Manos: The Hands of Fate
A cult of weird, horrible people who gather beautiful women only to deface them with a burning hand!
Year of Release: 1966
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 74 minutes (1:14)
Director: Harold P. Warren
Tom Neyman ... The Master
John Reynolds ... Torgo
Diane Adelson ... Margaret
Harold P. Warren ... Michael
Jackey Neyman Jones ... Debbie
Stephanie Nielson ... Master's Wife
Sherry Proctor ... Master's Wife
Robin Redd ... Master's Wife
Bettye Birns ... Master's Wife
Pat Coburn ... Master's Wife
Pat Sullivan ... Master's Wife
Mike and Maggie, on a road trip with their daughter and family dog, take a wrong turn in Texas and become trapped at a weird lodge inhabited by a polygamous pagan cult. They soon find themselves in the middle of a power struggle between caretaker Torgo, cult leader The Master, and two warring factions of the Master's wives. As the family tries to escape, the worshipers of "Manos" decide their fate.
Manos: The Hands of Fate, remindin' us that all the cosmic powers of the underworld are no match for a disobedient Doberman who refuses to work with the animal trainer.
Speakin' of bein' led around on a leash though, I'm startin' to think Thanksgivin's just a big scam intended to shame us into feelin' guilty for wantin' a decent-sized TV to watch Night Court reruns on, cause it seems like no matter where you go for dinner there's always some self-righteous puritan with a good retirement plan around sayin' somethin' like: "let's all give thanks for the bounty the Good Lord has given us in this life," as he holds you spiritually hostage in exchange for some white meat. An of course if you actually follow the guy's instructions an thank His Godness out loud for the enlarged prostate, attic asbestos, an cranky possum that wakes ya up by bitin' your pinky toe, suddenly you're a heretic. Not me though; none of my relatives know where I live, an stuff like this's the reason why.
This Thanksgivin's been kind of a downer though, cause Billy Hilliard's mama finally hadda move into the old folks home an for a while she wasn't takin' it so good. She's startin' to get acclimated though; I mean, just to give you an idea, I believe 'er exact words after we'd dropped off the last load of clothes were: "Billah Lemar Hillyud, if you don' take me home this instant I gon' put this purse up left side'yo face an' leave you stupida AN' uglia'n yo worthless deddie!"
That may not sound like progress, but the day we dropped 'er off she sank 'er dentures into Billy's arm so deep that when the sheriff noticed the marks he got a warrant to search Billy's basement for abducted single women. So you can see how she's warmin' to the idea. Besides, it ain't that bad a place; turndown service, a full kitchen, shower drain you don't hafta plunge every time you hose off - heck, I'd move in there myself if not for the rates an the deafening AM radio broadcasts blastin' from the activity center.
It was that damned kitchen that got us into trouble though, cause Myrtle wanted to prove to Billy that she didn't need nobody to get along, an so she made Billy an me promise to be there at noon for dinner Thanksgivin' Day even though we were spozda be at Sadie an Mrs. Sadie's place by 4. Call me a bleedin' heart. Call me a sentimental tool. Call me a big wussie for cavin' just cause the woman had a handfulla my hair at the time, but it was the right thing to do, an I don't regret goin'. Mostly.
Now, normally I'd never get in the middle of a family matter that didn't involve Jaleel White shenanigans, but after seein' the spread this lady cooked up by 'erself I think maybe Billy really did jump the gun, cause I ain't had a meal that good since that potato truck rolled on the highway an I'm pretty sure that fact was not lost on 'er.
"Good lawd son, don't noneyo lady friends evah FEED you?" she asked, squintin' through 'er vintage 1979 Coke bottle lenses.
"Yeth ma'am, but thiths acthully good," I mumbled through a mouth fulla stuffin'.
"Oh you jus' sayin' that t'be p'lite - now slow down a'fore you choke an' stow that 'ma'am' talk too; I been takin' carah you fo' thirty years. You jus' call me 'mama' now, ya hear?" she scolded.
It's true too, she really had, an she'd definitely been there to put the kibosh on a lotta my stupider ideas when Billy an me were kids, but this whole conversation was startin' to smack of "divide and conquer," an I think Billy knew it judgin' from the size of the drumstick he successfully bit through in that moment.
"No joke Mrs... uh... Mah, this really is good grub," I reiterated.
"Oh twern't nothin'; nothin' I cain't still handle," she grinned in Billy's direction.
