It’s October again, friends. It’s the time of year when all movie geeks turn their attention towards the macabre and creepy. Here on MonDAVEs we will be doing the same thing, though perhaps in a different way.
This month I shall be focusing on some of my favorite independent horror/sci fi B movies from the early to mid 1960s. These are films that fall outside of the studio system, made by a ragtag bunch of hopefuls with limited funds and resources, but fueled by the desire to make their own movie. Sometimes the results are good, sometimes…not so much. I will give equal time to both. Join me as I discuss the stories behind the films, and the movies themselves. Then, by all means, watch them for yourself…if you dare.
Part 4: Manos: The Hands Of Fate
I could actually leave it there, as that reaction pretty much sums up the entire Manos experience and tells you all you need to know. However, since I’ve brought you all along this far, let’s dig into what I and many others believe to be the Worst Movie Ever Made. This is not a movie to be watched, or even experienced, so much as survived.
Manos: The Hands Of Fate is the brainchild of its writer/director/star Hal P. Warren. I use all of those terms loosely. Warren was an insurance agent, and later fertilizer salesman from El Paso, TX who was also involved in local theater. He somehow got himself a walk on role on the popular television show Route 66. During this time, Warren met series writer Sterling Silliphant (brother of Alan Silliphant who wrote last week’s featured film The Creeping Terror) and placed a bet with Silliphant that “anyone could make a horror movie”, and got to work. To his credit, Warren actually did it. Exactly what he did is still open to interpretation, but it is a movie, and it is horrific, although not for the reasons intended. Warren even put his name in the credits using his own signature taking up most of the screen. He won the bet, but at what cost?
Judging from what’s on the screen, it cost about $3.75. But the cost of what it does to those who watch is much higher. Never will you want an hour of your life back like you will after watching this monstrosity. Yet, inexplicably, you will watch it to the end. Mostly because you can’t look away. Once your brain begins to be able to process the colossal ineptitude of what it is seeing, this movie becomes strangely fascinating. Like a train wreck, only worse.
As with most no budget-Z grade movies, technical issues abound. This movie was shot with 16 mm hand wound film cameras that shot only 35 seconds of film at a time. This leads to reaction shots in the movie that are excruciatingly and inappropriately long. It seems as though everything that happens (in as much as anything actually happens) does so at a snail’s pace, almost as though you have entered a different world where time itself moves differently. Which would be cool if it was intentional, but no.
Oh yes, and the cameras did not record sound either. So here we have another poorly dubbed film, featuring one woman for all the female characters, and two, maybe three men. Which means that pretty much everyone sounds the same. Even the little girl, Debbie, sounds like a fifty year old woman trying to sound like a child. Apparently, at the movie’s premier (yes, they had one), when the young girl heard the voice coming through the speakers she cried. Way to go, Hal P. Warren!
Okay, so let’s go through this movie and examine its sublime awfulness as we do.
Manos: The Hands Of Fate begins with a typical 1960s family including a slightly domineering father, a wife who is incapable of doing anything without her husband, and an annoying child daughter, with a stupid little yappy dog who doesn’t yap due to the lack of sound. They are off on their first family vacation headed to someplace called Valley Lodge. We, the viewers, are treated to seemingly endless shots of Texas farmland, followed by Texas desert. These shots were intended to feature the opening credits over them, but they either ran out of money for credits or they just plain forgot to place them in. Therefore, the movie starts mostly with scenery for about nine minutes. The only credit we get is the title card, which reads as “Manos” The Hands Of Fate as though it’s a quote for some reason. Also, interestingly enough, the word “manos” translates into “hands” in Spanish so the movie’s title is actually Hands: The Hands Of Fate. Already brutal, but we’re just getting started.
While our family is lost in the desert, there is a scene featuring two young people making out along the side of the road, who are chased off by the local police. This happens more than once in this film. The reasoning behind this mostly non-sequiter of a scene is because the actress involved was supposed to have a bigger role but broke her foot so they wrote this scene for her. Which was nice, I guess, but still feels unnecessary. Eagle eyed viewers will notice the clapperboard in view at the beginning of this shot, which is the best part of the scene itself.
