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Manos Redivivus:
“The Master is Gone, But He is With Us Always”

manos6,627 words

Manos: The Hands of Fate – Restored Edition
Written and Directed by Harold P. Warren
Restoration Producer: Ben Solovey
Synapse Studios, 2015

“Why is he sleeping on a pile of dirt?”
“This movie has deep philosophical significance.”
“What about the beer bottles?”
“Oh . . .”[1] 

Well, here it is: the bottom of the bottomless barrel,[2] the worst of the worst — the loathed[3] and legendary Worst Movie of All Time: Manos, the Hands of Fate.[4] Comes now this two disc version, on DVD and Blu-Ray, that surely must be considered definitive.[5] And there’s nothing in all this restoration and commentary that comes close to in any way challenging the film’s reputation.[6]

But why? Why this film of all films?[7] Other films certainly have their own urgent, unique claims.

It’s not like there are no other candidates, even within the somewhat arbitrary universe of “movies I saw on Mystery Science Theater 3000.” For example,[8] The Crawling Terror shares Manos’ origins in a bet (that the director could make a scary movie just like those guys in Hollywood), casting of the director in a starring role (though under the pseudonym, “Vic Savage,”), entirely overdubbed soundtrack (the original having been lost, supposedly, in Lake Mead), and above all, arguably the worst cinematography in history — some shots are so over-exposed that the screen is almost entirely white, making Manos, even in its unrestored state, seem like a Technicolor blockbuster.

Other films share the incompetent filmmaking but go one better in post-production. Monster A Go-Go and The Dead Talk Back also dispense, for whatever reason, with sound sync, in favor of narrators; but the first was never even finished (Bill Rebane sold the remains to schlockmeister Herschel Gordon Lewis, who patched in new scenes, using some but not all of the original actors[9]), while Dead, finished, sat on a film lab shelve from 1957 to 1997 when it was discovered and shipped directly to Mystery Science Theater. Both movies also share the supremely irritating trait of cheating the ending: “There was no monster,” the narrator sternly informs us, and, as Tom Servo exclaims, “Hey, the dead never talked back!”

The attentive reader will have noted that so far all these movies (one hesitates to call them “films”) are of the sci-fi/horror genres. It’s true that these genres, much to the chagrin of their fans, do tend to produce a lot of junk.[10] Or it may be, that their fans are seriously devoted enough[11] to demand a high level of performance to match the seriousness of the theme, making the gap between aim and achievement more visible, and risible, than in, say, a failed Hollywood rom-com like Gigli.[12]

But it can happen elsewhere: take The Wild World of Batwoman, where the sci-fi elements (a superheroine with no particular abilities or fashion sense, a mad scientist whose role is realized mainly through splicing in scenes form The Mole People and a Mexican wrestling movie) are combined with an apparently[13] deliberate attempt at “comedy” or satire of some kind; the gap here produces 80 minutes of continuous douche chills.[14]

Douche chills, however, will keep you awake. Just as its craggy non-actors have “broken the face barrier,” The Starfighters is easily the most boring, sleep-inducing movie ever made.[15] Designed, apparently (more research is needed on this), to convince NATO that the F-104 Starfighter was worthy of purchase, despite a comically deadly accident record,[16] its combination of stock footage and non-actors [17] creates a cinematic black hole.

“It’s like they forgot to have things happen.”

“I really think there’s more nothing in this movie than any we’ve ever seen.”[18]

“Nothing,” however, can only remind us of the final challenger to Manos, the first entry in the Coleman Francis Trilogy (the Godfather Saga of bad films), The Beast of Yucca Flats.

“About the most nothing film I’ve seen . . . little more than a home movie someone might make.” (Bob Burns, “film historian and erstwhile movie gorilla”).

“An incredibly deadening experience” (Larry Blamire, B-movie director)

“Before this movie, there was no such thing as clinical depression.” (Tom Servo, robot)[19]

And yet . . .

Bad as it is, Beast does edge out Manos, if only on points.

Beast’s narration has its own Dadaist charms.[20] The cinematography is really rather good; although this was cameraman Lee Strosnider’s first chance to film 16mm, he had just come form several years making industrial films, while Hal Warren came straight from industry — fertilizer, in fact — and was actually using little more than a home movie camera.[21] Larry Blamire comments on the “heartbreaking” quality of the shots of the Flannery O’Connor-esque mother wandering around looking for her lost boys, and Frank Conniff (“TV’s Frank”) refers to the “dark kind of lyricism” seen in the next film, The Skydivers (although, as he admits, no one else agrees).

