"MANOS" THE HANDS OF FATE (1966 - color)
"I am Torgo. I take care of the place while the Master is away."
Should anyone question my dedication to obscure/oddball (my focus isn't so much on "bad" movies as I find the term highly subjective) exploitation films, let me note that I have watched "Manos" the Hands of Fate a good half-dozen or more times just for fun!
This crummy little picture exudes a perverse charm, and I think I know what it is. It's the same thing that draws me to such reported stinkers as Night Fright, Sting of Death, Eegah, Curse of Bigfoot, and Larry Buchanan's Azalea AIP-TV movies (although I should note that even in that questionable field, "Manos" is still bottom rung stuff). The attraction is that someone working out in the middle of nowhere made a movie. All these films play like really ambitious home movies, and as such contain a certain raw energy and charm a studio or hack production simply can't convey.
You see, I reflect what may be the last gasps of the 'monster kid' aesthetic. Pop was a Monster Kid, and introduced my fertile young mind to the wonders of his youth: back-issues of Famous Monsters, obscure monster movies on the tube, etc. I was also blessed enough to be a child of the video era, and have a family that bought a VCR. Thus, my childhood was filled with more old monster movies than Pop could have dreamed of. By the time I was ten, I had already seen more stuff than he had been able to by age of twenty!
The Universal International stuff from the 50s and the AIP's from the same period formed the majority of my cinematic diet. Then there were the Godzilla movies, the Hercules movies, and assorted 60s junk that would occasionally pop up on television. TNT provided most of our warmest memories of the early 90s. Monstervision and 100% Weird late-night blocks molded my brain into the shape it is now. 100% Weird has translated into offerings from Something Weird Video, while my diet of 'monster' movies has grown to include junk from the 30's into the 80s. I've also discovered such wonderful genres as the 'spy' film, the 'beach' cycle, 40's and 50's crime thrillers, Italian space opera, and so much more!
I also have a deep thirst for the hopelessly obscure stuff. Regional drive-in exploitation pictures are my favorite vein to mine.
The 60's stuff speaks to me most loudly, not sure why. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I consumed a LOT of 60's material as I was going through puberty. My early high school years were fuelled by spies, beach parties, and drive-in fare. Bug eyed monsters and go-go girls seemed to swirl around me.
(Maybe it's as simple as the fact that American women were at their most beautiful in the early to mid 1960s. The make-up, the hair styles, the colors, the lack of tattoos and weird piercings, it was the golden age of pulchritude. Most of my best pinup artwork reflects this style.)
I had always wanted to make movies. More and more I find I want to make regional 1960s monster movies. Maybe this is why I so warmly respond to Mars Needs Women, The Yesterday Machine, Death Curse of Tartu, and The Horror of Party Beach. They look like the kind of thing I could make if I got my chance.
"Manos" the Hands of Fate is terrible in every technical way possible. Yet I know that some people got together and made a movie with almost no resources or thanks for their efforts. How can I not respond to that?
(Some of the notes that follow have been revised from my unsold Jabootu/Sleaze Creatures-esque book ODDBALL: The Sensationally Strange Cinema of the 1960s, just so all my hard work on that tome doesn't go to waste. I'm not actually making any less work for myself, because I'm having to type everything out again. This because all I have is a hard copy of the first couple chapters. Anyway, on to our feature presentation....)
Had it not been for Mystery Science Theater 3000, our current subject might have remained unknown to all but the citizens of El Paso, Texas.
Harold P. Warren was a fertilizer salesman (your joke here) who decided to get in on the movie racket. The film he created was a bizarre mess of a movie with awkward dialog, horrible camera work/editing/etc. and a weird hand fetish ("Manos" in fact, is Spanish for "Hands").
All this was filmed with a single silent 16mm camera that could only get 30 seconds of film at a time, and under scant lighting as well (which was enough to attract several Texas-sized moths we'll be seeing). Every voice is reported to be provided by just four (some say three!) people. A troubled production from the start, even the cast and crew poked fun at the project, calling it "Mangos" Cans of Fruit.
Warren, for his part, wrote, produced, directed, and starred in the film. I'd say he was one of the few who got to dub their own voice, as well.
First thing we notice is how grainy our feature presentation is, which is to be expected from a 16mm print blown up to 35 (and then duped to 16, which is what I believe the source print to be). Until just recently, this was the best quality the film could be seen in. And, truth be told, it fits the flick perfectly.
We open on the old suburban-family-on-vacation gambit. Present in a nice big convertible is Mike (Mr. Warren himself, ladies and gentlemen), his attractive wife Margaret, and their little daughter Debbie. Also along for the trip is the little black poodle "Pepe" who has trouble sitting still. I'm sure that, had the mutt not been important to the script, Warren would have nixed the dog. Then again, the dog gives Hal's frustrated line reads at least have some justification besides seeing his potential new career in showbiz circling the drain.
