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.
Billy: Most horror fans have heard of Manos: The Hands of Fate but few have ever dared to actually watch it. Okay, that’s a lie. Tons of people have watched Manos: The Hands of Fate, but most have done so exclusively through the MST3K version. We watched the film itself for this viewing, and let me just say… it was a journey. The newly restored edit of the film made looking back at it a fairly delightful experience. You really saw the shoddy work that went into making what many consider to the most unwatchable mess of a horror film ever made. However, I have a confession. For all of its flaws… I kind of liked it.
Insha: I’m honestly [in like] with this movie. Not in love. I will be in a committed relationship with it and never put a ring on it. But, I have to say, this movie always takes me by surprise every time I watch it. I first experienced this film via MST3K, which just feels like watching movies with friends. However, viewing it alone without your friends is an experience that you must have.
That being said, it’s absolutely terrible, and that’s why I like it so much. I’m gross human garbage for terrible films and I’ll watch them willingly and lovingly. I can probably write you a thesis about why it’s so lovely, and Manos is one of those movies that needs to be seen to be believed. This film is the hottest of messes. Everything is out of place and focus. No one knows how to control this camera. The wives are all babes, so there’s that, but there’s no substance or reward coming out of this movie. Manos: The Hands of Fate is your fill of dumb ass parents, a competent child actress, a dog that steals the show, and the total wtf that is Torgo? (I’m gonna play the Torgo Suite for my future bae. It determines a lot.)
Amelia: I gotta say, the jazz flute really sets a mood. I’m terrified of what’s to come. And when the parents break out in “Row, Row, Row the Boat” but the child stays completely silent? I’m chilled.
Okay seriously now, was the writer/director of this movie originally going for horror? Because tone is everything in horror and Harold P. Warren isn’t striking me as someone who understands that. The twenty second loop of piano music, the shots that hang too long, the terrible dub because it was shot on silent 16mm film on a hand-cranked camera, I can’t help but feel this was going for something else at first but then got lumped into horror because, you know, it’s terrible. And that’s just what happens with terrible movies.
Billy: The thing that made me really interested in this movie was the revelation that Torgo’s character was originally intended to be a satyr. It comes at you quickly without any fanfare. We’ve gone down the rabbit hole, through the tornado into Oz, in only a few hours drive. Later, when Debbie discovers the door to where the Master and his wives sleep, it felt like she had opened a portal to Hell. To say I’m into that sort of storytelling is an understatement. This felt lore-heavy. It felt like a poor man’s Clive Barker.
Insha: It feels weird to say, but I kinda think Torgo was more of the focus on the films. Please don’t ask me why because I can’t explain. However, I wanted more to do with the little girl and the dog as well. Just imagine that. However, I do agree with Billy. It has that kind of terrible Clive Barker mixed with something Stephen King rolled over and wrote down in the middle of the night.
I should talk about some technical junk, shouldn’t I? Spoilers: all the technical junk is awful, but I wouldn’t aim to call it downright deplorable. (Even though, let’s be real.) However, even though the everything is off, I like the camera and sound work for the film, especially the music. The camera work is out of focus and completely amateurish when it comes to its execution. That’s part of the charm of the movie. It’s terribly focused, and god awful in some of its focal points, but you can see the innovative techniques he TRIED to use, and it kind of makes you appreciate what you should NEVER do.
For terrible movies to be terrible, it has to have a creepy or fucking wildly off soundtrack. One thing that’s consistent enough that kept that story moving forward in a steady direction was Torgo’s Suite. Which sounds something straight out of the Twilight Zone. It even has its name that’s how good it is. (Also, RIP to John Reynolds. You did Torgo proud man.)
Amelia: There’s a series on YouTube that’s covering the bottom one hundred (lowest rated) movies on IMDb and Manos: The Hands of Fate has already been covered. Having watched that video I knew before going in that Manos: The Hands of Fate was a terrible movie. But, despite I Hate Everything making the movie look unappealing, I don’t think he made it look unappealing enough.