And that’s the main reason: Beast is part of a trilogy, and needs to be judged as such.[22] Above all, it’s only in the context of the three films together that the elements of repetition and futility emerge which make Francis’s work the mythological masterpiece that it is.[23]

Repetition and masterpiece: that brings us to Manos. If you’ve read this far, you likely know the “plot,” which has been summarized as:

The peculiarly-paced story of a deeply uncharismatic man (director Warren) taking his wife Margaret (Diane Mahree) and daughter Debbie (Jackey Neyman) on a vacation that runs afoul of a cult led by the plurally-married Master (Tom Neyman) and his jittery, big-kneed manservant Torgo (John Reynolds).[24]

So why does anyone care about this cinematic turd, and why care about polishing it? Why any “bad” movie? Consider this:

In attempting to explain the film’s appeal, the Los Angeles Times hypothesized, “After screening Manos for probably the 10th time, I’ve concluded it has to do with intimacy. Because it is such a pure slice of Warren’s brain — he wrote, directed, produced and starred, and brooked no collaboration — Manos amounts to the man’s cinematically transfigured subconscious.”[25]

But I, at least, am not interested in some Judaic pseudo-science like “psychoanalysis,” but rather in the super-science of Traditional metaphysics.[26] As Luis Varady has recently pointed out, the ancient wise men may have lack our physics and astronomy, but since they had the ancient teaching that “As above, so below,” the Microcosm is the Macrocosm . . .

All things mirror all things and to fully understand even a small fragment of reality gives an insight into reality as a whole — this is a common teaching in the mystical traditions of the world.[27

. . . they could learn the deeper truths about reality by studying their own consciousness, the results of which study they encoded in stories we call “myths.”

Cosmological myths were used as a means to convey spiritual truths, and these spiritual truths pointed directly at the true nature of our psychology.

And so:

It is not the reasonableness or likelihood of a myth that attracts human beings to it. Rather, a myth’s attraction is its potential ability to convey spiritual or moral truths to every member of society, from the most intellectual to the illiterate.[28]

In the same way, it is not the “reasonableness or likelihood” of a movie — the myths of the 20th century — that explains their appeal, but their “potential ability to convey spiritual or moral truths to every member of society.” Antd this potential is stronger in bad movies, which lack the pseudo-intellectual “sophistication” of the “quality production,” which is usually just a big budget rehash of Judaic PC-ideology, instead, most often accidentally, flying under the radar of both the director’s consciousness and industry censorship.[29]

Furthermore, that “bad” movies should be the focus of attention makes sense, since humans have an odd relationship with truth, especially metaphysical truths about themselves and their situation: they crave it, yet fear and loathe it at the same time.

And this, I think, is the key to the “bad film”: it sounds themes we suspect are true and important, but which we don’t want to admit; hence, we mock it, as the Roman soldiers and crucified thief mocked Christ. “It’s only a movie, and a bad one at that.”

Writing about the Gnostics, and why they lost out to the “orthodox” Christians, Michael Hoffman writes:

Why did people embrace childish lower-level Christianity (i.e., literal interpretation of the myths)?

People were starting to shy away from some of the painful truths revealed in the mysteries. They had mixed feelings about being mere puppets of gods/fates.[30]

The scriptures offered a choice between supernaturalist Literalism that takes pseudo-history as reality, and allegorical myth that reveals determinism — most people chose to stay in the supernaturalist reading.

If some Michael,[31] Captain of the Deterministic Angels were to actually do as the New Testament prophecies and reveal the Christian mystery of God’s kingdom, and this kingdom turns out to be entheogenic Christ-myth determinism, and “eternal” life is experienced only during this life, most people would plug their ears.

What use is a mere revelation of the metaphysical truth about moral agency, especially when such a revelation robs us of infinitely open possibilities and puts strict limitations on the types of freedom we can have? This is the already famous red pill versus blue pill choice from the movie The Matrix: would you rather slumber in often-comfortable fantasy or awaken to often-uncomfortable truth? Do you want the bliss of fantastic, uncritical, wishful thinking, or the sober intellectual satisfaction of high rational integrity?

If you could resolve your metaphysical intellectual discomfort by waking up to deterministic consistency, would you want to?

