Retro Review: Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)

PCA reminds you that the world’s best movies are not in the new releases section at Blockbuster!

Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) – There is no other way to put this.  Manos: The Hands of Fate is one weird freakin’ movie.  Known amongst film buffs as one of the worst movies ever made, this strange little independent horror film gives Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outerspace a run for its money.  Dipped in as much history and lore behind the scenes as in front of the camera, Manos is a disaster from the monotonous beginning to its creepy ending, but is an experience waiting to be seen, and is must viewing for fans of strange cinema and B movie buffs.

Manos: The Hands of Fate was born when El Paso fertilizer salesmen Harold P. Warren had a chance meeting with Hollywood film producer Stirling Silliphant, who produced such films as Village of the Damned, The Enforcer and Over the Top, in a local coffee shop.  Warren, who was involved in local theater and once had a walk on on Route 66, bragged that making a feature film wasn’t all that difficult and bet Silliphant that he could make a film himself.  Silliphant unexpectedly took the bet and the cocksure fertilizer salesmen immediately began to draft out plans for Manos: The Hands of Fate right there and then on a discarded napkin.  Over the next summer Warren collected players from his local theater company and friends and volunteers to put together his own unique vision, but it quickly became apparent to everybody involved that Harold P. Warren had absolutely no idea what the hell he was doing.

"Manos" writer, director, producer, community theater actor and El Paso fertalizer salesman Harold P. Warren stars as family patriarch Micheal alongside leading lady Dianne Mahree in what is questionably the worst movie ever made

Warren took the plum role of Michael, easily the stupidest father and husband in film history.  When Michael takes his wife Margaret, daughter Debbie and family poodle Peppy on a family vacation he takes a wrong turn and ends up lost in the Texas desert.  Coming upon a strange old lodge, the family stops to get directions by what looks like to be a twitchy miner with Parkinson’s disease.  The man introduces himself as Torgo and ominously pronounces that he takes care of the place when “The Master” is away.  Anyhow, Michael decides to invite himself and his family to stay at the deserted lone house in the middle of nowhere without even being invited.  Torgo says no.  His wife says she doesn’t want to stay.  Debbie says she scared.  Torgo states “The Master would not like it.” However, Michael, being the stubborn douche bag that he is pushes his luck, and eventually pressures Torgo, who is clearly a sketchy dirty pervert, into letting his family stay in what is obviously a sinister lodge of unearthly horrors.  I mean what else kind of lodge are you going to find in the Texas desert?  As night falls things gets weirder and weirder as Michael and Margaret come face to face with a strange oil painting of The Master and his angry looking Doberman pincher.  As Michael yells orders at Torgo to move his bags from one place to the other, Peppy the poodle is killed by a mysterious animal, and Torgo tries to jump Margaret’s bones.  However the real horror begins when Debbie goes for a walk in the night and leads her family to a cavern inhabited by a polygamous Satanic cult consisting of The Master, who looks like Frank Zappa in mime makeup, and his five wives who all seem to be in a state of suspended animation.  Finally, despite the death of the family pet, the presence of the sketchy Torgo and the fact that he wasn’t even invited in the first place, Michael decides that maybe he might have put his family in danger and figures they should leave.  Unfortunately the car won’t start.  As The Master and his concubines awakes he laughs manically and states his sinister plans for the family, and especially for Margaret and little Debbie, but his wives can’t agree on what they want to do and start a massive cat fight in the desert as time ticks away for Michael and Margaret.  Will Michael and his family escape the lodge of death and, eventually, make it safely to divorce court, or will they become the next victims of Manos: The Hands of Fate…whatever the hell that is?  Meanwhile a couple is hassled by a cop while necking on the highway….but that’s another story completely.

Tom Neyman co-stars as "The Master," the polygamist leader of a Satanic cult. Unfortunatly he looks more like Frank Zappa in mime make up

To completely outline everything wrong with this film would take an entire essay, but in many ways its badness adds to its surrealness, and glues the viewer to the screen.  Just when you think Manos can’t get any worse, it does.  The most obvious flaw of the film is the poor dubbing.  With only a small budget to make the film, Warren rented a hand held camera to shoot the film.  Unfortunately the camera could not support sound and Warren had no way to record the actors voices, thus after the film was completed it had to be entirely redubbed.  Yet, despite a cast consisting of seventeen actors, Warren only brought four actors into the sound studio including himself and principal actors Tom Neyman (The Master), John Reynolds (Torgo) and Diane Mahree (Margaret).  Between the four of them, they had to voice all the actors, with Diane herself voicing the entire female cast!  As a result, the majority of the characters voices sound exactly the same.  But, if that wasn’t bad enough, much of the time the dialogue doesn’t even come close to synchronizing with the film and the majority of the time no sound effects were used.  Instead, an inappropriate soundtrack of continuous flute music was used to break up the silence.

