"A cult of weird and horrible people who gather beautiful women only to deface them with a burning hand!"
Directed By
Produced By
Hal Warren
Written By
Hal Warren
Hal Warren
Diane Mahree
Jackey Neynam Jones
Tom Neyman
John Reynolds
Distributed By
Emerson Film Enterprises
United States
Release Date
November 16, 1966
74 minutes
Not Rated
Unknown, presumed less than production costs

Manos: The Hands of Fate (written in promotional material "Manos" The Hands of Fate) is a film written, directed, produced by and starring American salesman Hal Warren. Made in 1966 as the result of a bet, he intended to make a successful horror film on a shoestring budget. The result was a movie considered among the worst films ever made. After a failed debut, the film remained in almost complete obscurity until 1992 when it was featured in an episode of the television comedy series Mystery Science Theater 3000.

While many today have seen the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version, the film as it was originally presented is also available on DVD, released by budget label Alpha Video.[1]

In 2006 a Portland, Oregon theatre company, Last Rites Productions, did a play based on the story.[2]

In 2009 Troma Entertainment Director/Comedian Tony Trombo remixed the original Manos into a comedy by replacing the dialog and music with his own, retitling it Manos: The Fans of Hate. The new version is avaialable on DVD from Amazon.com.[1]

Production[edit | edit source]

The film was originally created as a result of a bet by Warren with screenplay writer Stirling Silliphant that he could create a successful horror film on a very limited budget. Warren accumulated a small sum of cash, reportedly $19,000,[3] and hired a group of actors from a local theatre and modeling agency, promising a share in the film's profits due to his lack of funds to pay actual wages.[4][5]

Under the working title The Lodge of Sins, the movie was filmed in the summer of 1966 with a 16 mm Bell & Howell camera which had to be wound by hand and only filmed for 32 seconds, which is a possible explanation for many cases of the alleged "Choppy editing work" present in the final cut. In addition, there are also some shots that show inconsistent editing or are to some degree out of focus which appear to defy technical explanations and can only be accredited to human error. The Bell & Howell camera is incapable of double-system recording, and thus all sound effects and dialogue were dubbed later in post-production, reportedly by only three or four people including Warren.[4][6]

Due to a lack of both budget and basic competence, the "goat" legs of the character Torgo were conveyed by dressing actor John Reynolds in overlarge pants and stuffing them full of padding and having Reynolds walk with a strange and slow gait.[7] Fake cloven hooves were also made by Reynolds for his costume, but they are difficult to see on screen, especially in the Mystery Science Theater version.[4]

Night time proved hard for Warren to work with (for whatever reason, Warren chose not to use the normal technique of shooting day-for-night). In many of the night scenes, the camera and lights attracted swarms of moths, which can be seen in the film's final production. Also, in the scene in which the cops "investigate" Mike's gunfire, they could only walk a few feet forward, as there wasn't enough light to illuminate the scenery for a panning shot.[4][8]

In addition, there were rumored to have been opening credits intended to be included in the film, but they were left out during post-production resulting in the opening scenes of the film consisting of the main characters driving around looking for their hotel with minimal effect on the plot.[8]

Reportedly, Warren's small crew became so bemused by his amateurishness and irascibility that they derisively called the movie Mangos, the Cans of Fruit behind his back.[7][8]

Plot[edit | edit source]

Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

The story is about a vacationing couple, Michael (Warren) and Margaret (Diane Mahree), their little daughter Debbie (Jackey Neyman Jones), and their dog, Peppy, who find themselves stranded at a lodge that turns out to be the headquarters of a nefarious pagan cult.

The film opens with footage of Michael and his family on a driving holiday. After a few minutes, the film cuts to a scene involving a teenage couple, who are necking in a convertible car. They are interrupted by a police officer, who moves them along. We return to Michael and his family, who encounter a bizarre, satyr-like person named Torgo (John Reynolds) who apparently runs the lodge. Michael and Margaret ask Torgo for directions. Torgo simply replies that, "There is no way out of here. It'll be dark soon. There is no way out of here." With this information, Michael asks Torgo to let him stay the night, despite objections from both him and Margaret. Torgo ultimately relents. Inside the lodge, the two visitors see a disturbing painting of a dark, malevolent-looking man and a black dog with glowing eyes. Torgo identifies the man as "the Master", who he describes as being away, but "not dead the way you know it."

Peppy then runs outside, barking continuously for a while, before falling silent. Michael investigates, retrieving a torch and revolver from his car. He discovers that the dog has been killed by an unknown force. When informed of this Margaret demands they leave, and Michael orders Torgo to put the luggage back in the car. Torgo does this, but has developed an attraction to Margaret. He confronts her, and crudely gropes her hair. He tells her that, although she is doomed to become yet another bride of the Master, he intends to keep her for himself. Margaret threatens to tell Michael of Torgo's advances, but Torgo convinces her not to say anything to her husband by promising to protect her. Michael then returns, unable to start the car. With the revelation that there are no phones at the lodge, Torgo brings the luggage back into the room.