Course by that point Billy was firin' that familiar ole "Judas!" look at me that you always gave when your friend sided with your parents to score the future brownie points necessary to worm your way outta whatever jackass predicament you found yourselves in next, but I was seriously startin' to question the necessity of Myrtle's decommissioning.
"You boys finish up here; I promised Mr. Boggs in 215 I'd help 'im wid 'is pie. I swear, if'n that man dih'n have me aroun' he'da burnt this place to the groun' by now," she hollered over 'er shoulder on the way out the door.
"Thankfalah athow," Billy growled as he wadded up a roll an chucked it at me.
"What?!" I winced, narrowly avoiding bein' beaned by the holiday projectile.
"'Oh thankth Mah, ih *really* ith guh gruh,'" he replied mockingly.
"Oh for cripes sake Billy, look around! Maybe she really *doesn't* need to be here; goddamned turkey's a 30lber an..."
"Ah maybe Miffer Bogg helfther do all thif," he accused.
"An maybe you're keepin' up with the Alex Joneses a little too well! What evidence is there that..." I was stayin' til he stuffed his napkin in my yap.
"Come ah buhwife, leh go mee' Miffer Bogg an thee," he said, jerkin' me outta my seat as I was reachin' for the butter.
"Dude, I'm not sure how well a 7' tall, 300lb black man kickin' in a nursin' home door in rural America is gonna go over... can we maybe consider some alternatives that don't involve jail time?" I wheezed after dislodging the napkin.
"Ah'm nah gon' kick ih in thupid, weow juf gon' opeh ih an suprife 'em," Billy assured me.
An surprise them we did. In the buff. In a position which more than cleared up any doubts I had about Mama's physical conditioning.
"Guess I was outta line about that black thing; he seems pretty friendly to me," I muttered in horror.
That's about the point where Mama noticed us peekin' around the door an... well, the shriek she let loose put Marilyn Burns to shame. We bolted out the emergency exit after that, which in retrospect was prolly not a great plan since it set off the security alarm an attracted the attention of the few staff members who hadn't already discovered the scene in Mr. Boggs' room. It just figures, ya know? I finally had somethin' resembling a family that I could get together with on Thanksgivin' an now I'll never be able to think of the word "stuffing" again without conjuring up images of nekkid geriatric gymnastics.
Hope you were all done eatin'; guess I shoulda warned ya a little earlier in the proceedins. Anyway, after the heat died down a little we met up with the rest of our fellow misfits at Sadie's place an further tested the elasticity of our stomach linings til it was time for our annual cinematic turkey, an I feel obligated to warn ya right now - you may wanna grab some Pepto to head off the imminent indigestion. Manos is one of those movies where everybody you know describes it as being like some other movie, "only worse," an we can all thank Joel Hodgson for introducing us to it (thanks Joel, IT STINKS). I still say The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy is worse, but I'm not gonna split hairs with anybody who wants to argue about it so let's all just pop a coupla antacid tablets an I'll play devil's advocate for a minute before we get into the main event (trust me, the movie really does have a few nuggets of wisdom you'll wanna absorb for your own personal betterment). First, involvin' your six wives in the discussion over whether or not to add a seventh only complicates matters. Second, no insurer'll touch you if you plan to film Satanic rites in visual range of a Texas highway. An third, you durn well better be "permanent" if you're gonna wander the Texas desert wearin' Footos: The Sandals of Fate.
The movie begins with this family (Papa Mike, Mama Maggie, an little Debbie) who bought a vacation package from Charles Manson, singin' public domain songs en route to their destination to mask their crippling depression while every inch of their journey is shown in agonizing detail. Eventually they reach what looks to be the flophouse where all the local boys hide their porno an meet this Scruffleupagus (Torgo) with his knees screwed on backwards who tells 'em they can check out any time they like but they can never leave an that "the Master" won't approve if they try rippin' off the honor bar. Basically this place looks like the last thing one of Jigsaw's victims sees, an there's also this creepy paintin' of a pasty geek wearin' a cloak blazoned with an early concept sketch of the Body Glove logo that makes Maggie say "Mike, I'm scared" every two minutes. Then their little runt of a poodle goes outside to investigate the howls of constipated werewolves with hemorrhoids an ends up gettin' killed an left in front of the family car by some lunatic taxidermist, while Torgo's inside bein' the suavest hobo in the history of the world tryna woo Maggie into comin' back to his shanty, only it don't work cause she's all hung up on the fact that he's constantly twitchin' like it's been three days since his last heroin fix. So in short - Torgo can't get no satyrsfaction. Course with all this goin' on Debbie's left without supervision, a positive role model, or any hope of future actin' gigs, an she goes wanderin' around outside an comes back with a Doberman on a leash that Mom an Dad won't let 'er keep cause she let 'er last dog get eaten alive by wild jackalopes. Mike wants to know where she got the hound from Hell, so Debbie takes 'im out back to the ancient Pagan temple of Groanhenge where the Master's passed out on a concrete slab from drinkin' too many Shiners, surrounded by an unconscious harem of mail-order Mormon brides in Victoria's Secret lingerie. Meantime though, Torgo's got a lotta pent-up frustration over the woman/satyr ratio, an so he goes out to the altar de halter to see how much female flesh he can make crawl away an put in his two weeks' notice with the Master since he's pretty sure Maggie'll be won over by Pan's peter.
