Blu-Ray Review: The Hands of Orlac

Mr and Mrs Orlac

Robert Wiene was one of the great directors of the German expressionist period at the beginning of the 20th century. Indeed, he’s responsible for one of the best and still most admired films from that movement, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. He went on to make 45 films, mostly during the silent era, and whilst most aren’t that well known today, The Hands of Orlac has been remade several times and remains a strange curiosity.

When Paul Orlac (Conrad Veidt), a famous concert pianist, is involved in a tragic train crash his wife (Alexandra Sorina) beseeches the surgeon (Hans Homma) to save his hands. Unable to do so, he has no option but to transplant hands from a recently executed murderer, Vasseur. Orlac is shocked when he discovers the truth. His anxiety and paranoia are only exacerbated when his father is killed by the dead man’s hands.

The Hands of Orlac is a classic psychological thriller which charts one man’s slow descent into madness. The restoration looks superb and Johannes Kalitzke’s new score is crisp, if a little intrusive at times. The plot itself might seem fairly straightforward now but for the time it’s a pretty terrifying premise. Indeed, Wiene continues his pioneering work in horror/science fiction cinema which he began on Caligari, but this time the expressionism is tempered by realism.  Based on Maurice Renard’s novel, The Hands of Orlac is a story of pure dread.  

Special features:

  • Limited Edition O-Card slipcase [2000 copies]
  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a restoration of the original film elements by Film Archiv Austria
  • LPCM 2.0 audio
  • Original German language intertitles with optional English subtitles
  • Brand new feature length audio commentary with author Stephen Jones and author / critic Kim Newman
  • Brand new video essay by filmmakers David Cairns and Fiona Watson
  • Alternate presentation of The Hands of Orlac [SD, 110 minutes] – Courtesy of the F. W. Murnau Foundation, a presentation of the film struck from a different print source, featuring alternate takes of certain scenes. Includes a musical score by Paul Mercer.
  • Scene comparisons highlighting some of the differences between the two versions of the film
  • A collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Philip Kemp, and Tim Lucas

The Hands of Orlac will be released on Blu-Ray by Eureka Entertainment as part of their Masters of Cinema collection on 14 June.

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