The supposedly happy family is trying to find their way to Valley Lodge. I say supposedly because when we first meet them, it isn't under the best conditions. They're running late and are almost lost, and are thus a tad testy. Debbie is cold, Margaret worried they won't make it, and Mike is just tired. Either to eat up some running time (one of the movie's plus points is that it runs around 70 minutes) or to establish something that has happened behind the scenes, a cop pulls Mike over and warns him his tail light is out (in a few shots later, we'll see the tail light is, indeed, out, so the scene could have been included to cover for this).
Mike is let go with a warning to get it fixed, then continues on his way. Finding a sign pointing to the Valley Lodge, Mike turns off and ends up driving down a long winding road into the Twilight Zone.
We hear a lounge singer and I think this is meant to be coming from the radio. One assumes this is where the credits were supposed to be, since we earlier got a title card. We watch what looks like vacation footage of the fields-through-the-window-of-a-moving-car variety. It's exactly the kind of footage you risk getting ahold of if you buy a box of old 8mm home movies you find at an antique shop. Having seen such film before, I may have a slightly higher tolerance to this kind of thing than someone else? Eventually, we cut to something that wasn't shot from inside the car. Really. It does happen. I know, because I've seen this before. Trust me.
We cut to two kids sitting in a Cobra and making out. We hear another song coming from their radio. As limited as they were on resources, it seems rather surreal (a word that aptly describes the film) that they were able to get what sounds like original songs! On the other hand, the sound is the one fairly professional element here (via the busy Glen Glenn Sound studios!).
At any rate, the kids take a quick break from their lip-locking to swallow some shots of booze when the boy produces a bottle. Almost out of frame, Mike drives past them in the background. A few seconds later, the kids notice. Having delivered some exposition that there's nothing at the end of that road, the kids jump back into each other's faces. Now, the first thing I wonder is, if there are no houses or anything down the long stretch of road, why is there even a road?
When we cut back to Mike and the family, we get reminded that the sign did, indeed, point them in this direction. We also see several telephone poles lining the road. Do a lot of counties put telephone lines up in areas where no one lives? Well, someone might move in later, why wait till the last moment!
Eventually, the road does end in a sandbank, and Mike is forced to turn around.
Back at the Cobra, the kids are still making out. The shot opens with a signal flag breezing past the camera (!) to signal another car to pull into scene. You'd think they'd try to set up their signal behind the camera, wouldn't you? The cops from earlier drive up and tell the kids to take their activities elsewhere. The boy insists they weren't doing anything amiss. The cop then utters the film's best line. "Whatever it is you're not doing," he nonchalantly replies, "go don't do it somewhere else." Sadly this exhausts the film's reserve of cleverness.
Told to skedaddle, the kids drive off in the same direction Mike went! This after it is again established that this road goes nowhere! Meanwhile, in Nowhere, Mike comes driving across a section of the deserted dirt road covered in tire tracks. Since no mention is made of this, let's just chalk it up to the multitude of continuity flaws.
A brief fade out and in and Mike pulls up before a house he doesn't remember passing on the way out. (This secluded house by the way, is surrounded by other homes visible in the distance!) Margaret convinces Mike to get some directions as long as they've stumbled onto a sign of civilization. It is here we meet the character who has achieved a bit of immortality since this film was re-discovered by Joel and the 'Bots: Torgo, the grounds keeper.
Torgo looks like a smelly old hobo, not unlike Ed Nelson's old hermit in The Devil's Partner. Or maybe like an evil counterpart to Gabby Hayes. Anyway, he wears an old jumpsuit, dark jacket, and hat, all in various shades of brown. He hasn't shaved in a few months and has two sets of eyebrows (!), something more visible in some shots than in others.
The real trademark of Torgo, though, is his bulging knees. Although there was a reason for this, it is never mentioned in the film itself. Torgo is introduced in a tight close-up bookended by full shots of the car, as if a random shot from some other movie was accidentally spliced in to repair a film break! Margaret is visibly horrified, however.
(Beyond Mike's car, by the way, can be seen farmland, houses, and the road! Frankly, unless you've lived in New York City your whole life, this place doesn't look all that isolated.)
Having established the presence of this new character, we get a more traditional introduction shot of Torgo. He's leaned against the wall near the door, twitching and jerking like he's being eaten alive by bugs but can't swat at any of them. He also holds a staff capped by an impressionist sculpture of a hand. Mike and the family walk over to ask directions, but Torgo is first to speak. Let's enjoy this moment together, as Torgo utters forth his first line in that stuttery voice of his....
"I am Torgo. I take care of the place while the Master is away." (pause) "But the child. I'm not sure the Master would approve. Or the dog. The Master doesn't like children."
Man, that's gotta be one of the top ten moments in film history!
Torgo understandably upsets Margaret, but Mike more or less forces Torgo to let them stay the night as sunset is approaching. To be fair, there aren't a lot of options. As Torgo notes "There is no way out of here. It will be dark soon. There is no way out of here." In a repetitious sequence we seemingly endlessly follow this pattern: Mike thinks they should stay, asks Torgo if its okay and then ignores him, Margaret doesn't want to stay, Torgo twitches.
