OK, little change of plans. I just looked at my dashboard and noticed I’m about to publish my six-hundred sixty-sixth post. Not review. Post. Now, I’m not superstitious or anything, not by a long shot, but I thought something truly weird would be fitting for the occasion. We’ll go back to the fifties sci-fi later.
All righty. Onward. *sheepish chuckle*
Bad movies seem to find Taking Up Room. I don’t know why. They just do. In this case, however, the bad movie found my son first (And we saw the Chris Stuckmann review).
Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, I bring you the 1966 indie, Manos: The Hands of Fate. And when I say this puppy is weird, I mean weird. Oh, just wait. It’s supposed to be a horror film, but it’s too lame and inept to be scary and not bad in a funny way.
The badness comes at us from the get-go. We see a family, husband Mike (Harold P. Warren), wife Margaret (Diane Mahree), their daughter, Debbie (Jackey Neyman-Jones) and their poodle driving to their vacation spot, and they stop so Debbie can get into the front seat. With a merry round of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” they’re off again.
Only problem is, we can’t see Margaret’s face for pretty much the entire scene. We just see the back of her head. Even when they’re stopped by a state trooper about a busted tail light, that’s all we see. And we hear Margaret’s disembodied voice as they drive past farmland with knockoff Donna Summer music playing over the scene.
Then we cut to a couple making out and looking at the camera. Yeah. Making out and looking at the camera. The whole scene. The cardinal rule of film acting is Never Ever Look At the Camera. The one exception is fourth wall-breaking, but Manos isn’t that type of movie.
I’m going to echo what I said in my review of Killer Piñata: Abandon all hope, all ye who continue reading, because it only gets worse from here. Ye have been warned.
That little family we opened the movie with? They’re still lost. They thought they saw the sign for their vacation lodge, but it’s nowhere in sight. Instead, they decide to ask directions from a ticky guy who’s leering at them from a window and who looks exactly like Vincent Van Gogh.
Nothing good can come of this, folks. Just say no. Margaret seems to know this, because the first time we really see her face she’s got a half-hearted deer-in-headlights look.
Van Gogh Guy’s name is Torgo (John Reynolds), and he’s the caretaker of the property for the Master, whoever that is. He doesn’t think Cathy will be welcome. And there’s no way out, so the family decides to spend the night.
Torgo can’t walk for pennies. His knees look like they’ve got pillows strapped to them, but he gamely totters out for the family’s luggage.
However, he’s got nothing on the inside of the house, where there are hand sculptures everywhere and a painting that can only be presumed to be of the Master. He looks like a cross between Freddie Mercury and Dorian Gray. Torgo says the Master has left this world, but he likes the family and is with them always.
Darned right the Master (Tom Neyman) is with them always. He’s asleep on a stone slab in the backyard, surrounded by comatose women leaning on pillars. Our little family has walked into a cult. It’s not clear what these cultists do when they’re happy beyond praying to some deity named Manos, but when they’re not happy they have slap fights and set people’s hands on fire. Including Torgo, who somehow gains the power of movement and runs off into the night, waving his flaming stump of an arm.
Do I even have to say what happens to our poor, hapless family? Meh, OK. Mike gets knocked unconscious and tied to a tree, where one of the women nuzzles him and then slaps him for not returning her affections. Seriously, lady, cut the guy a little slack. He is out like a light, after all.
Once Mike comes to, he runs to get Margaret and Debbie so they can all make a break for it. And that state trooper is still out in the night somewhere. One would think all the mysterious sounds would make him curious, but he’s too distracted by a certain couple from earlier.
This movie is only an hour plus change long, but it feels so much longer. And believe it or not, I’m holding back. It. Is. Awful. Clunky dialogue. The acting is horrible, with even worse ADR. Debbie sounds like a middle-aged woman. There are voiceovers where there shouldn’t be voiceovers, continuity problems, and bad angles galore. The actors constantly upstage each other. Like when the family stops in the opening minutes: Would it have killed the filmmakers to shoot from the front of the car instead of at the back of Margaret’s head? Nope. Oh, and a certain climactic scene goes out of focus.
Manos’s making-of story is way more interesting than the movie itself. It was filmed in and around El Paso, Texas, using locals in many of the roles, and it all came about because of a bet. Fertilizer salesman Harold P. Warren was talking with a screenwriter, Stirling Silliphant in an El Paso coffee shop, and bragged that moviemaking was easy.
Legend has it Warren outlined Manos’s entire story on napkins, but seeing as the movie doesn’t have all that much plot, it probably didn’t take too many of them. Warren not only wrote the screenplay for Manos, but directed and starred in it, using $19,000 given to him by family and friends.
Mr. Warren was an old hand at local theater, and his thespian buddies stepped in to help. One of them, Tom Neyman, better known as The Master, was especially active, building props and costumes. He made John Reynolds, whose Torgo was supposed to be half-satyr, homemade prosthetics out of coathangers and foam. They didn’t work.
Speaking of John Reynolds, he’s become a cult figure in his own right. Some think he got addicted to perscription drugs because of his satyr prosthetics, which he actually didn’t. They were just uncomfortable. Surviving cast members generally agree that he was a fun guy, but also high as a kite on LSD during filming. Sadly, Reynolds, who suffered from depression, committed suicide a month before the film released. He was only twenty-five.
In the years since Manos came out, its infamy has only grown, and while it’s considered one of the worst movies ever made, surviving cast members have gotten a lot of fun out of it. One of them, Jackey Neyman-Jones, who played Debbie in the film, regularly gives interviews and writes about her experiences. She always speaks fondly of her dad, Tom Neyman, who passed away in 2016.
If anyone has the misfortune to see Manos: The Hands Of Fate, I’d highly recommend the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 version because it makes everything so much better. RiffTrax isn’t too shabby, either. Having some really chatty friends along for the ride would help too, not to mention sweets to soften the badness. Trust me on this one, because Manos is soul-suckingly boring otherwise, even if there’s fun to be had.
A new Reading Rarity is on the way, and today’s irony will continue. Put it this way: A movie like Manos makes one feel the need for Jesus. Cryptic? Yep. Details tomorrow…
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