Purchase Manos: The Hands of Fate [Blu-ray] on Blu-ray from Amazon
If You’re Running Late, You Should Have Started Earlier
There’s not much that I could say about Manos: The Hands of Fate that hasn’t already been said numerous times. Widely considered “the worst movie ever made”, there isn’t much reason to argue that distinction. Overwrought dialog, schizophrenic editing, focus issues, humorously atrocious dubbing, awkward use of musical themes, and a paper-thin plot all add to the recipe for disastrous success. Hell, the dogs are the best actors in the film. Most of the cast agree.
For those not familiar with the film, Manos is the “brainchild” of life insurance salesman, Harold P. Warren. As the idea of making a movie stemmed from a night of drinking, this was one brainchild that rightfully deserved a morning after pill.
Manos tells the tale of a family on a trip through Texas who make a wrong turn and find themselves at the secluded desert home of The Master (Tom Neyman), the polygamist leader of a sinister all-woman cult of man-haters. Upon their arrival, they are greeted by Torgo (John Reynolds), the caretaker of The Master’s property. Torgo is physically deformed and, presumably, dim-witted. While his deformity is established through the use of some poorly crafted leg appliances that look like humps or massive tumors, his mental state may be largely due to the actor being loaded up on LSD and weed through the entire shoot. I’m willing to bet that the acid played a bigger factor than the weed.
Sadly, Reynolds killed himself shortly before the film’s premiere, never seeing the “cult icon” status that his character has since garnered.
Torgo tells them that they must leave before sundown. The Master will be displeased to find them here when he returns from wherever he is. However, he also tells them that there is no way to leave. It’s never explained just why this is. Did the road disappear? Does El Paso (the filming location) have some special breed of darkness that’s impenetrable by cars?
Creeped out by the crippled Torgo, the wife, Margaret (Diane Mahree), adamantly declares her desire to leave. Her husband, Mike (played by Warren), not only ignores her pleas, but also the protestations of Torgo when he insists that the family will be spending the night here anyway. He even has the cojones to order the unmistakably handicapped caretaker to carry their luggage into the house for them.
Within moments of entering the house, a howling is heard from outside. The family dog runs out to investigate and is soon heard whining. After finding the dog dead, Mike retrieves a revolver from the glove compartment of the family convertible. He orders Torgo to load the luggage back into the car. Poor Torgo has no choice but to comply as this psychopath is packing heat, technically now making this a home invasion.
The young daughter, Debbie (Jackey Neyman, Tom’s daughter), also runs off outside. As if these people’s’ parenting skills weren’t already brought into question by the way they manage to keep track of the whereabouts of their child and pet, the two actually have to take a brief “time out” to discuss searching for their daughter.
See? I’ve already said more about the film than I intended to, and probably more than I needed. Where the story goes from here isn’t really all that important, and that’s a good thing as it really doesn’t go much of anywhere. Simply put, watching Manos is like watching a really fascinating car accident. Sure, it’s a horrible thing, and someone may have died, but I’ll be damned if I’m looking away.
Undoubtedly, the film’s cult status was established by its riffing on MST3K. And honestly, that is probably the same audience that would be able to appreciate this film when taken out of that context. Manos isn’t a film for everyone. It’s arguably not a film for anyone. For those that are able to appreciate the not-so-finer moments of cult cinema, Manos is a must-watch. For normal people, look elsewhere.
Picture/Audio Quality: Let’s not bullshit here. Manos: The Hands of Fate is ugly. This is a no-budget film made by people with little, if any, knowledge of how to make a film. From out of focus shots to shaking stills to a lack of adequate lighting, there are multiple factors that prevent the film from ever looking “good”. Add in the fact that the film was never really taken care of due to its years of lingering in justified obscurity, and you have a poorly filmed movie filled with years of acquired scratches, specks, and discoloration.
That said, the transfer presented on Synapse’s Blu-ray is far and away superior to any other version of the film ever released. As to be expected, the are still quite a few instances of damage to the print, but clarity and detail are vastly improved, as well as color saturation. Grain is present throughout and spikes in outdoor nighttime scenes (which is a significant portion of the runtime), but never to the point of obscuring the image presented on screen.
The picture does clear up for interior shots, with the close-up shots in the scene between Margaret and Torgo looking quite pleasing. The uptick in detail not only shows off just how attractive Mahree really was, but also helps to showcase her questionable acting skills.
Sound quality probably won’t impress those unfamiliar with previous releases of the film as there is no real sense of dynamics to the audio track, but how much can really be expected from a movie that was completely dubbed over in post-production? Noticeably missing from the Blu-ray release is the loud, fuzzy sounding ocean of static that dominated the audio track of previous releases, especially those numerous SD public domain releases.
Hands: The Fate of “Manos”: 30 mins – An entertaining and light-hearted Special Feature detailing the making of the film, and featuring interviews with Tom & Jackey Neyman and Diane Mahree (now Diane Adelson). The cast discuss the making of the film and do not hold back when it comes to discussing just how amateurish the production was.
Also discussed are the horrendous dubbing, the failed premiere, Mahree’s entrance into the Miss Texas pageant, the age difference between the supposed married couple (Warren was more than twice Mahree’s age), as well as the MST3K riffing. It’s worth noting that Tom Neyman is a big fan of the episode, stating that the show gave the film the treatment that it deserved.
Restoring the Hands of Fate: 6mins – Feature on the restoration process for the HD transfer. Might be of interest to those that are highly into the technical aspects of film restoration and the transfer process, but most casual viewers will find it confusing and boring.
Felt: The Puppet Hands of Fate: 4 mins – Feature about the Felt stage show and its origin. Too brief to be very informative or insightful. Also makes the assumption that the viewer will know what the stage show is, when it should have assumed that the viewer does not and served as an introduction.
Audio Commentary with Jackie & Tom Neyman
Manos: The Hands of Fate: Grindhouse Edition – Untouched version of the film.
Recommended?? Um…. maybe? As stated prior, this is a pretty awful movie. If you are able to enjoy “bad cinema”, well, it doesn’t get much more “bad” than this. This is most assuredly not the disc to demonstrate the capabilities of your HD TV or surround sound, but is still a massive upgrade over previous releases. Recommended for fans, but the casual viewer should probably pass.