If God’s kingdom is deterministic, we don’t want it. It is no wonder the quantum physicists rejected (by fiat) finite, hidden-variables determinism and insisted on the endless magic of Copenhagenism instead. It is no wonder people chose the psychologically open-ended Literalist reading of Christianity rather than moving on to let the mystery of the deterministic kingdom of God be revealed.

And, on a not-unimportant related point, boredom induction conduces to transmission of spiritual truth and ultimately to enlightenment, or at least, cultic membership.

What is this mythological or metaphysical element that is feared by the masses? As already hinted, and as you might suspect from what you’ve heard about the movie, or seen yourself, it’s repetition. Obviously, the movie is about Fate, but specifically, in the words of the title of one of the soundtrack cues, “The Futility of Fate.”[32] Life here in the material world, on the samsaric plane, is an endless, horizontal round, a Circle, of the same, karma-induced events over and over; liberation/salvation/enlightenment is a matter of tossing aside karma (what I’ve called “passing the buck” and ascending vertically, via a Spiral (a Turn of the Screw), to a new level.[33]

The cyclical nature of Manos’s plot is actually fairly common, even as a screenwriting technique. What raises Manos to its unique status are the ways in which Manos, deliberately or not, takes it up to eleven.

The most notable, and perhaps the one “feature” that most everyone focuses on to explain the Manos Experience, is the extreme level of repetition in the dialogue, thus making it of a piece with the cyclical nature of the plot.

Torgo: There is no way out of here. It will be dark soon. There is no way out of here.

Torgo: He has left this world. But he is with us always. No matter where he goes, he is with us.

Torgo: There is nothing to fear, Madam. The Master likes you. Nothing will happen to you. He likes you.

Maggie: Likes me? I thought you said he was dead!

Torgo: Dead? No, Madam, not dead the way you know it. He is with us always. Not dead the way you know it. He is with us always.

And my personal favorite, Michael and Maggie’s rather philosophical — or fatalistic — duet in response to his daughter’s dog’s disappearance:

Maggie: Pepe’s gone. I just hope Debbie will understand.

Mike: She’ll understand. She’s my baby, she’ll understand.

Maggie: I hope so, darling. I sure hope so.

Mike: She’s my baby, she’ll understand.

It’s like listening to Charlie Parker jam with Lester Young!

Further increasing the echo-effect is the soundtrack, which, as mentioned before, is entirely post-production. For various reasons, only two men and one woman were available, so the characters’ voices quickly become indistinguishable,[34] and the child’s voice, clearly a woman’s falsetto, achieves a Brechtian level of alienation.[35] This kind of “dubbing” leads to the “doubling” I’ve frequently pointed out in films with mythological subtexts.[36]

Most of the repetitive dialogue belongs to audience favorite Torgo, who also acquires the equally beloved and repetitive Torgo’s theme, which sums up the movie rather like some big Hollywood themes like those of Gone with the Wind or A Summer Place.

And mentioning Torgo leads us to the second theme: who passes the buck? Certainly not Michael, who we see at the very end, has replaced Torgo, even (of course) repeating his lines:

Michael: “I am Michael. I take care[37] of the place[38] while the Master is away.”

No, surprisingly enough, it is Torgo who passes the buck to Michael. Yet, how can this be?[39] Torgo, when last seen, was running away, his coat sleeve aflame, while The Master held his burning, amputated hand aloft, laughing like a Bond villain.

But that’s just the point: Torgo gets away. The obvious fakery of the burning hand suggests that there has been some kind of magic trick, on one or both their parts.

First Wife: You are losing your control. Even Torgo defies you.

This also makes sense of the odd moment right before, where the Master commands his wives to kill Torgo (or rather, in the Manos idiom, “Kill! . . . Kill!) and they proceed to enact a kind of “liturgical dance” (MST3k) that culminates in what looks like an attempt to kill through . . . massage. It’s all fake, a set-up.

And finally, one can see, as Torgo is rolfed to death, that his hat has a large hole in the crown, alluding to the Traditional symbol of the vertical path of escape, like smoke through a the top of a teepee.[40]

Or perhaps the hand, the symbolism of which is surely a displacement for the phallus, is sacrificed to the god Manos? Or is it the equivalent of the eye, which Wotan sacrifices for wisdom?[41]

No one knows, or more significantly, no one seems to be curious about, what seems to me to be the most curious aspect of the whole production, the bizarre and unique hand symbolism[42] that permeates the film, from the title onward.[43]

Presumably, our Freudian friends will suggest this is a phallic symbol. Actually, the “hands” in question, starting with Torgo’s staff, are usually upright, at the ends of arm-like structures, suggesting not so much hands as fists.[44] In any event, the symbolism seems muddled here; the vertical staff should symbolize escape or “upright” in the sense of virile and “upstanding,” as Evola says in The Hermetic Tradition;[45] yet both Michael and the First Wife are tied to upright poles or trees, and subsequently are vanquished, while Torgo is forced to lie on a horizontal slab during his tickle-torture, and triumphs.

