about a man with an ego so fragile he'd sooner list the many fictional and gratuitously violent deaths of his ex than just admit she dumped him? This was considered so good it warranted not one but two music videos: the one seen above, and an animated version depicting a stick figure woman getting shot in the back of the head, which aired approximately 20 times per day on the short-lived British music channel P-Rock between The Transplants and Tsunami Bomb. We could have some lovely discourse about casual misogyny in punk here, but it's probably not worth it over a song that appeared on an album titled, Hitler Bad, Vandals Good.

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Lionrock – "Rude Boy Rock"

Show me one 90s film in which someone doesn't roll up to big beat and I will show you your pants. Which will be on fire. On account of you being a liar.

Static X – "Push It"

At this point I'm beginning to wonder whether this piece should have been about Queen of the Damned – 2002's loose adaptation of an Anne Rice novel featuring Aaliyah as a vampire queen awoken from slumber by the power of rock, and a soundtrack of original nu metal compositions by Jonathan Davis of Korn as well as singles from Static X and Disturbed. But, moving on.

Read more: Remember When Every 00s Film Had A Pop Punk Band In It?

Unwritten Law – "Cailin"

If you imagined what a Smash Mouth and Jawbreaker supergroup would sound like, the result would be Unwritten Law. Sadly I don't think their popularity ever had legs outside the US, which is a shame because this minor radio hit about loving your daughter is a real bop. It seems too wholesome to be included on Idle Hands. Then again, it's also extremely that scene in every single American film where the male protagonist looks out of his bedroom window and gets an immediate hard-on because he spots a girl he hasn't seen before doing something mesmerising like walking.

Disappointment Incorporated – "Bleeding Boy"

"If only At The Drive-In were more accessible and had a song literally spelling out the central theme of this film."

Blink-182 – "Enthused"

As is the case with late 90s/early 00s teen movies in general, the inclusion of a Blink-182 song is its one reliable saving grace. "Enthused" is about an unrequited crush, the phrases "fucked up" and "confused" both make an appearance, Tom Delonge shouts "GO!" and we all love it when he does that don't we. Plus it's on Dude Ranch – Blink-182's most dipshit album, but also one of their best for that precisely reason. To that end, Idle Hands is essentially the Dude Ranch of stoner comedy. Both narratives about a bunch of well-meaning, dick joke-making losers who somehow get everything they want and emerge – not even as "cool", rather their awkwardness is accepted as charming. The whole film may have done a lot better at the box office if the only thing on the soundtrack was Tom Delonge whining "She doesn't caaaaaare at all" over and over again.

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