Eventually, they drop the repeat dialog and substitute a menacing piano score. Torgo again makes sure we know "The Master" won't like having company stay at his house, but Mike continues to ignore him. Torgo eventually gives in and even gets the bags from Mike's car for him (Torgo is even given a perky little theme tune for scenes like this).
Inside, Margaret notes how creepy the place is. While a tad shabby and bare, it hardly seems all that spooky. On the other hand, the fireplace mantle is decorated with multiple sculptures of hands, so you know something weird is going on here.
Mike and Margaret also notice a crude portrait of a pale-skinned guy with dark hair and thick mustache (imagine Jeff Foxworthy as a zombie and you'd be in the right arena). He's next to a pillar in a dark room, and his faithful dog is by his side, eyes glowing. By the way, we don't see the picture hanging on the wall, we just see a severe close shot of the painting. It could be hanging in a room across town for all we know, but it captivates Mike and Margaret. They spend the next several hours, er, minutes, commenting on this prop from the cheapest Night Gallery episode ever filmed. This is assumed to be The Master.
Torgo carries the bags through the scene, his merry little theme playing away (imagine the musical equivalent of going "bink-bink-bink-bink, bink-bink-bink-bink" over and over). Mike and Margaret watch him until he leaves the room, then turn back to that same static shot of the painting. This artefact has our couple so entranced that both fail to see Torgo come out of the bedroom and extend his cane to tap Mike on the shoulder. (Torgo spends a lot of time leaned against things, here it'll be the door-frame for much of the action. The harness for the big knees was said to be rather painful, and it shows the way Torgo hobbles around.) Mike asks Torgo where the Master is, and we get another choice batch of repeat dialog.
"He has left this world," Torgo explains, "but he is with us always, no matter where we go." Margaret questions this, then turns her fears back to the dog in the painting. Torgo tries to put her at ease. "There is nothing to fear, Madam. The Master likes you. Nothing will happen to you. He likes you."
"I thought you said he was dead!"
"Dead? No, Madam, not dead the way you know it. He is with us always. Not dead the way you know it. He is with us always." They don't write 'em like that anymore, do they?
Margaret doesn't like this, but Mike thinks its her imagination (he's not very bright or observant, and he forced his way in and began bossing Torgo around as if he were his butler. Warren is taking the road less trod for movie heroes by being an unlikeable jerk. If nothing else, he was ahead of his time in this respect). Debbie is playing with her poodle, blissfully out of the scene. We see Pepe doing a stand and Debbie rewarding him with a treat. Where'd the treat come from? What has this to do with our story? My guess is that Debbie got the dog to do this trick on set and someone thought to turn the camera on. When the film was being cut together later, the scene was probably included because it looked cute. That's my theory.
Suddenly, Torgo is across the room, saying he'd better show them to their rooms. A howling dog frightens Margaret (a jack rabbit would terrify her at this point) and Mike rushes out to investigate. Since he leaves the door wide open, Pepe runs out and into the darkness to confront whatever beast is making that horrifying sound (Pepe may be a poodle, but he's plenty brave when you consider a good-sized rat could eat him alive).
Mike looks on, and huge moths are attacking the light source (which explains why so many low-budget productions rely on day-for-night shooting). Margaret rushes out, but Mike holds her back from going after Pepe. He tells her to get inside and runs to the car to get his gun and flashlight as urgent drums beat on the soundtrack. Pepe stops barking as Mike rushes into the darkness. (By the way, the surrounding area was fairly lush in the daylight, but will now be mostly sand a few stray bushes. If this were French or Italian, it would be held up as some artistic masterpiece for breaking all the cinematic rules. Think about that.)
Mike finds dead little Puppet, er, Pepe and carries the "dog" away, supposedly to bury it. Here's one moment where the murky lighting is in the film's favor, since we can't fully make out the little plush toy Mike is holding. Fade out.
Fade in. Debbie is on the couch stirring from her nap. Margaret tactfully breaks the news about Pepe by asking Mike what could have killed the dog. (Would there really have been enough time go by before Margaret asked this question to justify a complete fade out and in?) Mike finally agrees with Margaret that staying here isn't such a hot idea and he yells for Torgo to put the bags back in the car. (Honestly! Can't the guy see Torgo is practically a cripple?) Dissolve to Mike trying the start the car. I don't want to shock you, but it won't start.
Inside, we get another choice Torgo moment. He's watching Margaret pack as she notes how glad she'll be to vacate the area. Apparently figuring Margaret couldn't possibly be any more weirded out, Torgo tells her the Master wants her for his wife, adding that the Master likes beautiful women. (Beautiful? Margaret's attractive and all, but she's no Zsa Zsa Gabor or anything.)
