Manos: The Hands of Fate [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Synapse Films
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (7th December 2015).
The Film

“Manos: The Hands of Fate” (1966)

A family is driving toward Valley Lodge for vacation, but are seemingly lost. The father Mike (played by Harold P. Warren) thinks they are going in the right direction while the mother Margaret (played by Diane Mahree) thinks they should stop for directions. Their young daughter Debbie (played by Jackey Raye Neyman) is sitting in the backseat with their dog, Peppy, complaining about being tired and hungry.

The road becomes a dirt road seemingly leading to nowhere, but eventually the family finds a place, though it is not the place they are looking for. Standing at the door is a person called Torgo (played by John Reynolds) who says cryptically, “I take care of the place while The Master is away.” Since Torgo says that there is no such place as Valley Lodge around the area, Mike asks if the family could stay at Torgo’s place for the night. Torgo says that The Master (played by Tom Neyman) would not approve of the family to stay, but he decides to let them stay just for the night. Inside the house they find extremely creepy artwork around including a tall man in red and black with a dog and everything looking dusty and dirty. Things get even creepier with Torgo trying to make a move toward Margaret, the dog Peppy being mysteriously killed, and Debbie finding the dog that was in the mysterious painting.

Debbie shows her parents that she found the dog in a “big place”, in which they find the man from the creepy painting lying down unconscious along with a group of women in sheer white dresses also unconscious. Mike tells Margaret and Debbie to lock themselves in their room until he can find some answers from Torgo. Will Mike be able to escape from the creepy home, or will Torgo and The Master have their way?

“Manos : The Hands of Fate” is unanimously considered one of the worst, if not the absolute worst movie ever made. Made and released in 1966 in Texas by fertilizer salesman and producer/director/writer/actor Harold P. Warren in his first and last screen credit, “Manos” has achieved a cult status for its low quality of filmmaking, amateur acting, badly written dialogue, and unintentional humor.

Interestingly, Warren met with famed writer Stirling Siliphant and mentioned how easy it would be to make a horror film although having no experience. With a bet placed, Warren decided to put his foot where his mouth was and raised a total of $19,000 for production, got local theater actors (in which he was part of) and models to be actors in the film. Production in El Paso, Texas in 1966 was not done in ideal circumstances. The amateur production had immediate difficulties with shooting, with everyone working day jobs and pretty much doing the film voluntarily at night or on weekends. Warren was a hard worker doing multiple tasks in the making of the film, and even presenting himself as an artist in the level of Orson Welles. The 16 mm Bell & Howell camera used for the production was a handheld, handwound camera, which could only hold 32 seconds of film at a time, causing many editing and continuity errors. One could even say there was an unintentional homage to Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” or pre-dating "Easy Rider" for using jump cuts for artistic purposes, but this was sorely due to not having anyone to check continuity on set and the camera quickly running out of film. Arms raised in one scene would cut suddenly to the actor with arms down. A policeman would move a few steps in a different place within a shot, and many other examples. With the amount of actual film stock available, retakes were almost never done. Focus was also a problem with the camera, with some shots being completely out of focus, though most of the time it is not an issue. For some shots they are extremely short, while some scenes go on and on, as they also didn’t want to waste the left over film, giving reason to why the driving scenes take so long.

As for audio, nothing was recorded on set, resulting in every line and every sound effect dubbed in post-production. Warren dubbed his own voice as well as Tom Neyman. All the women including the young daughter was dubbed by one woman in studio, leading to almost every woman sounding the same, though the young daughter having a falsetto voice instead. The voices match the lips only 30 to 40 percent of the time, so the dubbing effect is plain as day. The music was not library music apparently, but original music made especially for the film, with a mix of pop songs, jazzy scores and avant garde rhythms, which is surprisingly good. But the editing techniques were not, with the score cutting in and out abruptly at various moments.

