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The horror...the horror!
on April 23, 2004
One of the worst days of my life was the day I stepped in a steaming pile of "Manos, the Hands of Fate." I thought I knew what I was getting myself into when I bought the original, non MST3K version of the film on DVD, thought I could withstand the gutter level production values, the corpse-like acting from a cast of unknowns, the peppy Muzak soundtrack, the continuity errors, the molasses pacing, the cut and paste editing job, and dialogue that has an affect on the brain not unlike novocaine. I have seen some bad cinema in my short time on planet earth, but "Manos," a film directed, written, and starred in by a fertilizer salesman from El Paso, Texas, easily sails past such memorable dreck as "Warriors of the Lost World," "Feardotcom," and "Jack Frost." The film was so bad that the cast and crew snuck out of the theater during its premier, probably because they feared the audience would lynch them for unleashing this atrocity on humanity. According to a website dedicated to all things cinema, three of the actors in this film committed suicide within a year of the movie's release. While I hope the poor quality of the picture had nothing to do with these suicides, you will seriously wonder if it did after watching this car wreck.
Considering how this movie consistently fails in nearly every aspect, one important element not lacking is a plot. A family, consisting of mother, father, daughter, and poodle, heads out across the blasted wastelands of Texas on a fun filled trip. The excursion consists of a shifting series of seemingly endless shots of the barren landscape, punctuated occasionally by staccato bursts of nonsensical dialogue. Moreover, the first strains of elevator music play over the proceedings. You will learn to loathe this music, but at first it's sort of funny to hear these types of tunes in a film. The family ends up arriving at a decrepit house populated by the film's strangest character (and that says a lot). This is Torgo; a bizarre looking dolt who whispers stuff about "Master," sways a lot, and shambles around while whimsical music plays. He also takes a hankering to the mom character, has kneecaps the size of tires, and acts as the procurer of hapless victims for this enigmatic "Master." By the time I reached this point in the feature, I began mentally willing time to move faster. I looked at my watch so many times I suffered compound whiplash. But the Muzak kept playin', Torgo kept shufflin', and the dialogue kept getting dumber, so I kept watchin'. What can I say? I'm an idiot that way.
After the poodle and the daughter disappear, the parents become alarmed about Torgo's antics. Dad heads out into the dark desert to look for his kid and runs into a heap of trouble. It turns out "Master" and a number of his scantily clad wives are holding a secret ritual that requires the family to play a pivotal role. "Manos" shifts focus significantly here, as we see the inner workings of these odd characters. What do they do? Not much. Master wears a nifty cape with two large hands stitched on it (the best effect in the film, actually) while he rants and raves, and the women stand around gabbing or wrestling with each other. Torgo gets into so much trouble that Master decides to sacrifice him for his crimes in a spectacularly boring way. Why? Who knows? Who cares? If you're so involved in the film that you need answers to these questions, you have problems in need of serious resolution. The story fails in many ways but succeeds wildly in one important aspect-it ends.
"Manos, the Hands of Fate" reminded me of another film I watched recently, the incredibly awful "Invasion of the Blood Farmers." Both movies looked terrible but had a weird appeal, much like a car accident on the highway. You know you shouldn't look at human misery and suffering, but you simply cannot help doing so. One reason you look at such a horrific tragedy is for life affirming reasons; you're so thankful that isn't you and yours stretched out on the road. The same principle applies here. I'm so glad I had nothing to do with the production of "Manos, the Hands of Fate" that watching the whole thing provides a certain measure of detached relief. This principle is completely theoretical, of course, but it does justify why I let the DVD run all the way to the end. For some reason, claiming to love bad cinema for the sake of its badness just doesn't seem enough with movies like "Manos" and "Invasion of the Blood Farmers." In fact, promoting this picture as "so bad its good" in certain circles would probably get you taken out behind the woodshed. Watch "Manos, the Hands of Fate" as a metaphysical exercise and you'll probably emerge unscathed. Maybe. O.K., probably not, but I'm just trying to make the experience easier for you.
If you really must view this abomination, at least you won't pay a heavy monetary price to do so. Forget about any extras on the DVD-there aren't any, and that's how it should be for such a wretched piece of refuse. And really, why would you want a widescreen, crystal clear picture transfer, trailers, interviews, behind the scenes footage, commentaries, film history, and stills when a film like this one goes above and beyond the call of duty? "Manos, the Hands of Fate" is one of the seven wonders of the cinematic world. Enjoy, if you dare!