“Manos” The Hands of Fate
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Director: Harold P. Warren
Stars: Tom Neyman, John Reynolds, Diane Mahre
A family gets lost on the road and stumbles upon a hidden, underground, devil-worshiping cult led by the fearsome Master and his servant Torgo.
Manos: The Hands of Fate is a film world-renown for being among the worst movies ever made. Ever since it was featured on a memorable episode of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” this obscure little film has developed a cult following rivaling that of even Rocky Horror Picture Show. I will readily admit that Manos: The Hands of Fate is one of my favorite movies of all time – but not in the hipster “so bad it’s good” kind of fashion. I legitimately feel that Manos is a great film. My friend and fellow site contributor Kevin Daley also feels this way and we have discussed this film’s positive merits before in a previous episode of Geek Juice Radio. Here, however, is a breakdown of the many great things that Manos: The Hands of Fate has to offer.
Manos: The Hands of Fate has a story that would be considered rather generic by today’s standards. A family out on vacation makes a wrong turn on a back road and ends up the victims of a cult of strange people. A story like that is common place in horror films these days but not so much in 1966. The other huge difference is that in films that follow that “they made a wrong turn” type of story – it’s usually adults, college friends on a vacation more often than not. In Manos: The Hands of Fate it is a family – mother, father and young daughter – that make this “wrong turn.” Children don’t often appear in horror films like this and when they do they usually get a free pass because not a single audience in the world is comfortable with children being involved in horror-film situations. That is not the case at all with Manos: The Hands of Fate.
Manos has received a lot of negative criticism over the decades for it’s poor photography and amateur performances and I’ll readily admit those are glaring faults with this film. However not many people discuss the story and what it has to offer. This family happens to spend the night at a house belonging to “The Master” and his deformed servant Torgo. A ways from the house they have an alter to some God named “Manos” which is surrounded by all of The Master’s wives. Throughout the movie the child in this visiting family is discussed – should they kill her or should she become one of The Master’s wives as one day she’ll become a woman. Either outcome is shocking in itself – and the boldness of using a child in a story this way is never explored fully by viewers because there’s so much “ineptness” distracting them from the story. Occasionally I’ll come across an online discussion about the ending of the film and whether I agree with them or not it still makes be happy because someone actually put aside the film’s technical faults and actually watched the movie.
One of the primary complaints of Manos: The Hands of Fate is the acting, which is to be expected because none of the cast are professional actors. The vast majority of them only have one screen credit which is this movie. It would seem that some approach every film expecting Oscar-caliber performances and anything less is terrible. Yes, this isn’t Hollywood level acting but putting those performances within their context they are good for what they are.
What I really enjoy is the performance of the late John Reynolds as Torgo. Sadly he committed suicide shortly after Manos and he never lived to see the cult icon that Torgo has become and how his performance has made countless people smile. Tom Neyman is great as The Master and some of The Master’s wives are pretty enjoyable but it’s really Torgo that stands out the most. Reynolds took the role quite seriously, making special prosthetics for his legs which were apparently quite painful to wear. His commitment to Torgo shows. The character is much more than just a lackey for The Master and its his actions that move much of the story along. Is Torgo the great anti-hero of cinema? No – but its fun to think of him as such.
Manos: The Hands of Fate was something of an experiment. Hal P. Warren was not a filmmaker and he made this movie to see if he could do it, if it could be a profitable venture. With no formal training in the art of cinema he learned the hard way how to make a movie and all the obstacles that are present on any film shoot but you don’t ever hear about: the technical limitations, the difficulty of dealing with so many people, being a slave to the elements, the vital importance of many small aspects most people take for granted. Hal P. Warren managed to overcome all these obstacles, make the movie, release it and then went on with his life – never directing another movie again. He realized that filmmaking was not for him and went back to doing something he was good at – being a salseman. Hal P. Warren was always the first to admit that Manos: The Hands of Fate was a terrible film, but he was still proud of the experience. The fact that Hal P. Warren did not continue to pursue a career in film is something I have the utmost respect for.
I watch A LOT of indie films from all genres, including horror. I’ve seen some terrible movies, many of them worse than Manos: The Hands of Fate, made by eager artists who really aren’t working in a field they have the talent for. It’s depressing to see an untalented filmmaker keep trying time and time again and making terrible movies with the foolish logic that perseverance will always equal success. I attended film school with the full intention of becoming a director. After graduation I set out with the screenplays I’d written and my new education to direct my first feature and failed miserably. I learned the hard way that directing was not for me. There are other aspects of filmmaking that I do well and find enjoyment at and have chosen to pursue those avenues instead. This is why I have respect for Hal P. Warren for only directing one film, he saw what he was capable of and chose not to pollute theaters with repeated failed attempts as so many other aspiring filmmakers have.
Manos: The Hands of Fate didn’t really find its audience at the time of its release. I wouldn’t say that it was ahead of it’s time but rather it was a movie that had such a narrow release it didn’t have any opportunity to find any audience. It wasn’t until Manos was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 that it received wider exposure. Of course this exposure was people seeing that Manos: The Hands of Fate was a terribly made film and experiencing it through some high quality riffing. Experiencing Manos absent of the the MST3K riff is certainly an experience as it forces one to focus on the movie itself and appreciate it as much more than just an episode of MST3K.
There have been several tributes to the film and tributes to Torgo. One in particular is “The Manos Restoration Project” which seeks to take the original print of the film and restore it for a Blu Ray release. There have also been several other fan adaptations of Manos including stage musicals and several different video games. It’s a cult film like any other with people paying tribute to a film they’ve come to enjoy so much. It is rewarding to see strangers bond over something like a bad movie – to share in their love of something like Manos and all get that Torgo theme stuck in my head. That’s why I still, to this day, rank Manos: The Hands of Fate as one of my favorite movies of all time, right next to classics like The Shining or The Godfather. It’s not a perfect movie, not even close – but it’s the timelessness it carries as a cult film and the experience of sharing something like Manos with so many different people in so many different ways that makes it one of the most memorable cinematic classics.