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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.

MST3K: Gamera vs. Zigra

Posted by Josh Samford On August - 26 - 2011

MST3K: Gamera vs. Zigra (1991)
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 out the crew take on their very last Gamera film! The giant turtle doesn’t seem interested in going out quietly however, as he invites along the gigantic water monster Zigra along for the ride! The plot revolves around Zigra, the aforementioned water-based creature from outer space who looks to enslave all of mankind. Zigra has the ability to hypnotize any creature it comes in contact with and after kidnapping a female astronaut from the moon, the monster heads to the earth and looks to use this brainwashed young woman in order to further his goals of world domination. While this is going on, a group of kids based in a water park that best resembles Seaworld are soon on the case and look to put an end to Zigra’s nefarious plans! Their secret weapon? The one and only Gamera, friend to all children!

The Review
This review marks our final foray into the world of MST3K vs Gamera, the box set from Shout! Factory that celebrates the brilliant gatherings between these two parties. As has been previously discussed in these reviews (starting with Gamera, then followed by Gamera vs. Barugon, Gamera vs. Gaos, Gamera vs. Guiron and finally our film today), the history that Mystery Science Theater shares with this gigantic turtle is actually quite immense. The beast has been around since the inception of MST3K as a show and has lead to some of the most memorable moments in this show’s history. Who could forget the Gamera theme song? Or Gamera spinning on that bar like an Olympic athlete in the show’s opening? Gamera vs. Zigra is treated as a celebration in this final episode, as the cast and crew make it a point to announce that it would be their final Gamera episode (something they are very excited about!), and they go out on top. Unfortunately, Gamera vs. Zigra is most certainly another lackluster Gamera outing.

The Gamera series, as it evolved, seemed to continue in a spiral (either for the positive or negative, depending on your point of view) into a world of progressive strangeness. Each subsequent film after Gamera vs. Gaos seemed to find director Yuasa taking the series into as strange of waters as he could. During Gamera vs. Gaos when you saw the giant blood-filled bird feeder make its appearance, you knew you weren’t dealing with a series concerned with following the rules of conventional filmmaking. At least this time, as opposed to the situation with Gamera vs. Guiron, Yuasa decided to keep this movie based on planet earth. However, in placing his film around a Seaworld-esque location Yuasa does manage to craft a rather wacky childlike feeling for the majority of the picture. Gamera has long been said to be a series dominated by a fanbase of children, and the setting for Gamera vs. Zigra reinforces this feeling. It’s as if the entire world that Gamera lives in is a theme park just waiting to be wrecked. Like most Gamera titles though, there is more fixation on the children characters than there is on explosive rubber suited monster action. As always though, the final act doesn’t let us down.

The kids are, as always, the focus here and these characters are every bit as annoying as the other children that have popped up in these American distributions. It’s funny that even though the child actors are dubbed over completely, we still get the idea that they can’t act. Although I’m sure it’s slightly more tolerable in the Japanese language, the performances from the children (especially the smallest child) show no kind of emotional reaction to anything going on around them. The older child of the two that we are saddled with through the majority of the picture is actually dubbed over as “Kenny”, which is the same name given to the young boy from the original Gamera. Despite this fact, I never picked up on any references made towards that original character and when Gamera first shows up it doesn’t turn out to be a reunion. Sure, Gamera does ultimately go pretty far out of his way to save these kids throughout the movie, but the last time we saw him he actually traveled to a distant planet for two lone earth kids that he most certainly did not know!

Zigra as a villain is a bit weak, in my opinion. Sure, he gives Gamera a hard time for most of the picture but all bad guys in these movies do that! Honestly though, a fish monster? Did the Gamera series really need this? I do like the fact that he is able to brainwash his enemies and sends human beings to do his bidding, but overall he’s the sort of character that you expect Gamera to crush quite easily. As we watch Gamera going into battle with this oversized Goblin Shark, we as an audience expect Gamera to take him and suplex this fish-monster into a mountain. While the overall design is well done and the plot is handled well enough that I found myself engaged by the back and forth plotting of Zigra, the lack of monster mayhem really hurts the movie. Thankfully we have the MST3K crew along for the ride providing some really fun commentary. Although their work isn’t as on-point as it was in the Guiron episode, this is another fine outing for the guys (or guy and robot, as it were).