We return to the teenage couple who were seen earlier. They are still petting, in the middle of the night, and are sent on their way by the same policeman as before, who is joined by his partner. The teenagers mention a second couple, a pair of women, who they had seen driving on the road earlier.

Debbie leaves unexpectedly to search for her dog. A frightened Michael and Margaret find her carrying the dog from the painting. Debbie releases the dog and runs to her parents, who tell her to never run away again. The parents ask where she found the dog, and Debbie leads them to a tomb-like structure where "The Master" (Tom Neyman) and several women dressed in translucent night gowns, later revealed to be his wives, lie in slumber. In horror, the family runs back to the house, and Michael leaves to seek an explanation from Torgo.

Torgo ambushes Michael, knocking him out and tying him to a pole. Torgo then goes to the tomb himself, and begins fondling the wives and berating the sleeping Master, before returning to the house to sleep. The Master suddenly comes to life and wakes his wives, and a short argument over the fate of the family ensues. One faction of the Master's wives wants to sacrifice the family whole; another faction prefers to spare Michael's wife and daughter. The Master angrily stops the argument, and decides to sacrifice Torgo and his first wife to the film's mysterious deity and namesake, "Manos". He then makes his way back to the house to find Torgo. While the Master is gone, the women continue arguing over whether or not to kill Debbie, as well as who has the Master's favor. The argument soon degenerates into a fight, and the women wrestle in the sand for several minutes.

The Master confronts Torgo in the lodge, where he informs Torgo of his fate. Torgo offers some resistance, but ultimately succumbs to what appears to be a hypnotic spell by the Master. At the same time one of the Master's wives leaves the tomb, and appears to kiss and then slap the unconscious Michael. She then warns the Master of the unexpected brawl that has begun, and the two return with Torgo to the tomb. The Master stops the fight, and then has his first wife tied to a pole to be sacrificed. Torgo is then laid on a stone bed, where the wives subject him to what one El Paso reviewer likened at the time to "Torgo being massaged to death".[4][6] This in itself does not prove fatal. The Master then evokes some mysterious power, severing and horribly burning one of Torgo's hands. Torgo runs off into the darkness, his fate unknown. The Master then orders the family to be found. In a scene cut from the Mystery Science Theatre airing, the Master also sacrifices his first wife.

Michael rejoins the family. They attempt to escape, but encounter a rattlesnake, which is rendered via stock footage. Michael opens fire at the snake, which alerts the policemen who had been shown earlier. However, the policemen decide not to investigate the shooting. Michael and his family decide to go back to the home, and barricade themselves in one of the rooms. The Master confronts them. Michael fires several shots into the Master's face, at point-blank range, but they have no effect. The screen fades to black, indicating that the Master has again applied his hypnotic power.

The film ends with a coda involving the two girls who had been mentioned before by the petting couple. They are shown driving in a convertible. They become lost, and stop at the lodge to ask for directions. They are greeted by an entranced Michael. A number of jump cuts show us the fate of Margaret and Debbie: like the other wives of the Master, they sleep in the tomb, dressed in flowing white robes. The film concludes with Michael saying "I take care of the place while the Master is away," just as Torgo had done earlier. The production credits are superimposed over what Joel described in the MST cut as outtakes from the film with the words "The End?" on the screen at the very end.

Spoilers end here.

Mystery Science Theater 3000[edit | edit source]

The film was featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on January 30, 1993, in the final episode of season four, preceded by the second half of the short subject "Hired!" The "bots" used the long uneventful drive at the beginning of the movie to repeat the title of the movie numerous times, as there was yet to be any action to mock. During the breaks, Joel Hodgson and the "bots" mocked the film's opening sequence, debated whether or not Torgo should be considered a monster, and impersonated "The Master" and his dog. After the film had finished, the slow-moving Torgo, played by Mike Nelson, appeared at the "mads" lair to deliver a pizza two hours after it was ordered.[9]

In addition, both TV's Frank and Dr. Forrester (the two characters responsible for Joel's predicament) were depicted apologizing for showing the film, which even they had to admit was abysmal and went beyond their jobs of sending up bad movies, in the first and third break respectively. This was a rare, if not unique, occurrence.[9]

Widely considered to be one of the best, if not the best, episode of the series,[10][11] "Manos" has been released on DVD, both on its own and packaged in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Essentials collection.