What follows is the most awkward groping scene ever filmed as Torgo slooooowly twitches his hand up to Margaret's shoulder and fondles her hair. Despite this taking nearly half a minute to occur, Margaret just stands there. I'd think most women would have taken a few steps back or something of that nature. Margaret lets it go for a few seconds (maybe she's supposed to be frozen with fear) before she steps to the side and casts an angry look upon Torgo. Then she really lets him have it by telling him not to do that again! At least she calls him a beast, so we know he got her dander up.
Torgo starts to sputter about how the Master can't have her and that he wants her for himself. Way too late, Margaret finally acts like a woman and gives Torgo a slap across the face. Then she reverts to her immobility by standing still and calling for Mike (who can't hear her outside where he's working on the car). Eventually deciding she'll have to take action directly, she frowns and steps closer to Torgo. He must be blocking the door or something, as Margaret demands he let her go despite the fact he hasn't restricted her in any way. Torgo begs forgiveness, insisting he meant no harm. He not only convinces Margaret to reluctantly forgive him, but also convinces her not to tell Mike about the episode!
In the living room, Debbie comes out of a side room and curls up on the couch like she's asleep just before Mike walks in and calls to Margaret that the car won't start. They talk a moment as Torgo moves through with their bags. Mike asks Torgo where the telephone is (great close-up of frustrated Torgo here) and is informed there is no telephone because "the Master does no believe in such devices." Supposedly, Torgo means electronic devices, even though the Master's house is wired for electric lights (!), another detail no one will notice.
The nearest telephone is at the crossroads ten miles away (is that by the clump of telephone poles we saw on the drive out?), so they have no choice but stay the night. Torgo puts the bags back in their room.
Mike and Margaret have another session of staring at the painting of the Master, represented by the exact same shot from before, and discuss how sinister the man looks. Margaret wants to leave (we got that, Margaret, you've made your point a good fifty times by now) and wonders if Debbie will understand about what happened to Pepe. Not content to let everybody else have all the fun of repeated lines, Mike offers "She'll understand, she's my baby. She'll understand." "I sure hope so." Margaret adds. To which Mike counters with "She's my baby, she'll understand." Art, thy name is Harold P. Warren.
During the above, Debbie gets up off the couch and goes through the door to the side room. Almost instantly, her parents turn around to see her gone start to panic. The pair begin to search. Margaret goes to the very door Debbie passed through seconds earlier and opens it a couple of inches! Peeking through the crack for a good second or two, she closes the door and moves on! She runs off to look outside as Mike turns to Torgo (relaxing in the door-frame to the bedroom) and asks if he has seen Debbie. Torgo says he hasn't seen her.
Margaret rushes back into the shot and tells Mike the door to the outside is bolted. Mike, the last one to come inside, asks if there is another door to the outside. Torgo informs there is such a door in the kitchen, and he indicates the side door Debbie left through. Mike takes this in, then dashes off to the front door (that only he could have bolted)! He runs back and proclaims "That door is bolted too!" I've seen so few movies that achieve this level of delirious stupidity within a minute of screentime. It'll make your head spin!
Margaret is sure Debbie has left the house (I don't know how she came to this conclusion, given the doors are all bolted) and we soon see the couple outside. Margaret is worried (big surprise) and Mike tries to comfort her by taking her hand, and action treated to a very shaky and incompetent camera zoom.
Debbie pops up with a big Doberman in tow. Mike and Margaret assume this to be the hellbeast from the painting.
(I had a Doberman a few years ago and she was the sweetest thing you ever saw. Ever since, the supposed menace such an animal is to project in TV or motion pictures has been greatly undercut. When Richard Diamond was being chased by Dobermans across the dock of a lake and he was in danger of having his throat torn out, I could only reflect on how cute the animals were. But they, at least, went through the motions of being dangerous. This pooch is quite obviously somebody's pet. It wanders around waiting for someone to come over and pet it. This aspect will add another layer of amusement to the proceedings.)
The dog splits and Debbie returns to the loving arms of her parents. Later, Mike and Margaret pump Debbie for information. Debbie found the dog in "a big place" that was dark and had people in it. Mike asks her to show him where and in an actual moment of continuity she leads him into the kitchen!
Cut to a fire burning at the base of a metal tower, another impressionist sculpture of a hand (yes, we get it by now). Although, this one is pretty obscured since it happens to be the same shade of black as the un-lit backgrounds!
Also on hand is a woman in a sheer white gown leaned against a pillar and pretending to be asleep. Then we get a shot of the Master sleeping on a big stone slab (upon which rests yet another hand sculpture), to which the dog is now mysteriously chained. There are multiple pillars, and more white-clad women leaning against them. Mike and family wander into this, then quickly exit.
Later, everyone comes walking in from the kitchen. Mike decides to interrogate Torgo and sends the girls to their room (without supper, now that I think of it. No one has had time to eat since we met up with these people and they're travelling with a child! Let's hope they had just stopped off for a bite before we met them on the road).