The Conclusion
Sure, it doesn’t go out with a bang, but it is a fun way to end a fantastic series. The episode features a watchable monster movie and many great laughs. Certainly worth a look and just another reason (of many) to pick up this fine collection. A three out of five, check it out!

Trailers From Hell Vol. 2

Posted by Josh Samford On June - 20 - 2011

Trailer From Hell Vol. 2 (2011)
Director: Not Available
Writers: Not Available
Starring: Bryan Trenchard Smith, Joe Dante, Guillermo Del Toro and many more.

The Review

Trailers From Hell, which is based off of the website of the same name, has become a true fixture in the film geek community. The concept, in a commercial form, seems even more profitable than other “grindhouse” trailer compilations such as the 42nd St. Forever films, so it was only a matter of time before the DVD’s started to hit the market. Although this DVD might not catch the eye of passive movie-go’ers, for film enthusiasts and all around geeks this might prove to be too entertaining a prospect to pass on. The premise is simple. You take some of the most creative genre-film directors and commentators in the business and you get them to offer commentary over trailers for some of their favorite b-pictures. So, there is no true “plot synopsis” on this disc other than to say that several great minds sit around and talk to the camera about movies that they have loved from their past. This disc isn’t a general movie, obviously, so it’s difficult to critique it as a whole so I’ll glance over some of the most engaging moments from the one hour long set.

The very first director to introduce a title on this set may turn out to be one of my favorites, as we get Bryan Trenchard Smith commenting on both The Devil Ship Pirates and The Stranglers of Bombay. He is everyone’s favorite Australian genre-movie filmmaker and he is also well spoken and almost always interesting. With The Devil Ship Pirates he has a lot of fun, as he points out the Napoleonic ships used in a movie about the Spanish Armada, but he always remains affectionate. The Stranglers of Bombay, the second of Smith’s choices on the set, was another Hammer produced title (along with The Devil Ship Pirates) and Smith goes into a bit of background on the film and its dealings with the BBFC due to its rather grizzly material. He also expounds on the film and its dealing with the very real Indian cult The Thuggee which were the main inspiration for the strange natives in Steven Spielberg’s The Temple of Doom. Bryan Trenchard Smith, who is easily one of the most relaxed and outgoing filmmakers out there and whom will gladly speak with his fans as if they were friends, seems to be as caring about cinema here as he presents himself outside of the camera’s gaze.

Ernest Dickerson (Dexter and Juice) covers The Quartermass Experiment (aka The Creeping Unknown within the US market). Dickerson’s presentation is similar to a very detailed review, which is a bit different from most on the set and is actually impressive since he manages to elucidate his points very clear with such a small amount of time. Dickerson, who is a director I wouldn’t have known straight off the top of my head, is well spoken and turned out to be one of my favorite speakers on the set.

Guillermo Del Toro, who is far from being an obscure choice, presents Dario Argento’s Deep Red in both the English language as well as a special Spanish version. The way that Del Toro describes his love for both Deep Red and Argento is incredibly passionate. In the short amount of time that he talks, he makes some very thoughtful remarks on Dario Argento as a director and what precisely made him special as a filmmaker. The logical versus the lyrical is discussed and Del Toro makes some of his most thoughtful remarks while discussing Argento’s use of violence in comparison to childlike and soft visuals and how that tends to create something bizarre. Del Toro also presents the 1957 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame which is a classic piece of horror that featured Anthony Quinn in the lead role. A sentimental favorite for the filmmaker, he has more fun with less overt praise for the title.

Joe Dante, the brilliant director who never seems to hold back during any speaking engagements, has fun whilst giving his interviews/commentaries. He first covers Donovan’s Brain and, the same with the rest of the gentleman here, he is well spoken and goes into a lot of the background information for the film. Including amongst his dialogue, he talks about its influence on many aspects of the general “mad doctor playing with brain surgery” concept that has been played with time and time again. The second feature that he discusses is The Invisible Ghost which featured Bela Lugosi on his downslide. The film seems like fun and although Dante generally razzes it for the majority of the trailer, he seems knowledgeable about its production and has a true affection for it and the Monogram Pictures studio that produced it. Jack Hill, who has to be everyone’s favorite true “grindhouse” film director, gives an introduction and discussion on his very own second film: Pit Stop. If anyone had information on this picture, it would be him. Hill describes it as potentially one of his best films and certainly one of his favorites, despite it never being given the chance to catch on with an audience. It’s a film about figure-8 racing and features Hill’s go-to actor Sid Haig. A film I never would have pictured coming from the early work of Jack Hill, it’s a title that jumped right up my personal “to watch” pile.