What can be said about the acting? Mostly bad, but not entirely. The father Mike played by the multitasking head of the film Harold P. Warren himself, is pretty bad. Granted he was more concentrating on shooting the movie than acting, but his delivery of lines, his character’s complete disregard for the safety of his family, such as making his daughter and wife go in the creepy house first, or how he points his gun often toward the family rather than elsewhere. Margaret’s character played by Diane Mahree has issues, as she was a 19 year old beauty while the husband was a 50 year old with gray hair. But besides the age difference, her lines and her actions were plain silly. Torgo’s character played by John Reynolds was a real standout of character acting, with his creepy mannerisms and his bizarre look with the dirty hat, short beard, and of course the strangely oversized knees. It’s still debated whether Reynolds put the artificial leg and knee pads in to give a creepiness to the character’s walk and look, or if Reynolds was supposed to be a goat-man or a satyr and wore the prosthetic backwards by mistake. Whichever was the case, the rumor that the pain the prosthetics gave him made Reynolds addicted to painkillers causing his death is incorrect. Reynolds was already a drug addict prior to the making of the film, so the more debatable part is if he was actually on drugs during the filming or not. Was it a character actor based call to use his body language and very unusual cadence for delivering his lines, or was he just high the whole time? We will never know, as Reynolds committed suicide only a month before the movie premiered at the young age of 25. Tom Neyman as The Master was one of the only legitimate players in the film, not only playing the actor with gusto and power, he also painted the self-portrait, made all the sculpted hands, designed the iconic costume of The Master, and also doctored the lines of The Master to give them a little more credibility. As for other characters such as the police officers or the make-out couple are easily there to pad the runtime, being there for no apparent other reason, not moving the plot along in any way. Though it does make unintentional comedy by watching a couple make out in a car on the side of a Texas road from the afternoon all day and into the evening.

The premiere screening of “Manos” in El Paso at the Capri Theater was highly anticipated locally with even the mayor attending. The screening was a disaster. Audience members started laughing at the terrible quality of the film, eventually drowning out the sound of everything coming from the speakers. It’s said that Jackey Raye Neyman who played Debbie was in tears when she heard her voice dubbed by some woman. The cast and crew were so embarrassed that they snuck out and not return. Quickly forgotten about and never receiving a release widely, “Manos” was just another local film obscurity until it was rediscovered by the TV series “Mystery Science Theater 3000” in 1993. The episode ignited interest into the mythos of “Manos”, as it was not like “Plan 9 From Outer Space” or “The Beast of Yucca Flats” in which the respective directors Ed Wood and Coleman Francis, as well as the key cast and crew made other films, and their bios were readily avaialble. “Manos” on the other hand was an enigma, with the cast and crew not having other credits to speak of in the film world. Cult film and bad film lovers were enticed and curious as to how a movie so bad was made and who could have made such a thing.

In 2011, a workprint of the film was discovered in rough shape but miles ahead of what was seen on “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and on existing VHS and DVDs. With a campaign started on Kickstarter to restore the film, enough money was raised to restore the film digitally in 2K, with screenings of the restored film, and eventual Blu-ray and DVD releases of the restored film. More information on the restoration can be found at the Manos in HD blog.

So is “Manos: The Hands of Fate” really the worst film ever made? The film has countless textbook examples of how NOT to make a film with its numerous amateur problems, mistakes, and unintentional hilariousness. Some people have called it “a train wreck”, but considering the small scale, it is more like watching “a model train wreck” instead. It didn’t cause huge layoffs, damage in artistic credibility, or the closing of film studios. We can thank big budget train wrecks such as “Heaven’s Gate”, “Sayonara Jupiter”, or “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” for those examples.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray, which can be played back on any Blu-ray player worldwide.

Video

Synapse presents 2 different cuts of the film on the Blu-ray:

* The Restored Version (73:40)
* The Unrestored Grindhouse Version (69:43)


Both versions of the film are presented in 1080p in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio in the AVC MPEG-4 codec. The rediscovered 16mm workprint of the film was scanned at 2K and restored using digital technology. Scratches, tramlines, debris, color fluctuations, damaged frames and other imperfections were digitally corrected though not all could be restored. There are still marks here and there and more severe damage that could not be fixed, but overall the result looks great considering the source. And for a side by side comparison, the unrestored grindhouse version will show viewers just how damaged the workprint was. Colors really pop out, depth and clarity has been restored, and grain is still visible, making it look like an actual film, rather than the shoddy and muddy VHS quality sources that have been considered the norm for many years. Truly a revelation that will please fans, and for fans who clamor that “Manos” should be seen in a worn out version, the unrestored version is available too. Great job with the restoration supervised by Solovey, and great job by Synapse with the HD transfer.

The Restored Version runs 4 minutes longer for the restoration credits following the movie. Hey, is that my name in the credits?

