Mystery Science Theater 3000 : Manos The Hands of Fate - Special Edition
Cast - Joel Hodgson, Kevin Murphy, Frank Conniff
Country of Origin - USA
Discs - 2
MSRP - $24.97
Distributor - Shout Factory
Reviewer - Bobby Morgan
The Film: 5/5
Somewhere in rural Texas a vacationing family take a wrong turn and end up staying the night at a menacing lodge under the careful watch of the creepy Torgo (John Reynolds), who serves at the best of the Master (Tom Neyman), the leader of a cult that worships a vengeful spirit known only as Manos. The Master has a bevy of scantily-clad wives who spend their every moment of screen time arguing and wrestling with each other in the dirt, which may sound sexy in conception but on screen comes off as arousing as playing bridge with your grandmother. As the night wears on the family is constantly placed in some kind of poorly-executed mortal danger as the Master has dark plans for inducting them into the Manos Fan Club and Torgo has his own perverted designs on the wife of the family. It all makes a strange kind of sense in the end.
One of the greatest topics of debate among fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is what movie ranks as the worst that Joel/Mike and the Bots - Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo - had ever had to endure their time on the Satellite of Love. It's a question that will never have a definitive answer and that's just the way we like it. Everyone has to have an answer of their own. Some will stump for the turgid Joe Don Baker "cop with an attitude" classic Mitchell, or one of the finer works of Coleman Francis like The Skydivers or The Beast of Yucca Flats (Starring Tor Johnson!). Maybe one of the several Russian-Finnish fantasy movies with the retina-searing imagery and the indecipherable plot lines like The Magic Voyage of Sinbad. Hobgoblins? Something from the Joe Estevez back catalog? Like I said, there will never be a definitive answer to the question.
But there is one movie that when you mention its name everyone will suddenly quiet down and sit in stunned silence for the next several minutes, and then all start to nod in unison. It's the movie that was so bad it nearly broke the will of Joel Hodgson and his homemade robot companions. A movie so horrible and incompetently made that people actually apologize for its existence to this very day. It is Manos, The Hands of Fate, a movie basically filmed on a bet between Hal Warren, a fertilizer salesman from El Paso, and future hotshot Hollywood screenwriter Sterling Silliphant. Warren wagered he could make a movie using as little actual filmmaking resources as possible. He had a hand-cranked camera, no sound recording or lighting equipment, and a cast consisting primarily of amateurs and local theater actors. And a budget of less than $20,000. So what could possibly go wrong? Well to be honest, everything if you have no idea what you’re doing on a film set, which was the case with Warren. He took on the roles of director, producer, writer, and lead actor. Most of the film’s problems can clearly be laid at his feet. Because the production couldn’t afford sound recording equipment every single line of dialogue had to be dubbed in post-production and every part was performed by two men and one woman. The camera could only film for 32 seconds at a time. The actor who played Torgo was reportedly tripping on acid during the entire shoot, which explains his unusual performance a lot.
It may not be the most fascinating origin story of a film ever but the resulting feature, as bad as often is, has an odd power to it. Like watching a slow-motion car wreck while listening to humpback whale sound, Manos takes hold of the viewer with its glacial pace and stunning lack of plot or tension in a strange yet placid spell. The acting is mostly horrible but Reynolds and Neyman admirably swing for the fences with their performances and walk away with the top acting honors of the film, which for a movie like Manos the Hands of Fate isn’t exactly a Herculean task. So that’s the movie. How’s the MST3K episode that surrounds it? It’s one of the show’s classic episodes without a doubt. The riffing is pure gold and the host segments just keep building and building in genius moments until the final “Torgo’s Pizza” sketch, one of the best moments in the entire run of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Clearly the show’s cast and crew (who often wear multiple hats and brilliantly so) are at the top of their game here; the movie may not always provide them with great material for riffing but that actually works in the show’s favor. The staggering ennui that hangs like a storm cloud over Manos inspires cracking one-liners and witty interplay between Joel Robinson (played by series creator Joel Hodgson) and the Bots-Crow T. Robot (Trace Beaulieu) and Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy), even if the film’s museum tour pacing often gets to them. You can’t blame them really.