Mike closes the door behind them and handles the knob in such a way as to suggest he locked it. He storms out and we cut back to the "big place" where the Master is catching some shuteye. Torgo wanders in and begins to to rant. "I want her! She's mine! Mine! Do you hear?! You have all the wives you need!" He turns his little tirade on the sleeping women, letting them know he has no more use for any of them either. He'll no longer need to awkwardly fondle the Master's wives in their sleep when he was a woman of his own, and he wants Margaret.
To make his point, he stops to nervously fondle one bride's hair as he earlier did with Margaret. Torgo blurts that he's through with all of them and breaks into laughter before leaving the scene. I was nervous around Torgo before, when he was just a stuttering, groping, deformed madman. Now that he's gone completely off the deep end, I'm terrified!
As Mike is running around outside looking for Torgo, the girls are in the bedroom. Debbie is sleeping, Margaret goes to the mirror and starts to undress. Torgo schlumps over to the window and peeks in at Margaret in her nightgown. Possibly catching a glimpse of Torgo in the mirror, Margaret spins around in horror, but there's nobody at the window now. (Which, I must admit, would be pretty unsettling in real life. Although, I'm sure you'd be expecting that kind of thing if you decided to stay in a house that suddenly appeared in the middle of nowhere, inhabited by a perverted creepy guy with a beard, and a big place where a pale guy sleeps on a big stone slab next to a constantly burning fire surrounded by women who all dress the same and sleep standing up....)
Elsewhere, Mike is being attacked by giant moths, er, walking out in the desert. Torgo sneaks up and clubs Mike, then drags the unconscious dolt over to a pole (?) and ties him up with Mike's belt.
Then we cut back to the Master as he awakens. Sitting with his dog at his side, this image mirrors the painting we saw earlier. Expecting us to be complete and utter morons, Warren cuts in a shot of the painting to make sure we all get it. This would have been less insulting if we had seen a shot of the painting and then dissolved to see the newly awakened Master in the same position. But really, why give your audience that much credit? Just because they paid their hard-earned money to see your wares is no reason to assume they might be smart enough to add one and one to make two.
The Master, as noted, looks like a pale version of Jeff Foxworthy with scraggly dark hair and a big mustache. He wears sandles (honestly, who would be subservient to a man wearing sandles?) and a graduation robe with a pair of big red hand prints sown onto the front. These hands become visible whenever the Master spreads his arms, which occurs a time or two after this.
Okay, its not like the elegantly dressed Count Dracula, but it is distinctive, I suppose. Meanwhile, the lack of pant legs poking out from under his robe paints the horrifying image of his maybe being a satanic flasher. While he looks angry and all (and who looks their best when they first wake up?), he doesn't look as supernatural as Warren must've hoped. The Master looks like an accountant from 1975. Fade out.
Fade in and we're back with the necking 'teenagers' who are hassled by the friendly cops. That's fresh. (There's a shot here where the film ran out in the camera, you can tell because it gets lighter for a split second.) The kids ask why the Man don't bug those others who drove by earlier. It is again established that "this road goes nowhere..." The kids once again follow their orders to go home by driving off farther down the road to nowhere. Was this a one-way road they were shooting on?
Back with the Master, he gives a little speech/prayer/whatever to "Manos." "Manos" is some sort of pagan god who dwells in "primal darkness" and "the depths of the universe and black chasms of night!" Okay, if you say so. We get a glimpse of a sculptured head that had earlier been among the various hands which decorated the fireplace mantle. Supposedly, this is meant to be an image of "Manos." If so, "Manos" bears a strong resemblance to the superman of the future that kid sculpted for a mask in 1956's The Gamma People. Sadly, Paul Douglas is nowhere to be found.
The Master commands his wives to wake as well, and give ear to the words of "Manos."
Next thing we see, the Master is looking ever more peeved as his wives sit around in a circle and debate on what to do with the new house guests. They're split on weather to kill Debbie or keep her alive. The majority of the debate consists of looped murmurings, repeated over and over, some of them audible enough to hear they are incomplete lines. I might suggest these are the flubbed lines during the recording session and Warren decided to make use of them to imply the arguing gaggle of women.
After a short spell of this, the Master has had enough and goes to punish Torgo for letting the source of this debate into the house in the first place (to be fair, Torgo tried to make it clear Debbie staying would be a bad idea, so "Manos" really can't hang this one on him).
The Master gone, the women continue to argue. This breaks into a group catfight where the girls are visibly trying not to scratch their sister performers. We can also notice they have strips of red fabric under their sheer gowns, outside their undergarments. The jazzy music tries to fill in the gaps and convince us this is a fierce battle of wills. Hard to tell which side is winning, but we are treated to a rare bit of actual showmanship as one of the girls scoops up some dirt and throws it at the camera. (In case I forgot to mention, the "big place" is outside somewhere. There's sand and some sagebrush occasionally visible in the background.)