The symbolism is much clearer with a related theme: As Jackey Neyman (“Debbie”) points out with remarkable insight, her character is always falling asleep on the couch, and the family members are always falling down — i.e., falling horizontally into samsara. But, she adds, Torgo never falls down, despite his unforgettable stumbling walk.[46]

Even the MST3k crew intuits this, observing that “Torgo wobbles but he won’t fall down.” The wobble/hand symbolisms come together when the Master once more spreads his arms to disclose the giant hands embroidered on the inside of his robe,[47] and the crew suggests “Push him over!” Ultimately, this is what happens; the “Master” returns to his suspended, samsaric state, while Torgo makes a break for it. Michael and his family, attempting to escape, ultimately decide to return to the house (I guess on the principle of “they’d never think to look for us there!”), a horizontal trek that leads us back to the beginning, again.[48]

The idea that Torgo is the hero, or at least the protagonist, is not that forced. The featurette notes that the original (and only) review of the film, in the El Paso Daily Post, already referred to Torgo as “the hero.” The character of Torgo, along with his “haunting theme music” immediately piqued the imagination of the MST3k crew, who incorporated Torgo into their cast of recurring characters (played by head writer Mike Nelson, who would eventually replace Joel Hodgson as the human host). The 2008 making-of documentary is entitled Hotel Torgo. And as recently as March of this year,

The murderers on the Elementary episode “T-Bone And The Iceman” used the physical features of Torgo (portrayed by John Reynolds) to compose a fake facial composite to get the NYPD off their trail. It worked for a while before they were caught, due to the character of Dr. Joan Watson having recognized Torgo’s features from the film.[49]

What, then, of this restored edition? What was the condition of the earliest cut of the film, the so-called “workprint”; was the film always this hard to watch? Apparently not.

The trick about the cost-efficient on 16mm Ektachrome reversal film on which Manos was shot is that there was never a negative: when the film from the camera was developed, what resulted was the actual picture, not a negative thereof. That developed film was then duplicated for editing, eventually being assembled into the workprint that Solovey now possessed. It’s a minor miracle that the workprint survived not only standard disposal, but also the 1994 Northridge Earthquake which (according to Emersons) destroyed all the other extant Manos materials. And it’s pretty, too, thanks to the inherent hardiness of Ektachrome material.

The few audiences that saw Manos at the time certainly didn’t get to see anything as spiffy as the workprint. Once editing was complete, a 35mm blowup was made — making the picture twice as grainy — and prints for theaters were copied from that blowup. Not a single fuck was given about framing or color by the people who made those prints, resulting in a badly cropped picture with much of the color drained out. When the film hit VHS decades later, it was based on the horrible theatrical prints, and of course VHS is not exactly an archival format, so it made the picture look that much worse.

Although the result is better than anything seen by audiences in 1966, Solovey, in the restoration featurette, is adamant that the idea was not to “upgrade” the film into contemporary quality, in sound or vision, but to strip away accumulated dust, fingerprints, splices, etc., and return it to what was originally on the editing bench.

What we have here, then, is rather like the “historically informed performance practice” movement (misleadingly mislabeled “authentic practice”) that aims not at a metaphysically impossible and aesthetically irrelevant attempt to “hear what the music sounded like back then” but rather to strip away centuries of acquired interpretations so that we can form our own interpretation of the work itself.[50]

So, how does the “restored” version differ from the theatrical version (included, dubbed the “Grindhouse” cut, on the Blu-ray two-disc set only) which was used on MST3k, and is available on numerous cheap DVDs (it’s in the public domain[51]) other than in presentation?