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 dual mono

The sole audio track is the original mono. No stereo or surround upgrade was done, obviously since the original music or vocal separation tracks no longer exist. Both the Restored and Unrestored versions feature the lossless mono track, but they are not identical. The Restored version not only features a restored picture, but a restored soundtrack. Clicks, hisses, pops, and buzzing sounds are completely eliminated, making a clear and clean soundtrack though note that the original sound was not exactly the easiest to understand with the occasional muffled dialogue. The Unrestored version has the unrestored soundtrack with all the imperfections uncorrected. Very glad that Synapse went with putting separate lossless soundtracks on both versions.

There are optional English HoH and Spanish subtitles for the Restored Version. The white colored subtitles caption all the dialogue and the song lyrics. The unrestored version has no subtitles.

Extras

Synapse has put together a nice assortment:

Audio commentary with actress Jackey Raye Neyman-Jones and actor Tom Neyman
Jackey who played young Debbie and Tom who played The Master get together for the commentary track. The real-life father-daughter Jackey and Tom do a screen specific commentary, with Jackey doing most of the moderating, though it is more filled with laughter of the absurdity of the film rather than a critical breakdown. They talk about Warren and what he was like, what it was like shooting in the dirty home, the art direction by Tom Nyeman, and the premiere disaster.

"Hands: The Fate of Manos" documentary (30:46)
A short documentary by Ballyhoo Productions, this includes interviews with film restorer Ben Solovey with actors Tom Neyman, Diane Adelson, Jackey Neyman, along with the son of actor William Bryan Jennings, and uncredited photographer Anselm Spring. They share memories of the shoot, memories of the director, the bad script, the problems that John Reynolds had, the reception, and much more. Interesting was Warren’s insistence that anything that didn’t go right on set would be fine because “We’ll fix it later in the lab”, which obviously wasn't and couldn’t be done. Also a subject of interest is Diane’s modeling career and how she sacrificed the chance to become “Miss Texas”, though not because of “Manos”, though for quite an interesting reason because of... Texas being Texas...
in 1080p, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo

"Restoring The Hands of Fate" featurette (6:36)
This short interview with Bene Solovey comes from the same session as the documentary, but here he talks about the film stock used, the cameras used, and the details about how the film was restored. Solovey also talks about why the film was restored in 2K rather than the current industry standard of 4K, with detailed explanations. It could have been a little more in depth with shot comparisons and examples, but regardless of that, it is still informative and welcoming.
in 1080p, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo

"Felt: The Puppet Hands of Fate" featurette (3:58)
Rachel Jackson, the producer and director of “Felt” is interviewed to talk about the creation of the puppet version of “Manos” for stage production. She also talks about the movie itself and the differences between the film version and the stage version.
in 1080p, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo

With a good and yet basic selection of extras, some things are missing. Of course the version people have seen the most, the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” episode is not here, but is available on separate DVD editions. The Shout! Factory “MST3K - Manos: The Hands of Fate: Special Edition” also had a featurette entitled “Hotel Torgo: The Making of Manos: The Hands of Fate”, a 27 minute documentary featuring “Manos” historian Richard Brandt and camera operator/make-out guy Bernie Rosenblum, also produced by Ballyhoo Productions, but not available on this Blu-ray edition. I would have also liked to see a featurette or a documentary on the finding of the workprint version, about the Kickstarter campaign, and the restored version’s theatrical screenings.

Overall

Synapse’s Blu-ray Special Edition of “Manos: The Hands of Fate” is one of the most anticipated releases of the year, with a beautifully restored version of one of the absolute worst movies to ever get a theatrical release. The nearly 50 year old film can be considered the anti-Citizen Kane of feature films, or reversely, the Citizen Kane of bad films. But as bad as it is, it still resonates with continuing interest, with a "Manos: The Hands of Fate" video game, a prequel film "Manos: The Rise of Torgo" (2015), and a sequel film, "Manos Returns" (2016).

Regardless of the quality of the actual film, the disc is one of the best releases of the year. For ones who argue by saying “Why would you want a Blu-ray of such a horrible film?”, you can just easily quote the make-out girl who said the most memorable line and facial reaction and say “Why don’t you guys leave us alone?!”

The Film: F Video: A- Audio: B+ Extras: B+ Overall: B

 


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