Unwatchable #23: “Manos: The Hands of Fate”

Your fearless – and quite possibly senseless – movie janitor is watching every movie on the IMDb Bottom 100 list. Join us now for another installment of Unwatchable.

If you’ve been following the Unwatchable chronicles, lo these many years, you’re familiar with an issue I’ve encountered more than a few times in the course of my very important work. Many of the entries on the IMDb Bottom 100 list were also featured on the robots-chuckling-at-bad-movies show Mystery Science Theater 3000, which creates a sort of chicken-and-the-egg condundrum. Did people know these movies were terrible before they appeared on MST3K, or did the MST3K seal of disapproval convince IMDb users to vote films into the Bottom 100 that never would have made it otherwise? In most cases, I believe the latter to be true, and there’s no more open-and-shut case than Manos: The Hands of Fate, the long-forgotten 1966 horror movie that became the basis of perhaps the most famous Mystery Science Theater episode of all.

There can’t be any dispute about the fact that MST3K is solely responsible for the elevation of Manos to cult status as one of the worst movies ever made, mainly because almost nobody had seen the movie before the ‘bots got their hands on it. And since that particular episode is so well-known and beloved, it seems pointless for me to attempt any kind of review of Manos. Although I watched the non-MST3K version in preparation for this entry, I have seen the MST3K episode, so I know all the best jokes have already been taken. I mean, how can I top “Every frame of this movie looks like someone’s last known photograph”?

I could use this space to tell you the bizarre tale of the making of the film, its disastrous premiere in El Paso, and the fate of its cast of crew, but those stories have been told many times, most notably by Richard Brandt in the fanzine Mimosa and Dalton Ross in Entertainment Weekly. (Note that Ross claims Manos is ranked #1 on the IMDb Bottom 100 list. While that’s undoubtedly true sometimes, remember that the list is ever-changing based on user votes, which is why it appears at #23 here.) Some enterprising souls even made a 30-minute documentary on Manos called Hotel Torgo, in which Brandt (billed as a “Manos historian”) and sole surviving cast and crew member Bernie Rosemblum tell behind-the-scenes stories and visit the remains of the sets.

So maybe I should use the rest of this entry to discuss the other, less-heralded films of fertilizer-salesman-turned-auteur Hal Warren. Sadly, however, there aren’t any. This leaves me at something of a loss. Sure, I could tell you all about the horrible dubbing, out-of-focus camera work, and ear-searing free-jazz score. Of course, I’d be delighted to describe the 10-minute catfight in loving detail, and attempt to explain the inexplicably disturbing Torgo, and ponder the significance of the young couple found making out in their car on the roadside, any time of the day or night. But it’s been done. Really, all I can do is give you the opportunity to see it for yourself, which is easily done, as YouTube has both the untainted original and the MST3K version available for viewing. Choose whichever you prefer. I won’t judge.

Previously on Unwatchable:

24. Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow
25. Santa Claus
26. Going Overboard
27. Bottoms Up
28. Seven Mummies

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