Reaction[edit | edit source]

The film premiered on November 15, 1966, at the Capri Theater in Warren's hometown of El Paso, Texas. Warren arranged for a searchlight to be used at the cinema,[4] and for the cast to be brought to the premier by a limousine, in order to enhance the Hollywood feel of the event. Only a single limousine could be afforded, however, and as a result the driver had to drop off one group, then drive around the block and pick up another.[12] The premiere was also attended by numerous local dignitaries, including the Mayor and local Sheriff. Shortly after the film began, the audience began laughing at its poor quality and redundant dialogue. Humiliated, Warren and the rest of his cast made a hasty exit. The film ended to a mixture of laughter and applause. In light of the film's reception, Warren suggested that Manos might make a passable comedy if it was redubbed.[4]

The MST3K version of the episode was released on a DVD in 2001, and in a double-pack with the similarly poor Santa Claus Conquers the Martians in 2004. A DVD of the original version of Manos has also been made available through Alpha Video, who also released original versions of other "MST-ed" films including Teenagers From Outer Space.[13] Reportedly, Quentin Tarantino owns a rare 35 mm copy of the film and has stated that this film is his favorite "comedy".[8] In attempting to explain the film's appeal, the Los Angeles Times hypothesized, "After screening Manos for probably the 10th time, I've concluded it has to do with intimacy. Because it is such a pure slice of Warren's brain - he wrote, directed, produced and starred, and brooked no collaboration - Manos amounts to the man's cinematically transfigured subconscious."[14]

Despite its newly gained cult popularity, the general opinion on the quality of the film remains much the same. The film consistently appears near the top of the Internet Movie Database's list of the the 100 worst films ever made, as voted for by the site's users. As of February 13, 2007 Manos is at #12, and has received more votes than any other film in the top fifty with the exception of the 2003 flop Gigli. Manos also holds a 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the one positive review posted for the MST3K episode rather than the film itself (which was described as "unwatchable").[15] The June 10, 2005 issue of Entertainment Weekly contained an in-depth article which also proclaimed Manos as "The Worst Movie Ever Made".

In addition, the scene in which Debbie is dressed up as one of the Master's wives, disturbing because of the implications of pedophilia, led the crew of Mystery Science Theater 3000 to include it in a list of the most disgusting things they had seen.[16] Further cynicism is directed at the fact that "Manos" is the Spanish word for "hands"; thus, when entirely translated into English, the movie's title is 'Hands' The Hands of Fate.[3][17]

Cast[edit | edit source]

  • Hal Warren as Michael.
  • Diane Mahree as Margret.
  • Jackey Neyman Jones as Debbie.
  • John Reynolds as Torgo.
  • Tom Neyman as The Master.

Minor characters[edit | edit source]

  • The Master's Wives (played by Stephanie Nielson, Sherry Proctor, Robin Redd, Jay Hall and Bettie Burns).
  • "The Make-Out Couple" (played by Bernie Rosenblum and Joyce Molleur). Two teenagers who spend the entire film making out in a car. Their role in the film is unclear.
  • The Police Officers (played by William Bryan Jennings and George Cavender). Two police officers who spend the film attempting to get the "make out couple" to move their car. Near the film's climax, they make what appears to be a very half-hearted attempt to investigate the events at the lodge.

After Manos[edit | edit source]

Hal Warren attempted to pitch another script he had written called Wild Desert Bikers, but with the failure of Manos no one he approached showed any interest in producing it.[7] Attempts to turn the screenplay into a novel were equally unsuccessful.[11]

Reynolds committed suicide not long after the movie was made, reportedly either through a self-inflicted gunshot wound[12] or a drug overdose.[7] Some accounts claim he suffered from a drug addiction, and according to Jackey Neyman Jones, Reynolds was usually quite high during filming.[4]

Rumors long claimed that other cast members had also killed themselves shortly after the release of the movie: Diane Mahree, the female lead; Sherry Proctor, one of The Master's wives; and Joyce Molleur, the female half of the "make-out couple." However, the makers of Hotel Torgo, a 2004 documentary about Manos, researched these rumors and found no obituaries or any other evidence to confirm them.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Alpha Video Horror Catalogue
  2. Portland Mercury - Theater - "Manos" The Hands of Fate
  3. 3.0 3.1 EW.com The Worst Movie Ever Made, page 1
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 "The Hand that Time Forgot": an interview with the director of cinematography and stunt coordinator
  5. EW.com The Worst Movie Ever Made, page 2
  6. 6.0 6.1 EW.com The Worst Movie Ever Made, page 4
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Daddy-O's Drive-In Dirt - Episode 242
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 IMDB: Trivia for Manos: The Hands of Fate
  9. 9.0 9.1 Satellite News - Season Four Episode Guide
  10. Noise To Signal: MST3K: A Beginner's Guide
  11. 11.0 11.1 EW.com The Worst Movie Ever Made, page 5
  12. 12.0 12.1 EW.com The Worst Movie Ever Made, page 3
  13. Alpha Video Catalogue
  14. "Why We Love Bad Movies". Neil, Dan. Los Angeles Times, August 7, 2005, p. I5.
  15. Manos, The Hands of Fate at Rotten Tomatoes
  16. The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide. (Bantam Books: 1996), ISBN 0-553-37783-3.
  17. Bad Movies - Review for Manos: The Hands of Fate

External links[edit | edit source]

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