Then Torgo clubs Mike an ties 'im to a light pole so he won't get interrupted while he's gettin' shaggy with Maggie, only about that time the Master wakes up from his drunk an calls a meetin' of the 1st - 6th Wives' Club in hopes of comin' to some kinda consensus about what to do with their guests, cept things eventually get so catty that he ends up havin' to table the meetin' before a buncha gay guys show up an open Cabello: The Hairs of Fate Beauty Salon. Needless to say, the Master is royally P.O.'d about Torgo's butt fumblin', but when goes to kick his lumpy dumpy all over El Paso, his wives break down into factions along ideological death penalty lines an pretty quick we got an impromptu six-woman tag match over whether or not to snuff Debbie; we're talkin' Mammos: The Glands of Fate here, an it's pretty danged ridiculous. While that's goin' on, the Master grabs Torgo by the scruff of his... well... actually he's scruffy over every inch of his body, but anyway, the Master basically tells 'im he found the tube of EZ Glide in the temple an that he knows what's been goin' on in the harem tent while he's been communin' with Manos, an the Master's so torqued off about it that his cloak pattern ends up gettin' itself contorted into the sign for the Diamond Cutter. Then the Master hasta go break up the Evening Gown match back at the shrine before the MPAA gets upset an tells his Womanos of Fate to slap Torgo around an rip out all his chest hair til he gets bored an burns off Torgo's hand of 'bate. Elsewhere, Mike finally manages to free himself from bondage an tries to split with the family while the Master's tearin' the toilet paper stuffins outta one of his chick's bras an committin' felony spousal abuse, but they're severely limited in how far they can flee by the lackluster lighting budget, an so it ain't long before the rest of the Master's lovin' coven catches up with 'em an drags 'em back to Chateau Torgo. I'm sure you've all seen this one on Mystery Science Theater already, but just to be on the safe side I'ma go ahead an cut the spoilers here so I don't go an ruin anybody's enjoyment of this work of cinematic excrement.
Alrighty, well, you'll be pleased to know that your suffering was not in vain, and that fertilizer salesman, turned director, turned back to fertilizer salesman, Harold Warren won his bet with Stirling Silliphant, having proved that he could, in fact, make an entire movie by himself. Unfortunately Harold forgot to put any money on the bet, as some of the folks who worked on the movie might actually have gotten paid had he done so. Manos is one of the best examples of a film's backstory being more interesting than the movie itself, and you can't help but wish you'd been in El Paso on opening night, November 15th, 1966, to have seen it all go down. Bizarrely enough, the city really threw its weight behind the production, and on the night it premiered at the Capri Theater the director even paid for a limousine to bring the cast to the screening, albeit one person at a time, as he could only afford the one limo. Confident that Warren would be able to "fix it" in post production, the cast made its way into the theater, seated themselves, and slowly died a little inside as the screening yielded periodic laughter, but mostly dead silence. Many of the cast members actually snuck out of the theater and split before the movie was over to avoid having to answer any questions from an audience that had been primed for an instant Horror classic by the local press. You can't help but wonder just how all this hype came about given that the movie had a budget of $19,000, was being helmed by a man who had never been involved in film prior, starred community theater actors (and even then only in the most critical roles), and was being filmed with a camera that could only record a half minute at a time. I suppose film was still a relatively new medium at the time, and of course everyone loves an underdog story (particularly when it's the home town underdog), but even the briefest moment of critical thinking should have made it clear that a positive outcome was virtually impossible. It's true of course that occasionally the stars align and low budget movies become hits, but not with the cards stacked this high. Movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Blair Witch Project certainly defied the odds, but even so, both those movies were made by people who'd at least been to film school and were capable of recognizing acting talent (or the lack thereof) when they saw it. Even Herk Harvey, the director of Carnival of Souls, had worked on a slew of social guidance films before he made his picture, and it didn't achieve any kind of notoriety until almost 30 years after it originally debuted. Alls I can say is, it musta been an innocent time in America, and even if the movie itself is virtually unwatchable, the story behind it is fascinating.
