BluRay/DVD Reviews

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: ‘MANOS’ – THE HANDS OF FATE

By • May 26th, 2012 •

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The story is just too perfect: A fertilizer salesman makes a bet with a friend that he can make a movie, and the result is one of the worst movies in existence. The salesman in question was Harold P. Warren, and the movie was MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE. Armed with a $19,000 budget and a cast made up of his friends, the odds were not stacked in the favor of Warren’s endeavor being anything short of a disaster. To add to that, it was filmed entirely on a spring-wound Bell and Howell 16mm camera that could only shoot about 30 seconds of film at a time and had no way of recording sound, which means all of the dialogue was dubbed in later.

The story involves a family on their way to a vacation spot getting lost at a mysterious lodge run by Torgo, a servant of a seemingly-immortal man known as ‘The Master’, who has a harem of wives in the lot outside the lodge. The poor, muddled dubbing, bizarre jazzy score, bad composition, and often out-of-focus shots give the movie an eerie dissonance, as if you’re watching a weird horror movie on qualudes. To add to the already disquieting nature of the film, there’re several revolting scenes, including Torgo awkwardly fondling the wife, and the family’s young daughter being shown as part of The Master’s harem at the end of the movie. There are also two sequences, one of them six minutes in length, that are literally shots of driving with no dialogue and only music on the soundtrack.

After a disastrous gala premiere that Warren could only afford one limousine for (it would pick up four actors, take them to the theater, loop back, and pick up more), MANOS vanished into obscurity for decades, unseen except in the dead of night as part of really cheap syndication packages.

In 1993, 27 years after it’s premiere showing, MANOS resurfaced, going from an obscure cheapie no-one would ever bother watching to one of the most recognized bad movies of all time. You have MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 (MST3K for short) to thank for that. To give a brief introduction, MST3K is a show about a man trapped in space with two robots, forced by a mad scientist to watch bad movies as experiments. Silhouetted against the theater screen, the three captives riff to their heart’s content. Of the almost 200 movies that MST3K featured in it’s eleven year history, there isn’t an episode as fondly remembered or discussed as MANOS. Strange, because even with Joel and the bots there to make fun of it, MANOS is still kind of a tough sit, and the writers of the show knew this all too well, having had to watch it a total of seven times in order to come up with enough jokes to fill the episode. It gets to the point where the mad scientists forcing Joel and the bots to watch the movie take turns apologizing for sending them such a bad movie. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic episode, but certainly not the kind of thing you’d show someone to introduce them to the show with.

MST3K’s treatment of MANOS has had a DVD release before (now out of print), but Shout Factory has worked their usual magic and come up with a truly spectacular package for fans. Serving as a fantastic guide as to how MANOS went from obscurity to infamy, the two disc edition includes not only the MST3K episode, but the full uncut MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE movie for the truly brave. The supplements are flawless, with the long-awaited half-hour documentary HOTEL TORGO serving as the showcase feature. In it, Bernie Rosenblum, the only cast member anyone could track down, is interviewed about his experiences making the film, visits the still-standing lodge set from MANOS, now decrepit and covered from floor to ceiling in graffiti, and meets with attendees at a screening of the movie at the University of El Paso, and is not at all shy about MANOS’ position as ‘the worst movie of all time.’

On the MST3K side of things, we have GROUP THERAPY, a roundtable interview with the writing staff of the show including Joel Hodgeson and Trace Beaulleau as they discuss seeing MANOS for the first time and being awestruck at it’s incompetence. There’s also a cute short film tribute to the ‘mental hygiene’ short films MST3K would often make fun of called JAM HANDY TO THE RESCUE!, which also features an interview with Joel about these shorts and how, with the help of film archivist Rick Prelinger, they made their way onto the show.

This new edition of MANOS is a must-own for fans of MST3K, and continues Shout Factory’s fantastic handling of the show’s license. It may be a tough sit for most, but it’s a testament to the talented folks behind the show that they could make just about anything, no matter how bad it was, not only watchable, but funny as well.

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