The episode is presented in a full frame transfer that looks a bit cleaned up in comparison to its previous DVD releases, with strong, lively. The simple mono soundtrack does it job well. No complaints here.
The Manos episode of MST3K has been released on DVD twice before but Shout! Factory’s new two-disc release has it all over the previous discs in terms of bonus features. This is the most extras devoted to a single MST3K episode ever conceived since the advent of DVD. The first disc contains the MST-ied version of Manos along with five minutes of wraparound segments from the show’s syndicated version The Mystery Science Hour (with head writer and future host Mike Nelson playing Jack Perkins) and a new 18-minute sitdown interview with Hodgson, Beaulieu, Frank Conniff (aka “TV’s Frank”). The interview, entitled “Group Therapy”, brings this small but crucial part of the MST3K gang back to share their memories of Manos and the impact that the movie and the episode it inspired impacted all involved. It’s a nice feature that has the four participants sitting down together in what looks to be someone’s backyard and shooting the shit unedited.
There’s even more Manos madness on disc two. The bonuses kick off with the un-MST-ied version of the film which runs merely 68 minutes and explains why the MST3K writing staff had to come up with a lot of lengthy host segments to fill the remaining time (and bless their hearts for doing so-those segments are the best parts of the episode). However this doesn’t appear to be an uncut print of the film; it looks sourced from one of those budget DVD sets that carry mostly public domain titles, some of which have included Manos and I should know. I gave a friend one of those sets for Christmas one year and Manos was among the 50 flicks in that set. Shame that Shout! Factory never thought to ask Quentin Tarantino if they could borrow his pristine 35mm print of the film to create a new transfer. Be warned though if you decide to watch the movie without the help of Joel and the Bots: do not operate any heavy machinery during your viewing of….Manos, the Hands of Fate.
Now that would have been something. Next up is “Hotel Torgo” (27 minutes), a documentary that takes a look back at the making of this extraordinarily awful, unlikely cult classic. It’s not very comprehensive because getting a complete behind-the-scenes story about Manos is impossible as the majority of the cast and crew are either dead, vanished from the face of the earth, or just flat out refuse to talk about it. Luckily the filmmakers tracked down Bernie Rosenbaum, who plays one of the teenagers sitting in a hot rod and making out throughout the ENTIRE FUCKING MOVIE and also wore many hats on the production. He gives a lot of interesting stories and frank observations about the movie after all these years and for a kicker he takes the documentary crew to visit the original filming locations. A nice little feature that will fascinate Manos fans and non-converts alike. There’s a funny short film entitled “Jam Handy to the Rescue” (23 minutes) that parodies the educational film production outlet responsible for the “Hired Part II” short that ran before Manos during the MST3K episode. It was written by Larry Blamire, the writer, director, and star of The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, and he also stars as “Lineman Larry” as he guides the viewer through the line of Jam Handy’s founder. When you select “Jam Handy” from the main menu you are taken to a submenu that contains extra features related to the short and the educational films shown on MST3K, including a “Jam Handy to the Rescue” (2 minutes) and an additional interview with Joel Hodgson (9 minutes).
The bonus features close out with both parts of “Hired” (the first half shown before Bride of the Monster on the previous episode of MST3K) finally fused together, with riffing from Joel and the Bots intact, to create one glorious 18-minute blast of non-stop hilarity. The “Hired” short films are probably my favorites ever shown on the series so it’s pure joy to see both parts reunited after so many years.
A classic episode of the greatest television show in human history gets the royal treatment in terms of presentation and the wealth of bonus features. All in all this is a DVD set the Master would surely approve of. Now….PULL MY FINGER!