Manos: the Hands of Fate has achieved a kind of notoriety and, “celebrating” its 50th birthday this year, it is widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made. It was made in 1966 by a man named Hal Warren, who sold fertilizer for a living. You could say that in making this film he was simply carrying over his profession into a new medium. He made the film as the result of a bet, trying to ‘prove’ that he could make a horror film. The film exists, so he did enough to win the bet, but in doing so he created something genuinely awful.
Clocking in at 70 minutes, Manos is a short film, and Warren appears to have used every second of footage he recorded–no matter how bad or irrelevant–to try and ensure a full-length feature. This means that long sections of the film are very, very boring, particularly a near-ten minute sequence at the beginning which just follows a family aimlessly driving around Texas. It wouldn’t really be accurate to say the film is full of technical mistakes; the film is simply a succession of them, with execrable editing, direction, acting, and particularly dubbing. All of the voice lines were dubbed over the film by a small number of actors, meaning most of the characters have the same voices. The film features a small girl whose lines are done by a grown woman hilariously trying to sound like a child (apparently when the actor first saw the film she ran out of the theatre in tears). The dubbing could explain some of the bizarre occasions when characters seem to contradict themselves, suggesting the same actor is doing the voices of different characters who are supposed to be arguing with each other.
The iconic image of Manos is the actor John Reynolds, who plays the evil janitor/generic lackey, Torgo. Torgo was supposed to be a sort of satyr, and one of the other actors had mocked up some metal rigging for Reynolds to wear to give him an appropriate appearance. There are different stories out there about this, but the main one is that for whatever reason Reynolds started off wearing the metal backwards, on the front of his legs rather than the back, which made it look like he had bizarrely swollen knees. Wearing this equipment made it very hard for Reynolds to walk, and in most of his scenes he struggles back and forth with the aid of a large stick. There are occasions when he has to carry luggage, or get up or lie down, which clearly cause him significant trouble and it’s quite pathetic to watch (in the classic sense of the word).
Reynolds shot himself shortly before the film was released, aged 25, and I have seen his suicide partly attributed to crippling pain and ensuing drug use that came out of his role in this film. The actress who played the child in the film says it is not true that Reynolds was addicted to painkillers as a result of the film, but that he certainly was using recreational drugs, and had longstanding emotional problems. In some of his scenes, Reynolds’ strange facial twitching and other expressions certainly suggest he is on drugs. Whatever the truth of it, poor John’s performance and sad end would seem to make him the James Dean of bad movies.
In contrast to a film like The Room, Manos is not a film that will have you in stitches from beginning to end. The film is quite boring for minutes at a time, but just when you’re ready to turn it off something will happen that will make you scream in disbelief. It’s a very, very bad film, but not without entertainment value for bad film enthusiasts, especially if watched in a group. The inevitable crowdfunded sequel is now on the cards, involving the child actor who featured in the original, which seems rather pointless; but hopefully this time, at least, nobody will die.
1/10 (bad movie rating 8/10)