Should I Watch..? 'Manos: The Hands Of Fate' (1966)
What's the big deal?
Manos: The Hands Of Fate is an independent horror film released in 1966 and is widely considered one of the worst films in history. Written, produced, directed and starring Harold P. Warren, the film revolves around a family lost in the desert who become trapped at a remote lodge where they are preyed upon by a polygamous pagan cult. The film was the result of a bet between Warren and screenwriter Stirling Silliphant who wagered that Warren could not produce a horror film on his own. Warren recruited actors from a theatre group in El Paso, Texas and instead of wages, promised them a share of the film's profits. The film's negative reaction upon release sent it into obscurity until 1993 when it featured on the TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show that mocked B-movies with sarcastic commentary. Since then, it has developed a cult following but still remains an appalling waste of time for everyone involved.
What's it about?
In the deserts around El Paso in Texas, Michael is driving around with his wife Margaret and daughter Debbie looking for a place to stay the night. Following signs for Valley Lodge, they find themselves hopelessly lost before they eventually stumble across an isolated house. Greeted by the somewhat shambolic and offputting Torgo, Michael enquires about staying the night presuming the house to be Valley Lodge. Torgo denies ever hearing of such a place and insists that there is no shelter to be found nearby. With no other option, Michael insists on staying the night despite the reservations of Torgo and Margaret.
Inside, they find a dark painting of an evil-looking man and his dog who Torgo identifies as "the master". While Torgo struggles to take their luggage to their room, strange things soon begin to happen - Debbie's dog Peppy soon goes missing, a strange howl is heard from outside and Torgo's behaviour is increasingly unsettling. With no apparent escape, will they survive the night or is there something more sinister afoot?
The introduction of the mysterious Torgo
What's to like?
At first glance, you might think it impossible to defend a film as comprehensively awful as Manos: The Hands Of Fate. But it's easy to mock a film because of its age and sure enough, the film does feel like it was shot on an old hand-cranked video camera - which it probably was. But unlike fellow Worst-Film-Ever candidate The Room, you can sense that there is a creative spirit behind the film. Yes, it has all the production values of an am-dram society outing but there seems to be a genuine attempt at trying to create something here. It has a, dare I say it, hand-made feel to it.
Naturally, the performances are terrible with the exception of Reynolds whose permanent middle-distance staring and constantly shifting body actually contribute to the role. Torgo was apparently designed to be a satyr and even had metallic rigging underneath his trousers to help him look like one. Sadly, Reynolds wore them backwards which made him look like he had the most powerful knees in the universe but nobody told him throughout the shoot so he can't be blamed for that. Unfortunately, he spends a lot of time looking as though he is trying to remember his lines whenever he is on screen - something he and all the cast do. Reynolds' use of LCD isn't recommended, obviously, but he at least seems to invest something in the picture. Maybe he thought it was real...
- Only two cast members were paid for their efforts. Jackey Neyman (daughter of Tom Neyman, who played the Master) got a new bike and the Doberman, which belonged to the Neymans, got a 50 lb bag of dog food. The rest of the cast and crew were promised a share of the film's profits which, unsurprisingly, never happened.
- There was virtually no post-production performed on the film, despite Warren promising that there would be and it would iron out any mistakes. The film's opening of the car driving aimlessly around (for nine minutes!) was supposed to have opening credits put over but Warren either forgot to add them or couldn't afford to.
- The dialogue was later dubbed in after filming with everyone's lines being performed by two men and one woman. Jackey Neyman burst into tears at the premier when she discovered she had been dubbed over. The reception at the premier was so bad that most of the cast and crew sneaked out before the end.
What's not to like?
Geez, where do I start?
It's remarkable how many similarities there are between this and The Room, so much so it's little worrying. Warren might be a better actor than the deranged Tommy Wiseau but he is certainly not the better director - the film is filled with entire scenes that have no bearing whatsoever to the film's overall story such as the teenagers endlessly making out in the convertible for absolutely no reason at all. There is a great deal of actors forgetting their lines, giving the whole thing an improvised feel and for an alleged horror film, the scariest thing about it is the hilariously evil painting which looks like it was painted by a chimp. With so much of the film basically empty of dialogue, plot and even characters, it makes the film's limp running time feel much longer.
There is also an ear-spitting score for the film that bears little relation to anything happening on screen, especially Torgo's mesmeric clarinet theme and the seemingly endless reliance on jazz flutes. There is little in this film to even qualify it as a horror - there is absolutely no blood and woefully unconvincing violence (including one character being sacrificed, apparently by being tickled to death) and nothing about The Master is even remotely scary. The film is technically incompetent, boring beyond belief and only moderately enhanced by the humorous commentary provided by the MST3K team. In fact, the team behind the show has openly admitted that this was the worst film they saw and this is from a group that specialise in watching the worst movies ever made. On the plus side, at least Warren won his bet. I just hope it was worth this... I'm kidding. Nothing is worth Manos: The Hands Of Fate.
Should I watch it?
It may have been a "brave experiment" according to the sole review of the film at the time in the El Paso Herald-Times but this is little point in denying Manos: The Hands Of Fate its place in the fetid halls of infamy that is my Hall Of Shame. Tedious, unintentionally hilarious, definitely not frightening and technically abysmal, the film is a complete omnishambles from start to finish. It deserves to have been forgotten about for all these years and I'm struggling to forgive MST3K for bringing it to wider attention.
Great For: clearing rooms, DIY commentaries
Not So Great For: humankind, independent film-makers, pagans
What else should I watch?
Anything else would be preferable with the exception of child abuse and snuff movies. I'm serious - the wall of a prison cell is far more interesting and entertaining than this pish.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 covered a lot of dodgy movies in their time including such "classics" as The Beast Of Yucca Flats, Monster A Go-Go and The Pumaman but the writers of the show admitted that this was the worst film of the lot. Even the usually comic companions of the show's lead character Joel, Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo, end up weeping at the film's awfulness. Amid such calamitous film-making, Manos: The Hands Of Fate stands out.
My personal least favourite film in history is the Tommy Wiseau ego project The Room which is an incomprehensible jumble of supposedly dramatic scenes, bafflingly inane dialogue, flaccid sex scenes and Wiseau's bizarre presence throughout. It is staggeringly bad, one of those films that you cannot believe until you see it and realise that people like me weren't joking. The question is, is it worse than this film? The answer is yes but only just - the budget for Manos: The Hands Of Fate was just $19'000 whereas Wiseau blew an estimated $6 million of his own money on The Room which was not well spent. But of all the films I have ever seen, this film is the one that pushed The Room all the way and it was nip-and-tuck which one was worse. But part of me wants to respect this film as an artistic endeavour, however misguided and inept it is. There is nothing about The Room which is artistic, despite Wiseau's later attempts at justifying the film to agog audiences around the world.
Harold P. Warren
Harold P. Warren
Harold P. Warren
70 minutes but it feels a lot longer...
Release Date (USA)
15th November, 1966
© 2017 Benjamin Cox