Invariably, someone will watch a film and declare it “the worst film ever!” It’s usually hyperbole of course; we say that instead of just saying “I didn’t like it.” A recent contender of the ‘Worst film ever!’ title was The Room, a film made by the auteur Tommy Wiseau. It’s true that The Room is terrible, a completely misguided attempt at a drama from a person who clearly has never had a conversation with someone else before (Wiseau also doesn’t actually look like a person, instead resembling someone who’s half melted in a freak accident). So what happens when you see what is quite possibly the worst film ever unleashed onto an unsuspecting audience?
“Every frame of this movie looks like someone’s last known photograph.” – Mystery Science Theatre 3000
It’s hard to quantify just how bad Manos: The Hands of Fate actually is. For a start, Manos is Spanish for hands, so right away we’re on dangerous ground. It was a film that was created as the result of a bet by fertilizer salesman Hal Warren, who went on to direct, write, star and produce the film despite having the most minimal of experience in any of those roles. It’s a wonderful thing about the movies that someone possessing enough willpower and belief can make a film, but just because anyone can it doesn’t mean that anyone should.
Unsurprisingly Manos was a massive failure, and was barely shown outside of the premiere. Years later it found a home on the TV show Mystery Science Theatre 3000, which is where I and most people eventually saw it. For those who’ve never seen MST3K, the premise was that a guy was stranded in space with 2 robot friends he had built, who would then watch bad movies while adding commentary over the top. The films in question were often terrible, and though it faced stiff competition from such fair as Santa Clause conquers the Martians, and Horror of Party Beach; Manos was undoubtedly the worst. It was so bad in fact that they can’t even effectively riff on the movie and instead seem somewhat drawn in by the terribleness of it all.
All this and I’ve still not said what it’s about. Well a man searches for a vacation lodge with his wife, their young child and their dog. Instead of reaching their intended destination they stumble across a lodge that’s guarded by Torgo, who talks cryptically of ‘The Master’. The husband insists on staying the night, much against the advice of Torgo who has already informed them they’re doomed. They finally meet The Master and his harem of wives. Eventually Torgo is banished (And possibly massaged to death), the wife and young child (Yes really) become another of The Master’s wives and the husband becomes the new caretaker of the lodge.
Now reading that the film sounds pretty boring, which of course it mostly is. But it also doesn’t really describe the total ineptitude of the whole thing. For example Torgo is a satyr, a fact which remains uncommented on by anyone else in the film (It also speaks to the ineptness of the film that the mechanical legs are on backwards, so the actor instead looks like he has giant thighs – see this clip here for the best example). There’s also a subplot, and like most things to do with Manos I use that term loosely, whereby a couple spend the whole time making out in a car. Moths swarm around the lights used for night scenes, and one infamous moment sees a search by two police officers (After hearing gunfire) last for all of three feet because it was too dark to go any further than that. Do you want opening credits? Tough, there aren’t any. What you’ll instead get is five minutes of pointless driving scenes because someone neglected to superimpose the opening credits over the top. If you’ll allow me to get technical for a moment, there’s the fact that occasionally a clapper-board can still be seen at the start of a take or moments where the actors look off-screen for direction. Due to the limitations of the camera used they couldn’t record audio (And could only film for 22 seconds) so everything was dubbed in after the fact, leading to the amusing scene in which Hal Warren, dubbing multiple characters, conducts a conversation with himself. The story also goes that upon hearing her voice dubbed, the actress who plays the daughter burst into tears. That’s Manos for you, a film so bad that it makes children cry.
It’s here where I make my sinful confession that I’ve seen Manos multiple times. There’s something about it all that just draws you in. It’s an ugly, obtrusive film that some small part of me can’t help but love. Maybe it is just the ineptitude of it all that I find charming. Also, I can guarantee you that if you spend all day on Google you’ll find I’m the only person to refer to Manos as “charming”.
So I’m issuing to you, dear reader, the Manos challenge. For those who are curious you can start watching the MST3K version of the film here (You want to skip the interludes), if you fancy yourself a true glutton for punishment you can watch the whole sorry mess here. Now, I’m not expecting anyone to rush out and watch this film (Really – don’t) but there’s something to be said for why we like the things that we do. I recognise how Manos is a failure on pretty much every level, yet that doesn’t impede my enjoyment of it at all. It’s not a film like The Room or Troll 2 (Which will be the subject of an upcoming post) where it’s so bad that it becomes good again, it’s a film that’s so bad that it stays bad and never rises from there. It’s not hipster ironic-detachment either; in fact I’d argue that it’s precisely because of its badness that I unashamedly like it so much. There’s something to admire for a film that didn’t even have the luck to get anything right. Had the film been competently written, acted and directed (I’d settle for just one of those really) then I wouldn’t be writing about it now. But like a proud father looking at his ugly daughter, I see what everyone else can see I just don’t look at it the same way. Plus if nothing else, it’s a great way to get rid of company…possibly their friendship too.