Manos: The Hands of Fate~ 1966, Harold P. Warren
It’s a commonly held belief that Manos: Hands of Fate was made as part of a wager. Certainly, even relatively credible sites, such as IMDB, attest that director Harold P. Warren made the film on a bet, and human culture is happy to accept this explanation, because Manos: The Hands of Fate NEEDS and explanation; it’s so horrible that many sources feel comfortable with calling this the single worst movie of all time. So, how did this happen? And why? True or not, we have our answer; it was all an elaborate wager between industry outsider Harold P. Warren, and an unknown second party, who had been working inside of the American independent film community in the 1960’s. Warren did win this wager, of course, by virtue of the fact that Manos: Hands of Fate exists, but I really don’t feel comfortable suggesting that Manos: Hands of Fate is in any way, shape, or form a success. Having made this film makes Harold P. Warren a director in the same way that a summer job at Taco Bell makes one a chef.
But I digress; like many near-fatal pieces of soul poison that have been lazily splattered into the filthy slop-trough of American pop culture, Manos came and went in 1966 like a fart in the wind, garnering no acclaim, and soon fading into complete and utter obscurity, where it rightfully belonged. Shockingly, this would not be the end. In 1993, cult television show Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured Manos: Hands of Fate in what would go on to become one of it’s more popular episodes, thereby hoisting it back up, into the spotlight, and giving Manos an unexpected second lease on life; one which would prove much more generous than it’s first trip around the block thirty years prior. Today, Manos: Hands of Fate has an actual cult following, which is nothing less than unthinkable. Manos: The Hands of Fate has a fan base.
THE PLOT~ After driving aimlessly for like, a million years (which we are generously allowed to watch) a family of three winds up stranded at a strange secluded house out in the middle of the desert. It is here that America first meets Torgo, and don’t you worry, we’ll come back to him.
Here’s Torgo. Does he somehow have two sets of eyebrows simultaneously?!
Apparently Torgo serves The Master, who owns this house. The Master is a very religious man, but his religion is some bizarre hand-obsessed branch of Demon worship, focused on a deity called Manos; it involves polygamy, large bonfires, human sacrifice, and constant bullshit. This house is like, Manos central, complete with scary demon trinkets adorning every wall, mysterious creatures baying mournfully somewhere out in the darkness, and a damn sacrificial altar in the backyard. “Whatever,” our family says. “Let us stay here, Torgo, we’re tired of driving.” Torgo really tries to hammer home that this is a bad idea, but they ignore his opinion and pretty much demand a place to crash for the night. Should have listened to Torgo, folks.
The movie drags on for the rest of your natural life. The pace is agonizingly slow, and it’s filled with sequences that serve no purpose, and where pretty much nothing happens. When it finally does end, it does so with a deliberately open ended conclusion, you know, just in case it was a hit and Warren wanted to do a sequel. Honestly, I don’t know how there isn’t a Kickstarter for Manos 3D: Retribution, starring Sean William Scott right now.
As I mentioned before, Manos: The Hands of Fate is a staple of “Worst ever” lists you might see bouncing around the internet, but the truth is, there are hundreds of low budget genre films from the 1960’s which are all just as bad. Manos gets to wear this glorious crown of trash because we KNOW Manos, but if MST3K hadn’t come into the picture and elevated it to the level it now enjoys, there would be some other movie popping up on all those lists, and this one would have remained forgotten, possibly forever. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a horrible movie, and it deserves the infamy it has earned, but Manos is also a product of a very different environment; Small, crude productions helmed by inexperienced first timers were actually very common back in the American 60’s, and the lion’s share of these flicks are just as unwatchable, and in some cases, even more so. I would wager there are still many films out there, waiting to be rediscovered, which could blow this one out of the water. Is Manos; The Hands of Fate the single worst movie of all time? No, but it does belong SOMEWHERE on that list… Maybe just a little further down than most might place it.
In the three-ring turd-circus that is Manos: The Hands of Fate, Torgo is, for sure, the star attraction. This is a character absolutely riddled with peculiarities, none of which are ever addressed in the film, and very few of which make any sort of sense at all. Firstly, his damn knees:
Never mind why!
Torgo possess massive, swollen, fantastically giant knees, which impede his movements, and the movie never addresses or explains this. They kinda just ignore it, Torgo’s knees are a serious Elephant in the room, so to speak. There is a very popular myth on the internet that Torgo is actually supposed to be a Satyr, which would explain the knees quite nicely; he doesn’t have giant knees at all, he’s goat legs! We just don’t see them, because he’s wearing than Khaki colored Parisian Nightsuit all the time. This is, sadly, wishful thinking, and there is no truth to the satyr explanation. The reality behind Torgo’s suspicious getaway sticks is much less logical; according to IMDB, Harold P. Warren has stated in the past that Torgo was first meant to be a hunchback, but that felt particular deformity seemed too cliché, so instead, they gave him enormous, illogically swollen knees, thinking that this was an untapped cinematic goldmine, and Torgo would be first in line to cash in. “Knees, that’s where it’s at!” Thought Warren. Yeah. As a result, Torgo is barely even able to walk, but the first few times that you see him hobble around, an odd little piece of music plays as he meanders feebley about his bleak surroundings. This music stops when he stops, and resumes when he starts to walk again. There’s even a point at which the music picks up before we see Torgo, and then he wanders into frame, as if the tune is heralding his clumsy arrival. This gives us the impression that this is in fact Torgo’s walking music, and that’s hilarious. He can barely walk, but he has special music that plays whenever he does. I’m a big fan of that, actually.
Torgo also squirms uncomfortably at all times and repeats nearly everything he ever says. He’s easily the most memorable thing about the movie, and googling Torgo will show that I’m not the only person who feels that way; Torgo cosplay is a very real phenomena in 2015, something no one could have foreseen when this thing premiered back in the 60’s. And that’s not the only unexpected way that Manos: The Hands Of Fate’s influence is felt in the post-modern, media-saturated world we live in today, this movie has been the subject of a great deal of fan generated media. There’s fan art, there have been stage adaptations, and Manos was even remade with puppets in Rachel Jackson’s awesome MANOS: THE HANDS OF FELT.
If you’re mind isn’t blown yet, nip on over to your smartphone app store and pick up a copy of the Manos: The Hands of Fate video game. I did. It cost two bucks.
It’s absolutely bizarre that this film has managed to gain such traction decades after it’s disastrous unveiling, and it’s all thanks to Mystery Science Theater 3000. I definitely recommend the Manos episode, without question, if you insist on watching this film, that’s the best way to do it. If, however, you want to see Manos the way nature intended, then be forewarned; Without Joel and the Bots putting this thing on blast, Manos: The Hands of Fate is no walk in the park. You might be laughing for the first twenty minutes, but then it’s a steep downward slide into the deepest circle of hell. Tread lightly.