Most notably, the infamous opening, a long, infinitely boring sequence of the family just driving along the highway (“The slowest car chase ever”—MST3k). The story is that this was supposed to have the opening credits superimposed, but for whatever reason — money, competence, or patience — it was never done. The non-MST DVD’s I’ve seen just lop it off, and start with a simple title shot.[52] The restoration keeps all this footage, but starts with some establishing shots (including an appropriate “Waste” container) of the Mordor-like surroundings of the director’s native El Paso (“Welcome to lovely Ground Zero” Joel says of a later “scenic” background, eerily foreshadowing 9/11).[53]

There’s also the aforementioned sequence in which the Master taunts, slaps, and smears blood on his tied-up first wife. Otherwise, individual shots seem to sometime be slightly longer. Some sequences, like the family’s escape attempt, have more shots included, the voices better synced; I suppose over time the theatrical release was subject innumerable cuts and splices, either to speed it up [!] for TV viewing or due to accidental damage.

There’s nothing in all this that comes close to in any way challenging the film’s reputation, for good or bad.[54]

In the featurette “Restoring the Hands of Fate,” although he likes to use the word “schmutz” a lot, restorationist Solovey presents as an almost aggressively Aryan type in appearance, modest and plain spoken. He is a very trustworthy and pleasant person to listen to, considering the types one runs across in the film world.[55] He takes obvious pride in in speaking of the fine German scanner he managed to obtain for the task, and the amateur viewer tends to believe what he says about the difficulties and decisions involved in the restoration process.

Solovey ultimately makes a very important point: movies, a 20th-century invention, must be preserved, since so much of our history is now in them.[56]

Speaking of history: one tends to think of productions like Manos as being in some sense auteur productions, for better or worse,[57] and so most attention has been focused on writer/producer/director/star Hal Warren. One thing that emerges from the “Hands: The Fate of Manos” featurette is that Tom Nyman, who played The Master, may have had far more influence on the film, providing, as he says with ironic modesty, “everything”: he contributed his own daughter as the daughter, his dog is the dog, his car as one of the two cars (he’s not sure which at this point), and as “production designer” he designed all the costumes (which were sewn by his wife, except for Torgo’s overalls, coat, and hat, which were Tom’s own) and above all, the set decorations: all those hands. Turns out, he had already sculpted dozens of such things (“His art was going through a period of fascination with hands” says Solovey, deadpan). Indeed, “One day I suggested we just call it Manos: The Hands of Fate.”

Graciously, Tom adds that Warren “was involved in everything on the film,” And on that note, the featurette ends with Neyman, still photographer Anslem Spring (a German soldier who was hiding out — I mean, living in — El Paso), and Solovey paying homage to Warren as the kind of DIY culture-creator I’ve lauded before; Neyman emphasizes that Warren knew he was making a B-picture (if only!) with local community theater talent, but thought it would serve as “the start of something big.” Solovey even attributes to Warren the start of “the kind of independent, self-financed” filmmaking we’ve become familiar with since, say, Easy Rider (made around the time and place of Manos).

Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, the restoration process itself is an instance of the same kind of “hey, let’s make a movie” American can-do-ism as the movie itself — although, one must add immediately, on a far more successful level.

Finally, the audio commentary track brings us the Neymans reminiscing about the production; rather than a couple of film nerds one-upping each other with trivia, it’s more like eavesdropping on a father and daughter still closely knit after all these years. Who knew Manos could be heartwarming?[58]

So, buy or not buy? Neophytes[59] should start with the MST3k’d version; it was available as a single disc from Rhino back in the day, now out of print, and currently Shout! Factory has a two-disc release, with the theatrical release and MST3k-centric special features.

Once — if — you decide to experience it firsthand, this set is the way to go. It makes for a far more “pleasant” viewing experience, if that word can ever be used in the context of Manos, and, to paraphrase Tolkien, those who approve of courtesy (at least) to long dead Texas fertilizer salesman will purchase it, and no other.


[1] Jackey and Tom Neyman, commentary track.

[2] “Coleman Francis is at the bottom of the barrel that’s beneath the one Ed Wood is in.” — Larry Blamire, interviewed in “No Dialogue Necessary: The Making of an Off-Camera Masterpiece,” a featurette on the DVD version of the MST3k episode Beast of Yucca Flats.

[3] “Oh Joel, there’s a plethora of loathsomeness” says Crow T. Robot as the end credits begin to roll.

[4] According to Wikipedia: “Manos holds a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 11 reviews. The book Hollywood’s Most Wanted lists Manos as the #2 in the list of “The Worst Movies Ever Made,” following Plan 9 from Outer Space. Entertainment Weekly proclaimed Manos “The Worst Movie Ever Made.” The scene in which the seven-year-old Debbie is dressed as one of the Master’s wives was included in a list of “The Most Disgusting Things We’ve Ever Seen” by the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew.”

