By Steve D. Stones
Anyone who proclaims Plan 9 From Outer Space or The Creeping Terror to be one the "worst movies of all time" obviously has never seen this film. In fact, it’s a film that is rarely even discussed in many film encyclopedias, including the Medved brothers’ "The Golden Turkey Awards." That may be because the film is just now surfacing as a cult item in recent years due to it being spoofed on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 television show in the early 1990s. The show has given Manos a whole new generation of cult fans.
An El Paso fertilizer salesman named Harold Warren directed Manos: The Hands of Fate. Warren also served as producer and screenwriter of the film, and cast himself in the role of the husband and father named Mike. Not surprisingly, Warren never went on to make or act in another full-length feature film. His role in Manos seems a bit out of place because the woman who plays his wife in the film, Diane Mahree, looks old enough to be his daughter.
The film opens with Warren and family sitting in a convertible on the side of the road contemplating where to go. They are on a family vacation and lost somewhere in the Texas countryside. To alleviate the stress of being lost, they begin to sing: "Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream . . ." This reminds me of the times I’ve been to Disneyland with my family and they force me to ride the "It’s a small world" ride. By the time I get off the ride, I want to pull out all my hair from being knocked over the head so many times with the "It’s a small world" song heard in several different languages. A root canal procedure from my dentist would be less painful.
If you haven’t lost interest in the film by now, you may very soon as the opening sequence continues with long and boring panning shots of the family driving in the countryside in all directions. The camera never shows the moving car itself, just shots of the moving countryside. The cinematographer should have been shot for these sequences. After driving all over the place, the family decides to stop at an old worn down shack to ask for directions to the nearest motel. They are greeted by Torgo, played by John Reynolds, who walks funny, carries a charred stick, and looks as if pillows are stuffed in the knees of his pants. Torgo insists, "The Master wouldn’t approve" of the family staying overnight in the shack. He repeats this line over and over again.
We soon discover whom "The Master" is that Torgo keeps referring to as the couple becomes intrigued with a sinister looking painting hanging on the wall near the fireplace. The painting depicts The Master in a black and red robe and an evil looking dog beside him. The family becomes frightened as they hear the sound of howling wolves and barking dogs outside. They soon notice their family poodle is missing. Mike, the father, steps outside to find the poodle, where he finds him lying dead on the ground. Mike picks him up, and the dog is already as rigid as a piece of plywood. Although it may have been unintentional, I found this scene to be very funny. Why an animal would be stiff with rigor mortis so quickly seems very odd to me.
The most effective sequences in the film show The Master and his voluptuous maidens in a Pagan cult ritual. The maidens are said to be the wives of The Master, and they are dressed in see through white gowns that reveal their sexy, curvaceous bodies. Apparently the maidens shop at Victoria’s Secret for their undergarments.
The Master, who looks like singer Freddie Mercury of the British rock group Queen, commands the maidens to sacrifice Debbie, the young child of the family. The maidens cannot agree on this, so they wrestle and fight each other on the desert sand, while slapping and pulling each other’s hair.
When Torgo is placed on the altar of sacrifice to be killed for his disobedience, the camera shows an interesting close up of the maiden’s hands reaching in towards him. The Master forces Torgo’s hand into the ritualistic fire where it severs from his arm as a burning effigy.
Like so many cult films, Manos: The Hands of Fate actually does improve with each viewing, believe it or not. As with other cult films, you may find yourself wanting to take Manos home with you like an ugly lost puppy and nurse it back to health, even if your friends tell you to kick it out into the street and let it die a slow death.
The cult of Manos has been a long time coming, but fans are now beginning to open up to the film and appreciate it for what it is. This sick puppy may take lots of nursing to get it back to health, but if you keep an open mind to it, you may actually find yourself enjoying the film after several viewings, if you first don’t pull out all your hair!!!