PURE TERROR MONTH: Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)

How have we taken so long to get this movie on to this website?

Since this movie was discovered by Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1993 — which you can hear The Mads discuss on our podcast — this film has been proclaimed the worst movie ever made.

Please. I’ve seen way worse films.

In fact, Becca and I bonded over the fact that we share a strange adoration for this movie, which seems to exist in its own unique universe that doesn’t follow the laws of man.

This is a movie that was created as a bet. You read that correctly.

El Paso, Texas is where Harold Warren, an insurance and fertilizer salesman, and screenwriter Stirling Silliphant — who wrote the movie version of In the Heat of the Night and, of course, Over the Top — made a bet in a coffee shop that Warren could make his own horror movie all by himself. To be fair, Warren had done some acting himself and even appeared on Silliphant’s TV show Route 66.

Not only did Warren make that movie, he had the scent of auteur all over himself, writing, producing and even starring in the resulting movie along with theater actors Tom Neyman and John Reynolds.

Nobody in the crew had any experience making a movie. They only had $19,000 in their budget. And the result was a movie that opened to little fanfare at the Capri Theater in El Paso, where one limo drove each person one at a time, repeating the same loop, and it died except for some drive-ins in West Texas and New Mexico.

If Warren had been smart enough to put a copyright on his film, the story would have ended there. But he wasn’t. And he didn’t. So here we are.

As you can hear in the link above, Frank Conniff found Manos while looking through a box of movies for the show Mystery Science Theater 3000. The film had been playing on TV for some years — as cheap as $20 for a rental — and was available from public domain suppliers for some time. Oh you internet era readers, never having to buy films sight unseen from mail order.

Conniff would go on to say that Manos “seemed like it was maybe a crime against humanity, but you couldn’t be sure” and “has an atmosphere, a vibe” that made it appropriate for the show.”

While on vacation near El Paso, Texas, Michael, Margaret, their young daughter Debbie and their dog, Peppy — all dubbed like they’re in an Italian movie — are looking for the Valley Lodge. They’re lost and the film takes forever to find them, spending nearly nine minutes on footage of driving and a teenage couple making out and drinking.

The family finally finds a house in the middle of nowhere, which is watched over by Torgo, a satyr that moves at a glacial pace for most of the film. He was played by John Reynolds, who sadly committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with a shotgun a month before the film played in his hometown. He was on LSD for most of the filming of Manos.

For some reason, the family stays the night, despite the Satanic portrait of the master and his dog with glowing eyes. They even decide to stay after Peppy the dog is killed by unseen forces and Torgo begins trying to put the make on Margaret.

Eventually, we meet the Master and his many brides as they sleep around a gigantic fire. They awaken and demand that Michael be sacrificed to their god named Manos. At this point, you may look up the fact that manos is Spanish for hands, meaning that the title of this film could be Hands: The Hands of Fate.

While all that’s happening, The Master decides to sacrifice Torgo and his first wife too. There are numerous catfights before the family escapes into the desert night, which makes no sense as this movie is both shot night for day and day for night.

When we return to the house, Michael has now taken on Torgo’s role and his wife and daughter now belong to The Master.

Often, people talk about just how hard it is to make an HP Lovecraft film. They’ve probably never seen this movie, a film that has no horizon lines, that always takes place in a world where it’s either too bright to be night or too dark to be daytime, as people say inane things and move strangely and women wear diaphanous gowns and men have smocks with giant red hands on them.

This is a movie that promises “A cult of weird, horrible people who gather beautiful women only to deface them with a burning hand!” and then makes the bold statement — nay it’s a command — “No one seated the last 10 minutes! We defy you to guess the ending… and ask you not to divulge it!”

It lives up to every bit of that hyperbole.

Despite the film’s negative reception, Harold Warren was so proud of it that he began wearing the Master’s robe every Halloween. His son now carries on the tradition. Not bad for a film where the only people who got paid were Debbie (Jackey Neyman Jones) who got a bicycle and the Doberman who got a bag of dog food. What about Peppy?

You can watch this on Tubi and the Internet Archive if you don’t have the PURE TERROR boxed set.

There’s also a sequel, called Manos Returns, that you can see the trailer for right here.

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