[5] New 2K restoration; audio commentary; Hands: The Fate of MANOS Featurette; Restoring the Hands of Fate Featurette; FELT: The Puppet Hands of Fate Featurette; Manos: The Hands of Fate: Grindhouse Edition (Blu-ray only).

[6] “Will I have a bad rep?” is a line suggested by Tom Servo as the teenage girl in Manos confronts the highway cops.

[7] “But why? What’s the difference between 17 and 20?” demands the teenage boy in the educational short “Are You Ready for Marriage?”

[8] I discuss these films, briefly, at the end of my “Essential Films . . . & Others,” here.

[9] “This is like an entirely different movie” Joel says in stunned amazement during Episode 421; unfortunately, the new movie is just as bad.

[10] Lovecraft, of course, was a frequent and rigorous critic of this fellow “authors,” while for sci-fi, the legendary Theodore Sturgeon defensively formulated his well-known Law, or Revelation, “90% of everything is crap.”

[11] The stereotypical “nerd,” demanding to know why dome detail was changed, and proclaiming, like the Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy, “worst [blank] ever.”

[12] Patton Oswald, apparently an MST3k fan (he moderates a couple of Comic Con MST3k panels that appear on the DVDs) has a bit where he fills in the blanks on the typical movie preview “From the director of BLANK and the star of BLANK, comes BLANK” with various flatulent noises. See Gregory Hood’s Counter-Currents review of Oswald’s implicitly White “black comedy” Big Fan here.

[13] Directors frequently insist, like Martin Short’s Nathan Thurm character, that of course, they were actually trying to be funny, why would you think otherwise? For example, Lewis insisted that whatever Rebane thought he was doing, he, Lewis, at least knew it was crap and tried to turn it into a Twilight Zone parody. As Mad magazine told us long ago (to the tune of “The Rain in Spain”), “An ad that’s bad will wind up spoofed in Mad.” As a further turn of the screw, directors began sending their own recent but unknown films to MST3k in hopes of generating enough “so bad it’s good” buzz to pump up home video sales or even, as with Hobgoblins, finance a sequel.

[14] Angels’ Revenge, a Charlie’s Angels rip-off, has the same effect, not only humiliating TV sitcom legends like Alan Hale, Jr,. Jim Backus and Pat Buttram, but also dragging in the declining Peter Lawford and even Jack Palance, pre-Batman and pre-Oscar™ .

[15] In color, at least. Radar Secret Service (1950), with its washed out, grey print, grey men and grey clothing and vehicles, takes the black and white title, employing what MST3k calls “sleep-induction through hypno-helio-static-stasis” (Episode 620).

[16] The movie’s base commander proudly says “it’s even been called a rocket with a man in it,” but in the real world it was known as “The Brick with Wings” and “The Widowmaker.” Ten years later, Robert Calvert of Hawkwind would record a “satirical concept album” based on the Luftwaffe’s experience with the plane: Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters (UA, 1974) Musicians who appeared on the album include members of Hawkwind, The Pink Fairies, Brian Eno, Arthur Brown, Jim Capaldi, and Adrian Wagner. See the Wikipedia entry here.

[17] As the gang says about The Skydivers, Episode 609, rather than have the actors do their own flying, they had the flyers do their own acting.

[18] MST3k, Episode 620.

[19] All from the DVD extra “No Dialogue Necessary: The Making of an Off-Camera Masterpiece.”

[20] “I thought I was listening to Spoon River Anthology performed by atomic mutants.” — Larry Blamire.

[21] The MST DVD includes not only extensive contributions from Strosnider in the “making of” featurette — “No Dialogue Necessary: The Making of an Off-Camera Masterpiece” — he also gets his own interview segment, “Coleman Francis: The Cinematic Poet of Parking.”

[22] Of a gunfight from ten feet away, after a careful, lovingly drawn out parking sequence, Crow remarks that “He’s trying things here he’ll perfect in Red Zone Cuba.”