That really seems to be one of the best features of a compilation such as this one. Sure, you can youtube trailers for hour after hour and come up with some pretty strange titles, but when you hear John Landis describe his affection for Gorgo (a British kaiju film of all things) your enthusiasm jumps up several additional notches. The background information provided via the commentaries also gives insight into the context and history of these films, so not only is your interest piqued after watching this DVD but there is a strange connection now between you and any one of these titles.

The Conclusion
There are so many others on this set and so many other outrageous films. Josh Olson (Infested, A History of Violence), Larry Karazweski (Ed Wood, The People Vs. Larry Flynt), Lloyd Kauffman (The Toxic Avenger, Tromeo & Juliet), Mick Garris (The Stand, Riding the Bullet), Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary 1, 2), Michael Peyser (Hackers, SLC! Punk) and of course the godfather of b-cinema Roger Corman pops up on the disc. Corman’s very own Little Shop of Horrors is also included on the Shout! Factory DVD as a supplementary feature for the first time ever in widescreen. For what it is, I have to say I enjoyed this compilation. It’s very simple stuff and it drew me in as a viewer. I give it a solid four out of five.

Arrow Video to release The Bird With the Crystal Plumage

Posted by Josh Samford On November - 14 - 2010

Although this isn’t breaking news and it has already been mentioned on the forums, I stumbled across this amazing DVD cover art from this future release and I thought I would share it. Arrow Video plans on releasing Dario Argento’s beloved The Bird With the Crystal Plumage some time in 2011. Simply seeing this artwork has me fairly excited!


UPDATE: Also coming from Arrow Video in the second quarter of 2011, the recently reviewed Cat O’ Nine Tails! Once again, just have a look at that beautiful artwork!

Roger Corman Cult Classic Releases!

Posted by Josh Samford On March - 26 - 2010
No name in the cinematic phone book quite epitomizes the word American Cult quite like that of Roger Corman. The man has produced a true cacophony of cheaply made but well loved works that have established themselves throughout the cinematic landscape, and the good people at Shout Factory are doing the world a service and re-releasing a good number of films from his catalog. You have probably already heard about this, as the company has been heavily promoting their new Roger Corman Cult Classic series, but we now have some release information!

First up is The Ramones vehicle Rock & Roll High School which is celebrating it’s 30th anniversary with a special edition DVD and Bluray release! The special features are listed as such:
* New Anamorphic Widescreen Transfer (1.85:1)
* Special Introduction And “Thank You” From Director Allan Arkush
* Audio Commentary With Director Allan Arkush, Producer Mike Finnell And Screenwriter Richard Whitley
* Audio Commentary With Roger Corman And Dey Young
* New Audio Commentary With Director Allan Arkush, P.J. Soles And Clint * Howard
* Back To School: A Retrospective Including All-New Interviews With Allan Arkush, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Dey Young, Marky Ramone And More . . .
* Staying After Class: A Roundtable Interview With P.J. Soles, Vincent Van Patten And Dey Young
* Interview With Roger Corman Conducted By Leonard Maltin
* New Interview With Director Allan Arkush Including A Look At Rare, Behind-The-Scenes Stills From His Personal Collection
* Audio Outtakes From The Roxy – Audio Recording Of The Ramones Shooting The Final Scene
* Original Radio Ads And TV Spots
* Original Theatrical Trailer
* Original Theatrical Trailer With Commentary By writer/director/actor Eli Roth Courtesy Of Trailers from Hell.
* Additional Roger Corman Trailers
* And more TBA!



Also being released on DVD is the Punk rock study from Penelope Spheeris, Suburbia. Well regarded, this should turn out to be a worthy purchase as well! Special features look like so:

* New Anamorphic Widescreen Transfer (1.85:1)

* Audio Commentary With Director Penelope Spheeris

* Audio Commentary With Producer Bert Dragin And Cast Members Jennifer Clay And Christina Beck

* Still Gallery

* Trailers


Keep your eyes peeled to Varied Celluloid, as we’ll be covering quite a few films from the Roger Corman Cult Classics series!




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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.