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October 09, 2015

Manos: The Hands of Fate

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Harold P. Warren - 1966
Synapse Films BD Regions ABC

I seem to be the only person I know who never saw Manos: Hands of Fate on Mystery Science Theater 3000. And I did see that show on a regular basis during the peak of its popularity. That said, while I can see where Manos could generate snarky comments, it is hardly the worse film ever made. I was able to watch Manos from beginning to end, which is more than I can say about some other films.

I don’t think that Manos could have ever been a good film. It might have been less bad had director-writer-producer-star Hal Warren been a bit more visually adept. One thing the best filmmakers working with limited budgets understood best is that film is not always about what you see, but what you don’t see. Warren undercuts the sense that his vacationing family is lost in the middle of nowhere, when a wide shot shows a highway within view. The bigger problem is that neither the characters nor the premise is very interesting.

Manos sets itself up for snark when one of the characters, the grotesque caretaker, Torgo, appears to be slapped and jostled to death. The cat fight between members of The Master’s harem is so badly staged that I wished that Edward D. Wood, Jr. was on the set to show Warren how it’s done. I’m not sure what Tom Neyman had in mind when he designed the costumes for the harem, but adding those wide red strips hanging from the waist, on the front and back of the women otherwise dressed in white may have an unintended meaning.

There is a supplement where we get to see Tom Neyman discussing his work as actor and set and costume designer. If anyone decides to make a film about John Carradine in his later years, Neyman is a dead ringer for the actor who spent most of the late Sixties and early Seventies in bargain basement claptrap. Diane Adelseon, billed as Diane Mahree, the young wife coveted by Torgo and The Master, talks about stifling laughter at the film's premiere. A former fashion model, Adelson is still very attractive almost fifty years later.

Ben Solovey gets a supplement of his own, very much worth seeing regardless of how one feels about Manos. The restoration process is discussed, as well as the decisions made on what where an improvements would be made, while keeping the essential visual qualities of this 16mm production.

Sure, the budget for Manos was the relatively tiny $19,000.00, not very much even in 1966, but I refuse to buy the argument that this was the best that could be done with the resources available. Consider that there have been more recent and better films done for the same amount or less, with proportionately less buying power, such as Primer, the original Paranormal Activity, Eraserhead and Christopher Nolan's Following. For those who love Manos for whatever reason, go ahead and get the new blu-ray. For myself, this is one cult movie that does not hold me under its spell.

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Posted by peter at October 9, 2015 09:26 AM