The Master hangs out with one of his many wives in a touching scene from "Manos: The Hands of Fate"

The cast was made up of actors from the same community theater that Warren himself was involved with.  The plum part of The Master went to Warren’s pal Tom Neyman with Neyman’s daughter Jackey playing the role of Debbie and their pet dog playing the role of the Master’s faithful Doberman.  Originally the role of Margaret was to go to actress Pat Sullivan, but only days before filming was to begin, Sullivan broke her ankle and was unable to stand on it.  Feeling bad that he had to fire his leading lady, Warren wrote in a sub-plot involving two youngsters making out in a roadster and getting hassled by highway patrolmen.  Although the couple in the roadster and the patrolmen show up throughout the film, they have no relevance to the story or the movement of the plot, never happening across the lodge or even meeting The Master or Torgo.  As a result, they become odd misplaced figures in a terrible film. 

Would you trust your family to spend the night with this man? "Manos" breakout star John Reynolds as Torgo. Unfortunatly "Manos" would be Reynold's only film due to his suicide soon after "Manos" hit theaters

In the end, the true breakout star would be John Reynolds as Torgo.  Although Torgo is supposed to be a satyr, at no time does the film state this fact and there is no indication that he is one.  However Reynolds would suffer for his craft in an attempt to be a virtual Lon Chaney.  Wearing braces backwards on his legs in an attempt to make his legs look like those of the mythical beast, Reynolds unknowingly put them on wrong, thus causing permanent damage to his knees which he would suffer from for the rest of his life.  Mind you, his life would come to an end in 1966 when Reynolds committed suicide by shooting himself in the face.  Incidentally, Manos hit theaters the same year.  Coincidence?  Sadly Reynolds would never see his unlikely cult fandom which would emerge when Manos was revived from obscurity by Mystery Science Fiction Theater 3000 in the late 1990’s and became an instant fan favorite.

"Manos" would wallow in obscurity until "Mystery Science Theater 3000" rediscovered it in the 1990's, making it a cult favorite. Since then it has been featured on "Elvira's Movie Macabre" and Ed and Red's "This Movie Sucks"

Despite the fact that he had a cast of seventeen players and even more crew members, Warren did not have the budget to actually pay anybody for their work.  Instead he promised everyone that when the profits of the film began rolling in that he would pay them with the money earned.  Unfortunate for everyone involved, Manos closed nearly as quickly as it premiered, being ridiculed by local press and not even surviving on the drive-in circuit.  Manos didn’t even make it out of Texas and no profits were ever made.  As a result the only two members of Warren’s production to receive any payment for their work was little Jackey Neyman and the Neyman family Doberman.  Jackey got a bike and the Doberman got a bag of food.  Peppy the poodle didn’t even get that much.  But not dismayed and ready to get back in the saddle after his homemade disaster, Warren pitched a second film called Wild Desert Bikers.  Nobody got on board.  Warren’s days as a filmmaker were over and he returned to the fertilizer business, making the kind of shit that wasn’t going to end up on the silver screen

However, despite the flaws and the flubs of this bottom of the barrel stinker, the ending of Manos: The Hands of Fate is actually, in my opinion, incredibly frightening and haunting, and showed that perhaps, only for a moment, that Harold P. Warren may have had a pretty good idea, however was in over his head when it came to executing it.  But, all effectiveness of the ending, if you can argue it being good or not, is thrust right out the window during the closing credits which is, without a doubt, the most hilarious and inappropriate moment of the entire film.  As an unnamed singer croons a love ballad, the audience is made to relive key moments of the film as the cast is listed in a romantic fashion.  A truly bizarre ending to a truly bizarre film.

Why should you see Manos: The Hands of Fate?  Simply put it’s a weird frikkin’ trip my friend, and one you will want to go on at least once.

 

  1. MV’s avatar

    - Diane Mahree was not involved with any of the voice dubbing, not even her own.

    - Joyce Molleur was the one who broke her leg and was half of the kissing couple in the convertible, not Pat Sullivan

    - There is no evidence to support that John Reynolds wore his knee braces backwards nor that they caused any kind of damage to his knees.

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