[23] As will be shown in my forthcoming essay, “Footprints on the Wasteland: The White Apocalypse of Coleman Francis.” Starfighters goes perhaps too far in the direction of entropy; the absence of “things happening” entails, of course, an inability to suggest the endless repetition of things. There is, however, the endless, repeated “refueling” stock footage, a lame practical joke that occurs twice (and actors so generic as to prompt the comment “Is that that one guy?”) as well stock footage of take-offs/landings; the latter perhaps suggest the puppet theme as well, although, since the emphasis is on how gosh darn safe the F-104 is, there’s only one bailout, and it’s off camera. Francis’s Skydivers (note the linguistic similarity) will by contrast be entire constructed of planes taking off and landing, and the eponymous skydivers diving, with the later a combination of stock footage and close-up shots of the actors hanging from harnesses in a warehouse.

[24] “Manos: The Hands of Fate Restored — The So-Called “Worst Movie” Has Never Looked Better,” by Sherilyn Connelly on The Robot’s Voice, March 14, 2014, here.

[25] Wikipedia, quoting Dan Neil, “Why We Love Bad Movies,” Los Angeles Times, August 7, 2005.

[26] Let’s get the “psychology” out of the way. Judging from the recollections of the actresses in the “making of” featurette, Hal Warren seems to have been the usual horndog/control freak typical of the males of the Mad Man era: suggesting an actress take off her blouse, then quickly retreating to “just joking” when she refuses; entering the same actress in the Miss Texas contest without her knowledge, a publicity stunt that backfires when tells the judges that she’s an atheist, etc. This is clearly manifested in the film in three sequences: the infamous nightgown wrestling of the Master’s wives (the MST crew suggest “this is why the film was made”); the scene where one of the wives sees the husband/director unconscious and tied to a tree, whereupon she begins to kiss him, lick his face, and then slap him (as Tom Neyman says on the commentary track, “Sure, it’s what every woman wants); and a scene cut from the MST version, in which the Master slaps his own tied up wife. Misogynistic, yes, but too amateurishly made to be either erotic or disturbing. Hal Warren though had nothing on the director of the above-mentioned The Creeping Terror, the Bob Crane-like Vic Savage, who “makes Ed Wood look like Ward Cleaver” according to the recent bioflick, The Creep Behind the Camera (Peter Scheurman, 2014).

[27] “To know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom.” — Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited.

[28] Luis Varady: The Wisdom of the Serpent: The Gnostic Trinity of the Peratae (Amazon Kindle, 2015). For more on Varady, see “Lords of the Visible World: A Modern Reconstruction of an Ancient Heresy,” my review of his earlier essay A Life Beyond Change: The Gnostic System of Carpocrates (Amazon Kindle, 2015).

[29] See my discussion of Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly, whose PC-anti-anti-communism intentions were subverted precisely because the screenwriter “had contempt for the material” and “wrote it fast, on autopilot,” thus allowing Traditional themes to emerge. “Mike Hammer, Occult Dick: Kiss Me Deadly as a Lovecraftian Tale,” reprinted in The Eldritch Evola . . . & Others (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014).

[30] How appropriate, then, that included with the Restored Edition as a special feature is FELT: The Puppet Hands of Fate, a retelling of the Manos story — one is tempted to say, the Manos myth — with puppets.

[31] Michael, of course, is our “protagonist,” but apart from the aforementioned lack of charisma, I will soon suggest our “hero” is someone else.

[32] Oh, and the soundtrack, the kind of laid-back jazz noodling that older guys like Warren still thought was “cool” back in the early sixties, and which I, growing increasingly fogey-ish, have lately grown fond of, calling to mind as it does long summer afternoons, light rain, and the soothing tones of Jessica Walter asking Clint Eastwood to play “Misty” for her. Although Coleman Francis mainly used free “library” music, The Skydivers has two interesting exceptions: a brief excerpt from Lionel Hampton’s “Going Home” (prompting Tom Servo to whine “Dad, change the station!”) and, by contrast, an appearance by then-famous surf guitarist Jimmy Bryant playing his then-hit, “Stratosphere Boogie.” “The jazz-centric score for Hal Warren’s horror “Master”-piece is forthcoming from Brooklyn’s own Ship to Shore Phono Co. The company sourced its audio from the 35mm soundtrack negative that was created for making theatrical release prints. The master tapes have never surfaced, thus leaving this 35mm neg as the closest one can get to the original recorded material. The company is offering three vinyl variants that will total a press run of 2000 LPs. Expected release date is the end of this month. More info about MANOS and how to buy the different vinyl color editions is here.” — Manos: The Hands of Fate screening & soundtrack premiere in Brooklyn on Oct. 7th!” here. Check out the soundtrack LP here: “Utilizing sparse, jazzy arrangements, Robert Smith, Jr. and Russ Huddleston’s score evokes the same bizarre, yet oddly compelling, feelings that fans of the film know and love.”

