Howdy all you Supercultists out there on the interwebz! I’m Bad Movie Professor Cameron Coker (BS in “Creepy Cults” with a minor in “Cat-Fights”) and I’ll be posting my hype-tacular speeches every week along with some long lost speeches from past Supercult Shows!
This week Supercult scrapes the bottom of the barrel for the best of the worst with, Manos: Hands of Fate!
Michael, Margaret, their young daughter Debbie, and their dog Peppy are on a Texas road trip to the Valley Lodge, but instead find their way to a mysterious isolated house. The only inhabitant is Torgo who takes care of the place “while the Master is away.” What begins as a quick stop on the road quickly turns into a nightmare as the family discovers they have been stranded at the house awaiting the return of the mysterious Master, the leader of a polygamous pagan cult worshiping the blood thirsty Manos. Can the family escape the fiery grip of the house of Manos? It’s Shocking! It’s Beyond Your Imagination! It’s Manos: Hands of Fate!
What is there to say about the 1966 low budget horror film, Manos: Hands of Fate? Written, produced, and starring Harold P. Warren, Manos is infamous for its technical deficiencies, abysmal acting, sloth-like pacing (that make it’s modest 74 minute run-time seem like cruel and unusual torture), and several inexplicable and disconnected scenes that make no sense with the rest of the film. Such scenes include a couple making out in a car and getting interrupted by the cops every now and then and a drawn out catfight between the Master’s wives in a dimly lit sand pit. Nearly everything about this movie is poorly or hilariously executed, from the spaz-tastic way that John Reynolds, as Torgo, stumbles around the set like a drunken Igor, to the ridiculous static shots of inanimate objects and dialogue that is repeated ad nauseam:
Michael: “She’ll understand. She’s my baby, she’ll understand.”
Margaret: “I hope so darling, I do hope so.”
Michael: “She’s my baby, she’ll understand.”
Even the title is an appetizing kolache filled only with shame and embarrassment. Since, “Manos” is Spanish for hands, the translated title is “Hands: The Hands of Fate.”
So how did “Hands: Hands of Fate” come about? Harold P. Warren was an insurance and fertilizer salesman from El Paso, Texas, where he met screenwriter Stirling Silliphant. While chatting with Silliphant at a local coffee shop, Warren claimed that it was not difficult to make a horror film and bet Silliphant that he could make an entire film on his own. After making the bet Warren began his first outline of his script on a napkin inside the coffee shop.
To finance the film, Warren accumulated a substantial, but nevertheless pitiful sum of $19,000 cash (equivalent to roughly $138,000 in today’s market) and hired a group of actors from a local theatre, many of whom he had worked with before. Warren himself stars as the husband Michael, while El Paso theatre actors Tom Neyman and John Reynolds play The Master and Torgo respectively. Because he was unable to pay the cast and crew any wages, Warren promised them a share in the film’s profits. If you’re groaning to yourself right now, just wait…this is just the beginning of a veritable avalanche of cringe-inducing blunders.
Under the working titles “The Lodge of Sins” or “Fingers of Fate” the movie was filmed at the ranch of Colbert Coldwell (a lawyer who shared an office floor with Warren and who later became a judge in El Paso County) on largely rented production equipment. This meant that Warren had to rush through as many shots as possible to complete filming in two and a half months before the deadline for returning the equipment. Manos is shot with a hand-held 16 mm Bell & Howell camera which had to be wound by hand and thus could only capture 32 seconds of footage at a time, which may account for many of the editing problems present in the final cut. A better reason, however, might be that Warren only did two takes of each shot. If things didn’t go well, he reassured the novice cast with the oldest and emptiest promise in the history of Hollywood: “We’ll fix it in post.”
Rather than rent more equipment to adequately capture sound on set, the entire film was shot without sound and all the dialogue was later dubbed by two men and one woman. Warren also decided to shoot night-for-night scenes, (rather than editing daytime footage to make it appear to have taken place at night time) because many of the cast and crew also held day jobs, thus, in many of the night scenes the camera and lights attracted swarms of moths, which can be seen in the film’s final production. The limited lighting on the film also meant that there was often not enough light to illuminate the scenery for a panning shot. This explains an infamous scene in which two cops hear gunfire and literally take only two steps to investigate giving the impression that they step out of their car, consider investigating, but then give up and head back home for donuts.