The downside is that amusing anecdotes about the movie's production don't translate into many, or for that matter, *any* points with regard to its technical merit, and it is now my sad duty to squash this thing like an onion on an Idaho highway. The plot somehow manages to be both unbearably slow and absurdly uneven, with the story only ever progressing when the child wanders off or the father leaves the house to investigate the most recent noise or suspicion he's developed. That's basically what you've got to look forward to if you can get past the idea that a man has been imbued with demonic powers by an unseen force that goes by the name of "Hands," and given dominion over a flophouse in the middle of scrub country for the express purpose of collecting wives who happen to take a wrong turn off the highway. Incidentally, the "hands" theme exists solely because Tom Neyman (who played the Master and created most of the film's props) was also an artist creating pieces that explored that particular appendage at the time. We should all be thankful Tom wasn't a perv, lest we be discussing Penes: The Wangs of Fate. The acting is as bad as any you'll ever see, as you might expect from a cast of community theater actors on the high end, and non-actors at the lower end. This on its own is damning enough, but it's exacerbated by the movie being dubbed, and with *every* female in the cast being voiced by the same woman, including the 6-year-old girl. Combine that with John Reynolds being high on LSD for the entire shoot (sadly, he committing suicide a few months before the film premiered) and such sparkling dialogue as: "I could've sworn we didn't make a wrong turn," and you've got acting so bad that it's more like anti-acting, which could cause the complete destruction of our planet were it to come into direct contact with legitimate acting.
Here's who matters and why: Tom Neyman (Manos Returns), Diane Adelson (Manos Returns), Jackey Neyman Jones (Curse of Bigfoot, Primal Rage: The Legend of Konga, Manos Returns).
The special effects amount to a severed mannequin hand (which to be fair, would probably be passable in 1966 were it not so stiff), a dead dog (a really obvious stuffed animal) and Torgo's leg prosthetics; truly a brilliant idea for a man so high on LSD that he noticeably struggles to negotiate doorways and stairs throughout the movie. Pretty pitiful stuff, but they had neither the money nor the know-how to do much in the way of gore effects, which were a pretty new thing at the time anyway. The shooting locations, ordinarily an area where even the lamest of flicks can pick up at least a few easy points for its rating, are also lackluster. I'm not even talking about the endless driving montage early on with shaky, atrocious cinematography either - the house itself is sparsely furnished, features nearly empty bookshelves, and has the look of a place someone's *almost* finished moving out of. The exteriors fare little better, due largely to the fact that the majority of the flick takes place at night and the crew didn't have the kind of lighting necessary to see more than about 15' in any given direction. The "shrine" is probably the best thing the film has to offer, which, to put in perspective, looks to be a concrete gazebo whose owner never quite got around to adding a roof. A little disclaimer here - the cinematography really isn't the DP's fault, as the camera being used to film was so primitive that something as simple as lining up a shot became a job in itself, but that doesn't change the fact that, as Joel Hodgson so perfectly put it: "every frame of this movie looks like someone's last known photograph." The soundtrack is probably the high point, and I say that knowing most of the music ranges from what sounds like public domain elevator music to somebody trying to play the piano and bongo drums at the same time. This is made worse by someone's misguided idea that there needed to be music playing over 90% of the movie, and the editor's haphazard use of inappropriately timed, repetitive tracks that are largely incongruous with the events happening on screen. That said, there is *one* marginally suspenseful piano piece, and the truly bizarre "Torgo's Theme," which is a genuinely odd, intriguing little piece that's essentially three seconds of looped, woodwind insanity. Overall, Manos is one of the rare instances where a movie is broadly known by the general public, whose designation as one of the "worst movies of all time" is actually warranted. It is genuinely terrible and utterly excruciating in its pacing, with very few "so bad it's good" moments to redeem it. Do not, under any circumstances, watch this film without snarky robot supervision.