Following in the established theme, we open the next scene with close up of Torgo's hand. Torgo has decided to take a nap all of a sudden, I guess. You'd think he'd be drooling over Margaret through her window, but maybe he's had a long day.
As the caretaker here, you'd think Torgo could rate better quarters. He sleeps on a cot in a mostly bare room. Hanging on the wall is a sheet (?), a rope (?), and what looks like one of the Bride's gowns (!) over the cot. The Master and his very happy-looking dog enter the shot and rouse Torgo. Torgo slowly climbs to his feet and the Master tells him, essentially, he's fired because of his visits to the tomb. "The women have told me." The Master sneers, "They may not be able to say anything, or move when you've there, but they remember everything you say to them... and everything you do to them!"
The implication is enough, thanks, I need not imagine what it is he's talking about. And Torgo's argument? "But, Master, you have six wives, why can't I have one for myself?"
The Master has an answer for this. "You are not one of us, therefore you cannot have one of them!" Huh? If Torgo isn't one of them, what is he? Is he not a member of the "Manos" cult?
Torgo insists Margaret will be his, which is the final straw. He must die. Torgo goes down fighting, spouting that he'll help Mike destroy the Master. The Master responds by more or less staring Torgo into submission (a scene which, as you might expect, plays out much longer than it needs to). To celebrate, the Master breaks into laughter and throws out his arms to show off his big red hand-prints again.
Mike is still tied to the post out in the middle of nowhere. One of the Brides wanders by and snuggles up to him. Since he's the director who also writes this stuff for the character he's playing, Warren gets snuggled and kissed by this woman. She seems angry at his lack of response (since he's still out cold) and starts slapping him! A peek into the psyche of Hal Warren?
Back to the catfight. Then we see the Bride who just slapped the director come and tell the Master about the fight and they take off, Torgo stumbling along behind them, slave to the Master's will.
We start jumping back and forth here.
Margaret wakes up and calls for Mike.
Mike is still out cold.
Margaret calling for Mike, then turning to see the window-shade roll up and reveal the Master (?) looking in and grinning!
The tomb, where the Master leads his puppy to the table and attaches its leash. Then he turns to the wives and tells them to cool it. The Master's first wife, a blonde, is noted to be the cause of all the trouble.
Good a place as any to say the following: Turn back now if you wish not to learn the incredible conclusion of....
"Manos" the Hands of Fate!
The Master gathers his wives around and tells them they will kill the Blonde as soon as they kill Torgo. The Blonde becomes defiant, telling him that his powers have weakened over time. Not taking criticism well, the Master has the Blonde chained to a pillar where he smacks her around a little.
Blonde out of the way, Torgo is brought in and collapses onto the slab. The Master points two of his wives toward Torgo and tells them to "Kill! Kill!" Torgo is then gently massaged (?) and the Blonde is repulsed.
Mike wakes and unties himself with minimal effort, then rushes back to the house. He calls to Margaret through the bedroom door, but she's too petrified to move. Mike breaks into the room. Meanwhile, Torgo has been sufficiently rubbed back and forth and the women depart. The Master then leads Torgo by the hand over to the tower-like sculpture. Touching Torgo's finger to the tower causes a puff of smoke and the Master is holding a flaming prop hand (which might look better if the meat hadn't all burned off a couple of fingers, leaving the simple wire skeleton fully exposed).
This gives the Master a good hearty laugh. When we cut to a full shot, we can see Torgo running off with no hand and the end of his sleeve on fire. Words can't describe it, but this is hysterical beyond all measure! It's also the last we will see of Torgo.
The Blonde is horrified. The Master warns her that they'll be killing her as soon as the outsiders are taken care of, and tosses the flaming hand of Torgo (The Flaming Hand of Torgo, starring Bruce Lee!), which is starting to burn out of control, at her feet before exiting, laughing all the way. Back in the bedroom, Margaret tells Mike about seeing the Master at the window. Mike thinks they can hide in the desert and find their way back to civilization. Back at the tomb, the Blonde is transferred to the slab.
Mike and the family are running around outside. Margaret trips and nearly has a nervous breakdown. The Master and his wives are closing in. There's a shot here where you can see lights in the distance and the Master spreads his arms out to obscure them!
With the fiends searching the desert, Mike decides they should hide in the house (!) and herds the girls back that way. He must take a moment to shoot at a stock shot lifted from a Disney nature special, I mean, a rattlesnake.
The shots are more muffled than the dialog, but are heard by the beat cops we saw earlier! (These guys have the longest shifts, since its supposedly early morning by now, and the widest beats of any cops I've ever seen!) Although the shots could have echoed across the wilderness for miles, the cops decide to investigate. This means they walk to the front of the car, look around for a second, then give up and leave! (They only go as far as the front of the car because that's as far as they could be lit!)
Back at the house, some moths have gotten into the living room. In the film's intended action, Mike and the girls enter the room. The bedroom door opens and the Master emerges! He's got his dog along, and it still looks even less vicious than the poodle it supposedly killed earlier. Mike opens fire.