Soon, the family comes upon an old house. They decide to stop and get directions. Here we meet Torgo, a sweaty satyr-like man who twitches a lot, has two sets of eyebrows for some reason, and “looks after the place while the Master is away”. He is the only interesting character. Unfortunately, John Reynolds who plays Torgo had a bad life, and was “self medicating” on set, with LSD apparently, which explains the twitching. Sadly he would commit suicide a few weeks before the movie premiered. This was his only filmed role. While that sad fact does take away from the unintentional hilarity of the character, he is still a bizarre and, dare I say, the iconic presence of the piece.
So anyway, after Torgo tells Mike (the dad) that he knows of no such place as Valley Lodge, Mike basically bullies his way into an invitation to stay the night. Without the Master’s direct permission, mind you, and against Torgo’s warnings. The couple are freaked out by a painting of the Master with a Doberman/demon dog, and the many statues of hands all over the sparsely decorated house. Foreshadowing. Kinda. I guess.
At some point yappy dog runs off to investigate a wolf howl (I think) and Mike finds el doggo dead. Debbie the daughter goes missing at some point and comes back in with the dog from the painting. Oh, and in between all this Torgo creeps on the wife, who refuses his advances because, duh, but she does not share this info because Torgo kind of apologizes and promises to protect her. He doesn’t explain what from, but he did promise so that’s good enough, I guess.
Here’s where things start to pick up a little (not much). Debbie leads the family out to what appears to be a crypt or tomb or alter or I don’t know what, where the Master is dead/sleeping, surrounded by his many wives, tied to poles, doing the same. The family finally decide to try to leave. Torgo shows up again, claiming that the Master has too many wives, and he wants this new one (the mom) for himself. He declares his disgust for all the dead/sleepers but still pervs on one of the wives for good measure. He then knocks Mike out in order to proceed with his plans.
Anyhoo, ’round about this time the Master wakes up. He looks a bit like Freddie Mercury on a bad day, and wears a robe with hands sewn into it which is so laughably awful it kind of makes you want one. Turns out he is the leader of a cult who worship an unseen and underexplained diety called Manos. According to The Master, Manos is kinda pissed off, and demands a sacrifice. Also Manos decrees that the Master must gain another wife, because of course he should. This leads the wives (the only other members of the cult to my knowledge) to argue among themselves about the fate of the family. This, in turn, leads to the most unerotic and boring catfight ever captured on film.
The Master goes off in search of Torgo, who has “failed us” and uses the hands of fate to doom him. Then the cultists all go looking for the family (even poor Torgo) who have managed to run away because their car, naturally, won’t start. Of course the family don’t make it far before they get the brilliant idea of going back to the house, because, well, surely that’s the last place the cultists will look.
After this, the movie gets weird. I won’t go any further so I don’t spoil it for you, but I will say that the hands of fate do move for not only our family, but the wives, and Torgo too. We are left with a twist ending of sorts, and the always classic “The End?” title card. You know, looking at this synopsis, one might think that it’s an interesting, fun little movie, and it would be if made by people who had a budget and knew what the hell they were doing. As it stands though, this movie is more excruciating than anything else.
Manos was saved from obscurity (where it belongs) by television show Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1992 when they aired their own version mocking the film. This turned it from a torturous oddity into a hilariously torturous oddity and guaranteed the film cult status for years to come. I would definitely recommend viewing that version, especially if you are a newcomer, as it is one of the show’s best episodes and it makes the movie almost bearable.
As I have stated, the movie is a total train wreck, but one you can’t turn away from. There’s just something about it that’s so…pure. It is definitely unique, and like nothing before or since. Manos: The Hands Of Fate has inspired both a prequel (skip it) and a sequel (worth a watch I guess), a video game (!), and quite a bit of official and unofficial merchandise. It has become a legendarily bad film, and in its own way, beloved for it.
So I guess Hal P. Warren really did do it. He stumbled into greatness, in the most unexpected and ridiculous way possible. Which is why I love B-movies (even, begrudgingly, this one) and why I did this series on my blog. Thanks for indulging me.
You know, when I planned this series of posts out, I didn’t realize that Halloween fell on a Monday this year and I only prepared to discuss four movies. So what do I do next? Do I wrap this all up somehow? Go on to something new? I have no idea. Come back next week and be as surprised as I am when you read the next edition of MonDAVEs!