The pacing is horrendous. The plot is thinner than the toilet paper in a public bathroom. The acting, and I shudder at even calling what these people did “acting”, is some of the worst I’ve ever seen. This isn’t a movie, but I Hate Everything kind of made it look like a movie because his own editing and script were better than the source material. So while I knew this was horrible going in, I wasn’t prepared for how horrible. I wasn’t prepared for what is effectively my own personal Hell.
Billy: Don’t get me wrong. Manos: The Hands of Fate is still a disaster of a film. The movie is like three scenes surrounded by car driving and wife fights. The soundtrack is in the style of a silent film with way too many looped themes repeated ad nauseum, and shots either linger too long or cut away too soon with no real thought to tone or pacing. The ADR work is horrible. Those technical faults stop it from being brilliant by a wide margin, but it’s almost sublime in its ignorance. Not so bad that it’s good, but so bad that it makes the great parts stand out.
On an aesthetic level, it’s better than it has any right to be. That cloak is brilliant design, with some of the most intense reds I’ve seen giving the image a chance to pop like nothing else. The sandals might have been a poor accessory choice, but everything else about the Master works. I even like his moustache. I don’t know why. We first see the Master as a painting. It’s actually a pretty horrifying painting, a disturbing sort of beauty. I think it would look appropriate in the background of another film. Whether they worked from the painting to create such a stunning image or painted it, I don’t know, but either way, it’s an image that works.
Insha: One thing I love about this story was how UTTERLY underwhelming The Master was. What were you even doing, sir? Why were you sleeping? Why do you keep women STANDING UP for fucking years while you slumber, you dickhead? The Master made no sense to the story at all. I think that’s why I wanted more Torgo. He bridged everything creepily and weirdly that it wouldn’t have surprised me if he was said, “SURPRISE, I’M THE MASTER. LET ME TOUCH YOU WITH MY HANDS.”
Amelia: I can stand a bad movie. But a boring movie? I don’t think there’s a worse kind of torture for someone who enjoys watching movies than a boring movie. And get this: I’m not someone that enjoys movies. Movies are not my medium of choice. So imagine how fucking tortuous this was for me. This movie is hardly feature length, it’s only an hour and a quarter. And yet watching it made me feel as if years of my life passed. What year is it now?
Billy: An unknowable number of hands out of ten
Manos shouldn’t be nearly as harshly judged as it has been in the past. It’s an inventive work of an amateur who had no right making movies, but tried his damndest. It’s more than I’ve ever done and I would totally take a Manos: The Hands of Fate comic book series. It needs an update and a more skilled hand to update the core of its ideas, but it’s got the core. Truly evil beings are always locked away. It seems to me that Manos: The Hands of Fate as a film itself is one of those cursed objects. The fact that the Master, as a character, is contained within the unwatchable production quality of Manos is perfect. He’s the anomaly, something cosmically horrific contained within the grain of the film. He does not belong here. Release him, and all will suffer.
Insha: Fifty-three hands out of ten
As I said before, I’m explicit, gross human garbage for terrible films. For this era of awful movies, I think this one deserves more credit than it usually gets. Harold P. Warren put his faith (and probably bank account) in something that he believed in, and it very much shows where and how he went wrong. He’s the Tommy Wiseau of his time. I’m pleased that this film found cult status among the people who’ve grown to appreciate it. It’s not as bad as other movies I’ve seen. I mean, has anyone seen Robot Monster (1953)? You haven’t dived into the basket of terrible movies until you see terrible see that. Still good though.
Amelia: One hand out of ten
This gets a one out of ten from me based on Torgo and Torgo alone. I like his hand staff. That is all I like in this, what I will call for lack of a better term, “movie”. It’s just so unbelievably dull. There can be a sort of joy to watching a good-bad movie, especially with horror. But there’s no joy in Manos: The Hands of Fate. And I’m sure the twenty second loop of piano music that’s heard throughout will greet me at the gates of Hell.