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‘Idle Hands’ is the Slasher Movie for Stoners

For a stoned Halloween treat, watch this timeless story of a demon-possessed pothead serial killer and his undead buddies

With more and more movie streaming services popping up, it can feel impossible to keep track of what’s showing where. So to help, this October I’ll be recommending a different film every day from one such service that embodies the spooky spirit of the season. From classic Halloween movies to indie horror to campy dark comedies, this is 31 Days of a Very Chingy Halloween.

Today I’m looking at the stoner-turned-slasher flick Idle Hands, currently streaming on Pluto TV.

Anton Tobias (Devon Sawa) is a lazy high school student with no ambitions but to smoke weed, watch TV, jerk off and impress Molly (Jessica Alba), the girl next door. But when a series of serial killings start occurring in his neighborhood, it somehow turns out he is the killer, his right hand possessed by a murderous demonic spirit. It’s up to him, his two undead stoner buddies Mick (Seth Green) and Pnub (Elden Henson) and a Druidic priestess (Vivica A. Fox) to stop his hand before it can kill again.

The most literal representation of the old adage “idle hands are the devil’s playthings” humanly possible, Idle Hands is definitely goofier than it is gory. Usually laziness is self-destructive or inconsiderate at worst, but it doesn’t typically result in you becoming an unstoppable killing machine who murders your parents, your best friends and the lead singer of The Offspring (who play at the film’s big Halloween school dance). A joke partway through the film has Anton take up crochet as a means to keep his hand from doing the “devil’s work,” and in a hilarious twist, the reason Mick and Pnub come back from the dead as zombies is because they were stoned and the “light on the other side” was “too far.”

Idle Hands feels like a weird cross-breed of Gen X movie trends, with the slacker-centric bro comedy feel of Mallrats and the Bill & Ted movies combining with the horror-satire of the Scream franchise. In a way, it’s Scary Movie before Scary Movie. But oddly enough, parody isn’t what anyone involved was aiming for.  

According to a 2007 A.V. Club interview with Seth Green, everyone on the project thought they were making a different movie than everyone else. “Me and the other actors, Devon and Elden, were convinced we were making a high drama with some comedic elements,” he said. “The director, Rodman [Flender], was attempting to make a throwback Italian horror film, like a Dario Argento flick. The writers really wanted it to be Heathers. The studio was listening to the test marketing and saying that they really wanted the zombies to have more wacky antics, and apparently all the kids in the audience thought that there should be more pot-smoking.”

The threads of that confused production show. The dialogue is quippy, the fake blood is abundant and Green and Elden’s zombified bros serve as both the comic relief and the unbeat heart of the film that grounds Sawa’s Anton. In fact, they help him come off as more of a relatable victim than a psycho killer with an evil hand. 

Though it had a star-studded cast led by Sawa at the peak of his 1990s teen heartthrob rep, Idle Hands failed to perform at the box office — most audiences were as confused by it as the people making it were. But I’ll always remember it as a potent parable about not using my Hitachi magic wand or bong too much, lest I bludgeon someone to death with them.

To see a list of each of the previous entries, check out the A Very Chingy Halloween list on Letterboxd.