Saturday, September 8, 2012

Hands Down A Joyful Disaster

MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE

Manos: The Hands of Fate had the misfortune to be released.  It has the added misfortune (for me) that it is from my hometown of El Paso, forever marking a nice town with friendly people (visitors ALWAYS comment on how friendly we all are) as the home of the worst film ever made.  Having seen Manos for the Plaza Classic Film Festival, I would be a liar if I said I didn't enjoy the film.

I also would be a liar if I didn't say that in terms of pure cinema, Manos isn't just a bad film, but one of shocking ineptitude that it boggles the mind how anyone involved with it didn't see that Manos would become the film that would live in infamy.

Actually, one person DID see that Manos was going to be an embarrassment to everyone involved, but since she was only six at the time she couldn't say much on the subject.  Yet I digress. 

Manos is to my mind not an actual movie.  Instead, it looks like a home movie trying hard to pass itself off as an actual feature and no one taking any of it seriously.  One needs to study just how far Manos falls to appreciate not just how bad it is but how NOT to do what they did.

What is to as 'the plot' goes a little something like this: a family vacation goes horribly awry when unsuspecting travelers Michael (writer/director Harold P. Warren), his wife Margaret (Diane Mahree) and little Debbie (Jackye Neyman) wander away from the established roads and get lost.  They encounter a strange dwelling watched over by Torgo (John Reynolds), who looks after the place while "The Master" is away.  Despite Margaret's misgivings and Torgo's warnings about "The Master not being pleased", Michael opts to have the family spend the night there.

Now this family enters into a night of terror, as "The Master" (Tom Neyman) rises from his tomb, where he keeps his bevy of Brides.  The Brides soon start arguing among themselves as to what should happen to these strangers.  Some of them think they should be incorporated into their cult of the diety known as Manos, while others think having a child among them is wrong.  They fight (BOY do they fight), but the Master will not be dissuaded.   

Eventually, we find that Torgo has, in an infamous turn of phrase, been 'massaged to death', and that now The Master has TWO new Brides.  Manos: The Hands of Fate, ends with literally a question mark,



putting the finishing touch of hubris on one of the simply weirdest cinematic experiences one is likely to encounter.

One watches Manos with a strange sense of shock, wondering how people who are at least familiar with the idea of film and how a film is suppose to be, could take every opportunity to fail so spectacularly.  Oh this film is terrible, perhaps even beyond a 'so bad it's good' scenario, but I think it helps to watch Manos the way the audience at the Plaza Classic Film Festival did: with a sense of amusement and a soft spot for people not only not knowing what they're doing, but completely oblivious to just how inept everyone is.


I tried watching Manos in a strict, professional manner befitting a member of the Online Film Critics Society, but by the time we got to the first scene of watching the two people making out in a car, even I gave in and started to laugh.  After that, I found it impossible to watch Manos with any degree of seriousness.  Instead, I started enjoying watching people fail so much so fast and seeing them totally unaware of how they were failing. 

This is how I recommend anyone watching Manos to see it: with a spirit of 'this is going to be so awful I'm just going to laugh', rather than watch it with a sense of 'this is a functional film'.  It also helps to watch it with a group of people who appreciate weirdness, who aren't put off by bizarre and illogical and idiotic decisions, and who have an offbeat taste for camp.

Going over EVERYTHING that is wrong with Manos would take a full semester of film studies, but I think I'll hit on some of the more familiar ones.  First, there is no real continuity between shots.  We can see how the headscarf Margaret wears disappears and reappears without rhyme or reason.  There are long moments of silence between Torgo and the family.  The sense of drama is so wildly wrong and misplaced.

There are scenes that don't make any sense even within the already nutty scenario Manos offers.  For example, Warren (for reasons known only to him) decided that Michael and Margaret needed to offer commentary on the weird paintings of "The Master" TWICE, with the score only adding a coda on how wildly hilarious the end result is.  The music tries to be menacing, but instead it comes off as hilarious.

