Manos: The Hands of Fate Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Synapse-Films
Written and directed by Harold P. Warren
1966, 74 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray released on October 13th, 2015
John Reynolds as Torgo
Tom Neyman as The Master
Hal Warren as Michael
Diane Mahree as Margaret
Jackey Neyman as Debbie
William Bryan Jennings as Sheriff
After who knows how long, Mike is finally getting to make the elusive family vacation a reality. Packed into his convertible with wife Margaret, daughter Debbie, and the family dog, he is off to the Valley Lodge for some much needed rest and relaxation. After driving for hours, it becomes apparent that he has gotten turned around and they are hopelessly lost. Stopping for directions at a small cottage, they meet Torgo, an awkward man with more than a few physical problems. This odd stranger informs Mike they must leave before his Master returns or suffer dire consequences. He also tells them there is no exit from this location (?!) and the Master will certainly love Margaret. Mike insists over everyone’s objection that the family stay the night and find a solution in the morning. Torgo reluctantly agrees and the travelers take over the house and start critiquing the décor. Poor Torgo frets the arrival of his Master and carries in their luggage, despite his obvious misgivings and infirmities.
When the family dog is eaten by wild animals, Mike and Margaret are momentarily upset and demand to leave, but when their car won’t start, they resign themselves to staying. Torgo makes a clumsy pass at Margaret and is disappointed to find she is not attracted to him, but encouraged when she promises to keep things secret from her husband. The family explores the grounds and discovers a sacred sanctuary where the Master sleeps in a trance, surrounded by his numerous wives in a similar nocturnal state. Mike leads the others back inside and soon the Master and his ladies are awake and ready to conduct a ritual sacrifice. There is a problem, however, in that the women cannot agree whether young Debbie should be murdered or simply made into a child bride. As his wives participate in an extended cat fight, The Master meanders from the sanctuary to the house and back as he decides what to do with Torgo and the interlopers.
As sloppy as this summary appears, I defy anyone to make more sense of this dismal production, frequently cited as one of the worst movies ever made. There is so much wrong with Manos: The Hands of Fate that it might be easier to list what they actually got right. Um... there’s some nice props and wardrobe, and that’s really about it. The plot is minimal, the dialogue is stilted and awkward and the pacing abysmal. The film is padded to 66 minutes (before credits) with endless driving scenes that drag out over loops of lounge music. The action occasionally cuts away to a young amorous couple in a parked car who are frequently interrupted by the police. We never learn their names or see them interact with Mike’s family, and the police do not rescue our heroes in the finale, so it remains unclear why any of these characters are present. The entire film was reportedly edited in approximately four hours - and it shows.
Writer, director, producer and lead actor Harold “Hal” Warren has taken his one stab at making a movie and completely botched it. Rumor has it, the Texas fertilizer salesman decided to make the film on a bet without formal training because “any idiot can make a movie”. The picture is frequently filled with dirt, grain and stray hairs due to a lack of cleaning the lens or checking the equipment. The camera did not record sound, so all of the audio is poorly dubbed and, making matters worse, every female including young Debbie are voiced by the same anonymous woman. The script was apparently little more than an outline and the actors were frequently encouraged to make their own choices on dialogue and action. The perennially stoned John Reynolds is so amazing as Torgo that his performance remains the sole reason to ever watch this film. It should be noted that the character may or may not be a Satyr. There is never any acknowledgment of his strangely shaped legs and knees, but behind-the-scenes stories suggest this is the case. If you hate yourself or others around you, I encourage you to put this flick on repeat and see how long it takes before everyone in the room begs for the sweet release of death.
Video and Audio:
Manos is presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and features an all new 2K Hi-definition transfer of a frequently tricky picture. The source elements were in such poor condition that only so much could be done in terms of restoration. The inherent flaws in the material have been left intact to accurately depict the film as it was screened fifty years ago. Many shots are out of focus, there is the previously mentioned dirt on the lens and there is no shortage of scratches running throughout. That being said, all of these shortcomings have never looked better.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 track preserves the original mono audio recording with an unexpected level of clarity. Music cues remain annoying with the exception of the jaunty Torgo theme. Since all of the dialogue was re-dubbed, there is an artificiality to the entire project, as voices never quite match lip movements.
Manos was resurrected in 1993 by the gang at Mystery Science Theater 3000, whose home-run decimation garnered this turkey a new fan base. Sadly, the MST3K episode is not included here, nor is the more recent skewering courtesy of Rifftrax, but the former can be freely streamed via Shout Factory TV.
There are a handful (pun intended) of special features on this Blu-ray release, including a bonus version of the film as it appeared before restoration, labeled as the “Grindhouse Edition”. It’s murky, splotchy, dark and ugly. For purists, it is an unexpected delight.
An audio commentary with real-life father and daughter Tom Neyman (The Master) and Jackey Raye Neyman-Jones (Debbie) allows the duo to reflect on their time making this goofy movie. Not all of the stories pay off, but honestly it has been fifty years and memories fade. We do get some insight from the elder Neyman as to what the project was like and the wide number of jobs he held on set.
Ben Solovey is responsible for the restoration of this picture and guides viewers through the retrospective segment Hands: The Fate of Manos (31 minutes). He discusses the production process and some of the equipment used in making the film. A few members of the cast and crew talk about the legend surrounding the picture and dispel some rumors. There is a nice segment devoted to the late great John Reynolds who committed suicide before the film’s release.
Ben Solovey explains in more detail the preservation process in the segment Restoring the Hands of Fate (7 minutes), but sadly does not include before and after side by side comparisons of the work. Solovey mentions how gratifying it was to recover the source materials but does not reveal how they came into his possession. This is an informative featurette that is worth checking out despite these omissions.
Felt: The Puppet Hands of Fate (4 minutes) turns the spotlight to uber-fan Rachel Jackson, who created a delightful love letter to the film with her puppet show Manos: The Hands of Felt. This looks like an awesome and creative project and I wish this segment were seven times longer.
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