The character of Torgo was meant to be portrayed as a satyr, a sort of mystic herald for the Master and his cult. In order to do this John Reynolds wore a metallic rigging under his trousers made out of wire coat hangers and foam. However, Reynolds unintentionally wore them backwards, meaning the effect conveyed made him look nothing like a satyr and more like a man with oversized knees who had difficulty walking. Fake cloven hooves should have also been part of Reynolds’ satyr costume, but he is instead clearly shown wearing boots in several scenes. No one ever corrected Reynolds’ mistakes on-set, so the device damaged Reynolds’ kneecaps, causing him chronic pain in the months before his death. Reportedly, Reynolds attempted to overcome the pain by self-medicating with drugs, visibly affecting his performance in the film. Indeed, the cast and crew recall that John Reynolds, was on LSD during filming, explaining his confused behavior and incessant twitching in virtually all of his scenes.The film’s dialogue never mentions Torgo’s satyr nature, and none of the characters seem to notice anything unusual about his appearance.
In order to find actresses to fill the roles of the Master’s Wives, Warren contacted a modeling agency called Mannequin Manor and hired many women including Joyce Molleur. When Molleur broke her foot early in production Warren rewrote the script to include a young couple making out in a car on the side of the road just to keep her in the film.
None of this was beyond the crew’s notice, of course. As filming dragged on, the increasingly disgruntled crew became more and more bemused by Warren’s amateurishness and hot temper and began to mockingly refer to the movie as “Mangos: The Cans of Fruit” behind Warren’s back.
At the premier of Manos: Hands of Fate Warren arranged for a searchlight to be used at the cinema, and for the cast to be brought to the premiere by a limousine, in order to enhance the Hollywood feel of the event. Warren could afford only a single limousine, however, and so the driver had to drop off one group, then drive around the block and pick up another. Many local El Paso dignitaries attended, the premier, but the movie was so badly received that members of the audience began heckling the film during the show. Several of the film’s cast and crew sneaked out of the theater before the film ended, to avoid having to admit being part of it. Jackey Neyman, who played the daughter Debbie and was 7 years old at the time, remembered weeping in disappointment at the premiere, particularly when another woman’s (dubbed) voice came out of her mouth onscreen.
The following day, a review of the film was featured in the El Paso Herald-Post, which described the film as a “brave experiment.” It criticized some elements, such as the attempted murder of Torgo by being “massaged to death” by The Master’s wives, and Margaret’s claim of “It’s getting dark” while she stands in front of a bright midday sun.
By the end of the fiasco only two cast members were paid for their performances: Jacky Neyman received a bicycle, and the Doberman who played the Master’s dog received a bag of dog food. The rest of the cast was supposed to receive a cut of the film’s profits, which never materialized.
After that fateful night in 1966, Manos: Hands of Fate slipped silently into the depths of obscurity until it found its way into the hands of the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Crew in 1993. At one point during their sketches, both the bots brake down sobbing due to the poor quality of the movie, which was beyond even their attempts at making it interesting. Nevertheless, the notoriety provided by MST3K catapulted Manos: Hands of Fate into the cult film genre meriting everything from late night screenings for avid fans to mockingly reverent video game tie-ins created nearly 50 years after the initial release of the film. The rest, as they say, is history!
Manos: Hands of Fate has a 1.9 on IMDB, a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, and is considered one of, if not THE worst film of all time even compared to classic “So Bad They’re Good” films such as ‘The Room’, ‘Trolls 2’, and Ed Wood’s cult masterpiece ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space.’ It can be downright torture or the most fun you’ll ever have at the movies if you’ve got the right company seeing it with you. Manos: Hands of Fate is an endurance test…a rite of passage, if you will, for Supercultists everywhere from the Row, Row, Row Your Boat sing-along opener, right down to the inevitably campy, “The End?” at the close.
Don’t touch that dial! The Master would not approve!
The Supercult Show is proud to present:
Hands – I mean, Manos: Hands of Fate!