MST3K: Manos – The Hands of Fate | Varied Celluloid

MST3K: Manos – The Hands of Fate

Posted by Josh Samford On August - 30 - 2011

MST3K: Manos: The Hands of Fate (1993)
Starring: Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy.



The Plot: Joel Robinson and his robotic friends Crow and Tom Servo are stuck in outer space aboard the Satellite of Love where they are forced, by the evil Dr. Forrester, to watch very bad movies. The crew try to make the most of the flicks that are presented to them by continually cracking jokes while the movies play on for the audience at home. This time it seems that Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank have chose a movie so bad that even THEY feel rotten about sending it! The movie is Manos: The Hands of Fate, an insufferable picture that details a “frightening” roadtrip through the midwest as we watch a young family who stop off at a spooky little hotel. When they arrive they meet Torgo, who watches over the establishment while the master is away and before long all three (father, mother and daughter) are fending off a satanic cult lead by “The Master” who has a strange obsession with hands.

The Review
Where does one start with Manos: The Hands of Fate? It could very well be the most well known discovery of Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s entire run, and it is a movie that almost defies all conventional description. Many films lay claim to the title of being the “worst movie” ever made and there is no clear consensus for what the definitive number one of all time will ever be, but if you were to ask an audience of b-movie fans who are “in the know”, I have no doubt that on almost every list you would see Manos: The Hands of Fate pop up. Cornering every possible facet that appropriately titles a movie as being “bad”, Manos is the sort of flick that the phrase “so bad, it’s good” was invented to describe. It has a lot of aspects to it that make for a good time amongst b-movie fans, but at the same time it is probably the most dreadfully slow piece of work you will likely ever stumble upon. A nightmarish piece of celluloid, Shout! Factory has re-released the movie in a special 2-Disc collection that gives a new look at an old classic and paints a fresh view at both what this episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 meant at the time that it was released and it also helps feed the need for more information on the original film itself.

The claim to fame that Manos has is its title as the “worst movie ever made.” Yet, why do people feel this way about Manos? Is it really that bad? The short and sweet answer to that is: yes, yes indeed it is. Poor in every possible aesthetic value, Manos puts in overtime to assure that not one person possibly has fun or is entertained by its presence. From every possible angle you look at it, Manos is a poor movie. The cinematography is dreadful as the camera consistently zooms in and out of focus without any rhyme or reason. The framing is always off the mark and you’re never exactly sure where the focus should actually be. The colors used in the film are often nauseatingly contradictory and although the filmmakers did find certain sets that actually come across as halfway decent (I’ll get to the few positives a little later on), for the most part the movie just looks really bad. The acting is all of the amateur variety, which is forgivable in some circumstances but in this we aren’t even able to accurately judge the performances due to the poor dubbing. It seems that the film was either shot with no sound or with very poor microphones, because all of the audio looks to have been added after the fact. So, throughout the film the characters speak out of sync at all times or have audio added on top in scenes where they don’t actually open their mouths. Yep, Manos definitely pushes the limits when it comes to tremendously awful cinema.

So, who do we blame in a situation like this? Well, apparently you blame fertilizer salesman Harold Warren. A small figure in the El Paso theater scene, from most sources it seems as if he financed Manos on a dare but the circumstances behind the situation aren’t readily apparent. However, from the interviews supplied on this disc, it does seem that he was a filmmaker with delusions of grandeur. In the tradition of Ed Wood, he seemed like a filmmaker who anticipated many great things from his small film but ultimately his own self assured positivity kept him in denial despite his very apparent lack of knowledge when it came to creating his own motion picture. Hearing horror stories about the debut of the film, which even saw the mayor of El Paso showing up at the screening, shows the kind of local notoriety the feature had taken on likely due to Warren’s self aggrandizing. Still, the feature kind of stands out as a “how not to” for any would-be filmmaker who sits down to watch it. From the atrocious editing, which segues into strange valleys that have nothing to do with the main plot (such as a police officer who continually breaks up a young couple who are making out on the side of the road), to the dreadful script, Manos definitely holds itself up high on any list of really bad movies.

Still, for all of the horror, I won’t be that guy who stands on a podium to point my finger and laugh. These people did their best and that’s more than a lot of us do. Also, to be quite honest there are some things within Manos that almost work. The painting of “The Master” that is used throughout the film truly is legitimately creepy and had the filmmakers been a little more subtle, they could have built a creepy atmosphere off of that. The character of Torgo unfortunately kills any attempts at subtlety, but even he has some interesting traits. His wardrobe is great for this type of character and the guy looks and acts genuinely creepy. If he had been reigned in a bit and been a little less over the top… who knows? “The Master” too kind-of works. His robe, which he shows off to no end (as Joel and the bots say in unison after he displays it for the millionth time: “Seen it!”), is actually very well made. The hands in red on his black uniform is quite slick and the makeup on the actor really works. Yet, this for me basically marks the end of great things to talk about when it comes to Manos: The Hands of Fate. It is a title that suffers from one of the worst features any movie can, and that is “boredom”. Similar to the Hamlet episode, Joel and the bots have to fight hard to entertain but somehow they ultimately save this movie from itself, which is the polar opposite of what happened with Hamlet. When there is absolutely nothing left to riff on this time out, the guys ultimately make a joke out of the fact that there’s pretty much nothing left to riff on! Long stretches of boredom are expected during any viewing of Manos, but with the MST3K crew around thankfully they make everything work.


The Conclusion
It’s one of those episodes you really have to recommend to all MST3K fans. It’s a title that they introduced to the world and made movie history while doing so. The quality of the riffing and host segments are through-the-roof and this 2-Disc set from Shout! Factory is absolutely amazing. Features include Manos without commentary, an interview segment with the cast and crew reflecting on how the Manos episode came about, a intriguing documentary on the creation of Manos and much more. I think if you’re looking for a first step into the world of Mystery Science Theater 3000, you probably can’t go wrong here. I give it the highest rating we have: a 5 out of 5.




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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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