In this shot, with Mike's back to us, however, the Master is nowhere to be seen. In the next shot, the Master is standing roughly where Mike was, only in a blurry close-shot! The film's single best camera setup has Mike pointing his gun at the camera and firing (too bad they'd already done this way back in The Great Train Robbery!). Cut back to the Master, who isn't even phased. Fade out.
Your last chance to turn back before learning the shocking twist ending of....
"Manos" the Hands of Fate!
Fade in and the movie is repeating itself again.
Two women in a convertible are looking for the Valley Lodge and turn down the same road Mike took. They pass the necking teens. (Are these kids connected to the whole "Manos" conspiracy? Are they the guardians to the gates of Hell or something?)
Almost instantly, the women arrive in front of the Master's house. Mike is now standing near the door as the official greeter. ("I am Michael. I take care of the place while the Master is away.")
Unlike Torgo, Mike is very relaxed. It's like going from Daffy Duck to Dean Martin.
A quick tour of the tomb shows us that Margaret and Debbie (?!?!?!?!?!) have joined the wives. We now get our credits and a THE END ? gag stolen from Jack H. Harris.
AFTERTHOUGHTS AND BACKGROUND:
Bleak and sparse, yet claustrophobic, "Manos" the Hands of Fate was a weirdly effective crudeness at times, but mostly just prompts laughter. The general plot could have been the subject of a 70's telemovie starring Bradford Dillman, Roy Thinnes, or William Shatner. The old 'mysterious house in the middle of nowhere hiding supernatural evil' theme certainly has some potential mileage. In fact, the film might be best summed up by comparing it to a campfire story told by a young boy who has heard fantastic stories, but never learned to read or write.
Questions abound. Was the Valley Lodge sign merely on the wrong road, or was it a supernatural occurrence designed to lure the unsuspecting into the Master's web? If the sign were wrong, wouldn't somebody have had it removed? Wouldn't the Valley Lodge want the problem fixed? The Valley Lodge seems to be a real place within the context of the story, so do they have a history of unfulfilled reservations? Once a pattern became evident, wouldn't the Lodge have called in the authorities to see what's been happening to their customers?
How often does the Master's house appear from out of nowhere? Were the two women in the convertible supposed to show up the next day, or the next year? Given the telephone poles lining the road to nowhere, was Torgo lying about there being no telephone? Was it a trick to keep victims in place? Why would Torgo make up such a story if he knew how much trouble he was going to get into with the Master? (If Warren simply didn't mean to show the telephone poles, he could have snipped the shot and had plenty of driving scenes left over, so what gives?*)
(* Most likely, Warren just wasn't aware that he'd gotten footage of the telephone lines.)
Who exactly are the Master and his brides? Where did they come from? Who were they before they became disciples of "Manos" and how did they become willing servants? What benefits do they get from the deal? Why do they sleep standing up? Do they only stir when a potential victim wanders into the house? What's the deal with the tomb? Why is it outside? Is it supposed to be the mouth of a cave or something? And how does it work that you reach the tomb by going outside through the kitchen? Is the tomb beneath the house? Is it just outside around back?
Was one of Torgo's duties to keep the fire burning at the base of that tower-like sculpture? Was the Master's dog supposed to be a supernatural creature? If not, did Torgo feed the dog regularly and take it for walks? Did Torgo cover the Master with a sheet when it rained?
What we are made aware of is that the Wives are all stranded travelers like Margaret. They all arrived at different times (though their hairstyles seem to indicate it was within a time frame of five or so years) and the Blonde was the first.
But what was life like before that? How long had the Master been living out there before motorists started coming his way? We never see how the girls are indoctrinated, but the conversion makes them pretty loyal to "Manos" if they all started out like terrified Margaret. If the Blonde's rebellion is anything to go by, the grip of "Manos" fades over time. If she were allowed to leave, how long would it have been until the girl became her old self? If the mind can revert to the point where the victim has a will of their own, can the body too revert to normal? In their present state, how far can the disciples of "Manos" wander away from the house? Could they ever take their act on the road, so to speak?
Does the house really exist or is it a manifestation of "Manos'" will? Does the house cloak itself until a likely victim passes by? Does it slip into another dimension? Is it just an old house in the desert that "Manos" decided to move into? Did "Manos" change the wallpaper when he did?
Who is "Manos" and how did he pick the Master? We get a little wording that indicates "Manos" would be powerless against "the gods." So is this cult like a hold-over from the ancient world of the Greeks or their ilk? The Master was wearing sandles and a robe.... Is the Master a stranded motorist who stumbled onto the power of "Manos"? Was he once human or something supernatural? He could be a creature from another planet, no more than we're told!
Before women began showing up at the house, what did the Master and Torgo do to occupy themselves? What does the cult do to the various male motorists who have dropped by in the past? Assuming at least some of the Wives were travelling with their husbands like Margaret is, what happened to them? Were they all doormen at various times?
