Halloween Horrors 50 for 31: Manos the Hands of Fate

October 30, 2011 at 3:28 am Leave a comment

I saw this without any degree of hyperbole. Manos: The Hands of Fate is the worst movies I have ever seen in my life. I’ve seen Plan 9 from Outer Space, Glen or Glenda, Mesa of the Lost Women, Troll 2, and countless other horrible movies. Probably more than any sane person should. And I can say without a doubt that Manos: The Hands of Fate is number one with a bullet. Without the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, this movie feels like you’re getting beaten with a crowbar for 68 minutes. Even with that short of a running time, the movie is paced so poorly it feels like the extended cut of Return of the King. You would never believe the movie is only a little over an hour.

This movie does everything wrong tragically. Allegedly shot in 16mm on a handheld Bell and Howell crank cam, the movie looks like it was shot in 8mm. The cinematography is so ugly you feel dirty just watching this movie. Manos really feels like a movie you shouldn’t be watching. It seems like they kind of knew how to shoot in the day time, even though the film stock looks grainy, dirty, and just plain grim.  The night time shooting is where you can really tell how amateur this movie is. It looks like they just used the car  headlights of everyone on the set  to light the scenes. If they had lights on set, it sure didn’t look like it.  On those old crank cams people used to use for home video before there was such a thing as video, you could only shoot for about 30 seconds. That would explain all the choppy editing. I seriously doubt they had any kind of shot list since they kept cutting between the exact same shots. I understand this is very technical but this was a really poorly made movie. Even in movies like Plan 9 and Troll 2, at least the film makers had a basic sense of how a movie is suppose to be made. Not Manos though. According to imdb, Manos was made over the course of two months. I could make a shot for shot remake of Manos over a weekend. I have no idea why it would have taken that long to shoot this movie. The only hard part would be getting costumes and locations.

But of course there is the story. Even if a movie is technically poor, maybe there was a story somewhere behind all bad lighting and ugly cinematography. Nope. Not in Manos. The continuity is all over the place in this movie. What the movie basically boils down to is a family, Mike, Maggie, and their daughter Debbie, get lost out in the desert and stumble upon a run down shack run by Torgo. He takes care of the place while the Master is away. The Master is the head of a cult that worships Manos. He has six wives and Torgo to do his bidding. Well, the Master wants Maggie and maybe Debbie. Thanks to some rock stupid decisions made by Mike, The Master takes Debbie and Maggie as his new wives and Mike takes Torgo’s place watching the place while The Master is away. For some reason there are two cops in the movie who do nothing and contribute nothing to the story. There is a couple who make out in their car for days on end and contribute nothing. But even that summary doesn’t do the movie justice.

The movie starts out with at least ten minutes  of driving through rural Texas. There are long, drawn out shots of farm land with very little dialog thrown in which explains that they are almost near Valley Lodge. By the way, Valley Lodge really need to fit in better signage to their location. I wonder how many of the Masters wives were just poor saps looking for Valley Lodge and got lost. Or how Torgo ended up in the service of the Master. Was he just out driving around, looking for Valley Lodge when he stumbled across this house and got brainwashed into being The Masters loyal servant? Two things become perfectly clear early on. One is that no sound was recorded on set. All of the dialog was recorded after production by three people and even though it is an American movie, the voices and lips never sync. Not once. The second thing that runs throughout this movie is a smooth jazz soundtrack. I felt like I should have been listening to 94.7 The Wave. They drive for at least 20 minutes. In the MST3K version, they cut out some of the driving. Really, it is just one scene where they run into a wall of bramble and have to turn around. The only time we cut into this driving is to meet a couple who are making out in a car. The cops show up and chase them away. Why? I don’t know.

After all the driving, Mike and family find a house that looks like an abandoned crack house. They meet the caretaker, Torgo, who informs them that the Master wouldn’t approve of them staying. Mike insists on spending the night apparently finding this dilapidated shack inviting. Torgo defies description and the mere sight of him would scare anyone away. He has big knees, stumbles around a lot, dresses in torn clothing, and shakes like he is going to throw up any second. He pretty much looks like a crazy hobo. But Mike insists on spending the night.  Maggie even protests but Mike is determined to stay. That is until the family dog Pepe runs out into the desert and gets mauled. Presumably, this was done by the Master’s Rottweiler. Then he decides its time to leave but the car won’t start. While this is happening, Torgo makes moves on Maggie. Even after he tries to grab her, she doesn’t make any kind of attempt at escaping or nagging Mike to fix the car. If Torgo tried to touch me, I would take the walk 10 miles through the desert to find the nearest phone. I’m guessing that is where the Valley Lodge is.

While all this is happening, Debbie wanders off and finds the Master and his wives. Debbie’s dialog is unintelligible. It’s just the woman doing the voice of Maggie but in a higher pitch. Ok, so the family all find the Master and their lair. So what do they do? Maggie and Debbie go to sleep in the house while Mike wanders the desert without an agenda until he is knocked out by Torgo. I always thought this was stupid. The uncut version offers no further explanation on why the women went back to the house or why Mike went running around in the desert.

Torgo wants Maggie to be his wife and is starting to rebel against all this Manos stuff. The Master though wants Maggie to be his seventh wife. The other wives gather all around to discuss what is to be done with the child, Debbie. It wasn’t noticeable in the MST version but in the uncut version you can tell the wives arguing is just the same four pieces of dialog repeatedly looped. You might also remember the oldest wife rebelling against the Master, wanting Debbie to be spared. Well, in the uncut version she gets beaten to death by the Master. She implies that the Master’s power is waning and you gets some sense from him that he is, in fact, losing his power. This means that Mike could have escape if he had kept running in the desert. But like an idiot, he goes back to the house, feeling his gun is enough to protect them. Maggie kind of nagged him into it but thanks to that decision, it seems the Master gets his powers back in the end. Also Torgo gets sacrificed, sort of. They burn his hand off his body and he runs off. The Master prattled on about killing him but in the end, didn’t kill Torgo at all.

Manos must be seen to be believe. The wives wrestle each other for 10 or 20 minutes with some of the worst editing you’ve ever seen in your life. There are a lot of people wandering around in darkness. There is so much wrong with this movie that someone could write a book pointing out everything they did wrong. One of the funny things while watching the movie is that if you have seen the MST3K version, you will fill in their comments at certain spots in your head or maybe even quote them out loud. They did such a good job riffing on this movie. If you’re going to watch this movie, I really recommend watching the MST3K version first. It’s infinitely more enjoyable.

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