However, in fairness to Russ Huddleston and Robert Smith, Jr.'s jazz-infused score (which reaches its nadir--if that is possible--with the Battle of the Brides, but more on that later) did create Torgo's Theme, a little motif that has become well-known for its repetitiveness (and in hindsight is actually quite catchy). 

I digress to say that Torgo now has become a cult figure, an Icon of Cinema of sorts.  At the screening for the PCFF, his first appearance received applause.  The only other time I saw that kind of reaction was when Clark Gable made his first appearance in Gone With the Wind.  Draw what conclusions you will from the fact that both Gable and Reynolds received applause when they both showed up on screen.  Torgo has become a beloved character...

...and an example of what makes Manos such a disaster.  HIs odd walk is never explained (he is suppose to be a satyr or satyr-like being, but exactly how WE are suppose to know that is left unexplained.  We are never told he is a satyr, we are never given any indication he is suppose to be a satyr, and we cannot fathom WHY he would be a satyr or how he came to be part of this bizarre cult.  Nothing is explained, and the final result is to see this man with a funny, drunk-like walk, accompanied by a curious theme.

The story itself has implications that Warren apparently did not consider, the most disturbing one being the suggestion that little Debbie would end up as one of The Master's Brides.  Is he suggesting pedophilia?           

Moving on to the Battle of the Brides, the constant bickering of the women becomes quickly grating, and the actual fight that breaks out among them is like everything else in Manos: unintentionally hilarious.  I will say that there is almost a strange, Pina-esque choreography of the women wrestling around in the West Texas desert, but while I enjoy a good catfight as much as the next guy, it is clear these professional models were told to take it easy on each other.  Again, in a scene like this, the accompanying music only makes things more ridiculous.

The fight ends with one of the Brides looking straight into the camera and throwing dirt at us. 

Talk about delusions of grandeur. 

Finally, the infamous 'kids making out for no reason' only puts more nuttiness into the mix.  One wonders why Warren or anyone around him didn't say...you know, why are these kids here, and why are they apparently spending days in the car.

No sense of continuity, a plot that makes no sense, the stiffest and most unnatural acting (from the broad to the drugged), a score that can't decided if it's a comedy or a horror film.  If anyone wants to see how NOT to do something, Manos: The Hands of Fate, is one of the BEST examples of which to study.

Manos: The Hands of Fate is a film that will live in infamy.

Still, despite that, one has to give Warren credit in creating something so deranged, so off-kilter, that it will always be a source of entertainment (even if it wasn't what he had in mind).  Torgo is a Cult Figure, there was a puppet show (Manos: The Hands of Felt), and it is the source of one of if not the GREATEST episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000

I can't hate Manos.  I admit part of the reason is because like the film, I too am a product of El Paso, Texas (even if, despite being a Hispanic-majority city Manos did not feature a single Hispanic anywhere on screen or as part of the crew...a curiosity that).  However, I think I can't hate it because while the film is awful in every way, I think of all the laughter I got from it, and the enjoyment the audience got from it.  It's a terrible film one can embrace.  I won't hold those who despise Manos in contempt: they do have a valid point to its flaws. 

Still, hating Manos is to me like hating a child who is barely learning to write for getting all the letters wrong.   

In terms of cinema, Manos is a disaster.  In terms of laughing at people trying so hard and failing so hard, it's a riot.  I will confess that I enjoyed the screening of Manos, not because it is any good.  It's quite hideous on every level imaginable.  However, I laughed more in Manos: The Hands of Fate than I did in The Hangover Part II (which allegedly had professionals involved; at least Manos was made by fools).

I'm giving a split decision on Manos: The Hands of Fate

DECISION: F*

*Oh it's terrible, but if you go into it knowing that, you can have a ball laughing at everything wrong.  That might lead to where a good time can be had by all. 

The Master may not approve, but we do...

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