Torgo is the most problematic. What is he? Where did he come from? Is he supposed to be supernatural in any way? Did he always have those knees? Has he been changed physically by "Manos" upon accepting a position in his organization? Was he a lost motorist? Was he the first grounds-keeper for the Master? Are his physical problems and nervous twitches the result of punishments for doing something wrong? Is this Torgo's first case of disobedience to the Master, or has it been a growing problem for a while now?
(My theory? The Master was a prospector during the Depression who built his house out in the middle of nowhere and began unearthing some old ruins, releasing "Manos" in the process. "Manos" made the guy the Master and took over the house. Torgo was an old hermit who wandered by one day and saw the tomb. The Master then infected Torgo with "Manos" and made him caretaker. Then various motorists came by and the women were made Wives and they ate the male motorists. There you have it.)
The production was troubled from the start. Warren assumed full control and restricted the others as they attempted to improve the movie they knew was coming out a mess. He assured them any problems would be fixed in the processing of the film. They weren't. Thus we got the grainy, murky, under-lit, poorly edited, laughable mess that is "Manos" the Hands of Fate. At least the sound editing is okay, but with a professional outfit like Glen Glenn doing the sound there was bound to be at least a single rose poking out of this pile.
Reportedly, this movie came about as result of a bet between Warren and screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, who was in El Paso scouting locations. (What the bet was, I couldn't say, but I would love to hear a transcript of the conversation!) The entire production cost $19,000 and was shot in two months with a single camera that, as noted before, could only capture thirty seconds of film at a time. The working title was Lodge of Sins, the lodge in question (of which we never see the entire structure) belonging to county judge Colbert Coldwell.
The most fondly remembered figure here is also the most tragic. John Reynolds created a memorable character out of Torgo the weird caretaker. His bulging knees were the result of a special harness Reynolds wore to make Torgo appear half goat! Supposedly, he was to have cloven hooves. Margaret's look of horror upon first seeing him was reportedly in reaction to laying eyes upon his inhuman feet.
The problem is, we can see Torgo's feet and they're perfectly normal! He wears simple brown shoes! And if he was supposed to have cloven hooves, why didn't Mike notice them? If this effect was determined unworkable, why nix the feet but leave the knees on the costume? The apparatus was reported to be very painful, and Reynolds didn't appreciate the ridicule he received or lack of appreciation for his efforts. A troubled man, Reynolds committed suicide in October of the release year, 1966.
Hal Warren made a terrible leading man, although one could see him in character parts. Diane Mahree was repetitive as Margaret, although she had a nice 'every-woman' kind of beauty and made a convincing mother.
The Wives were Mannequin Manners models. Their employer objected to their scant costumes and added the red fabric 'tails' to provide more cover for their intimate anatomy. They certainly threw themselves into their parts, but you can't accuse any of them of being actresses.
Worst actor here was Joyce Molleur opposite Bernie Rosenblum, with whom, as the necking girl, she spend all her scenes joined to at the mouth. (I heard a story that she broke her ankle prior to filming and that was the reason her scenes were confined to the Cobra.) The friendly cop wasn't bad, whoever he was.
As the Master, Tom Neyman managed to be spooky and imposing at times, despite his wild overacting. Neyman was also the set designer (maybe it was he who had the hand fetish?) and painted the portrait of the Master and his hell-hound. His daughter Jackey played Debbie, who isn't bad for a child who probably isn't fully aware of what's going on around her. She had some amusing scenes with the animals. The Doberman was her pet, named Shanka. Jackey grew up, moved to Oregon, and became a successful painter. The end credits claim make up was provided by "Jacqueline" who was really Jackie Neyman, wife of Tom and mother of Jackey. Jackie made all the costumes as well.
Jackey and Shanka were the only members of the crew to get any kind of payment for their participation. Jackey received a new bicycle, and Shanka got a fifty pound bag of dog food. Everyone else was supposed to get a cut of the film's non-existent profits.
A big premire was held in El Paso, with invitations accepted by several local dignitaries. Audience reaction was so poor, the cast and crew snuck out early. Warren tried to finance a sequel (!), as well as a biker movie, but neither picture was ever produced. Warren continued as a salesman and inventor until his death of a heart attack in 1985.
After Mystery Science Theater 3000, "Manos" the Hands of Fate gained a cult following. On that show, Mike Nelson popped up from time to time as Torgo. The film is widely considered the all-time worst movie to ever appear on the series.
In 2004, Aaron Allard and James Lafluer made a Canadian documentary called Hotel Torgo. Too bad that Warren, who always defended his little opus, didn't live to see that.
Happily, at least for guys like me, the film's original negative turned up and the film has been given a pristine transfer for the new medium of BluRay (a sort of glorified DVD format) From the photos I've seen -some of which were used for this review- it looks just beautiful! Sadly, it's the event which has convinced me I should buy a BluRay player.