[33] See the essays reprinted in The Eldritch Evola, as well as my forthcoming collection, Passing the Buck: a Traditionalist Goes to the Movies, which will include “Thanks for Watching: Awakening Through Repetition in Groundhog Day, Point of Terror, & Manhunter, Part 1“ and “Phil & Will: Awakening Through Repetition in Groundhog Day, Point of Terror, & Manhunter, Part 2.”

[34] “Hey, that’s just one guy!” mutters Joel in muted wonder.

[35] The poor child burst out in tears on hearing her “voice” during the premiere showing.

[36] For example, in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables; see my review reprinted in The Homo and the Negro (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012).

[37] In the first act, Michael, typically, shouted “Where the hell is that caretaker?” This is the only time Torgo is referenced as “The Caretaker.” Michael’s transformation at the end recalls — or rather, predates — Jack Torrance’s in The Shining. “You have always been the caretaker.”

[38] “In dwelling upon the nature of God and the universe, the mystics of the Talmudic period asserted, in contrast to the transcendentalism evident in some parts of the Bible, that “God is the dwelling-place of the universe; but the universe is not the dwelling-place of God”. Possibly the designation (“place”) for God, so frequently found in Talmudic-Midrashic literature, is due to this conception, just as Philo, in commenting on Genesis 28:11 says, “God is called ha makom (המקום “the place”) because God encloses the universe, but is Himself not enclosed by anything” (De Somniis, i. 11).” — Wikipedia, here.

[39] “How can this be? For he is the Kwisatz Haderach!” — Dune. If this were MST3k, I’d shout out here “Give a dog a bone!”

[40] See the essays collected in The Door in the Sky: Coomaraswamy on Myth and Meaning by Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy, ed. by Rama P Coomaraswamy (Princeton, 1999).

[41] See my comments on the Wotan theme embodied in the suicide of Lane Pryce in my latest collection, End of An Era: Mad Men and the Ordeal of Civility (San Francisco: Counter-Currents,2015).

[42] “Manos” as the vibrant and diversity conscious modern viewer must know, is simply the Spanish word meaning “hands,” so the title is essentially Hands: The Hands of Fate, which already begins to enunciate the repetition theme we will begin exploring.

[43] Apparently, quite arbitrarily. The “making of” featurette reveals that Tom Neyman (The Master) was also the production designer; he just happened to have a whole load of hand sculptures, since, as restorer Solovey says, dead pan, he had entered an artistic phase in which he was exploring the essence of hands. It was he (Neyman says) who suggested one day “Why don’t we just call this “Manos: The Hands of Fate.” But is not the theme of Manos that there are no “accidents”?

[44] Did Warren anticipate the practice of “fisting,” which Edmund White called “the only new sexual act invented in recorded history”?

[45] At least one hand is imbedded in a block of stone, thus literally “ithyphallic.”

[46] “It’s like having Joe Cocker as your bellhop” (MST3k). Apart from being constantly high, John Reynolds was literally saddled with some kind of wire contraptions on his lower legs; people have speculated that he’s a satyr, or goat-man, but Tom Neyman, the production designer, again reveals that they, like the hands, were just some stuff he had lying around.

[47] Neyman designed this himself, and his (real) wife sewed it, but he say that it was director Warren who insisted on his doing this over and over.

[48] Torgo presumably heads for “the crossroads” where it was previously said the nearest phone is; this explains Michael’s curious initial idea of “hid[ing] out in the desert until someone comes to help.” The crossroad symbolism is obvious (the warp and woof of material elements) and it is from here that Torgo, like the initiate who has become the Realized Man, will ascend. See “The Corner at the Center of the World” in The Eldritch Evola, op. cit.

[49] Wikipedia, here.

[50] See Nicholas Harnoncourt’s remarks quoted in the liner notes to Telefunken’s Bach 2000 anniversary sampler disc (Teldec, 1999).

[51] Or not: “Manos: The Hands of Fate is generally believed to be in the public domain because director Hal Warren failed to include a copyright symbol in the film (in the US in the 1960s this was enough to disqualify a film for copyright). When news broke of Solovey’s restoration, the son of Hal Warren, Joe Warren, started exploring the possibility that the film was in fact not in the public domain. Joe Warren discovered in 2013 that the script had been copyrighted, and he believes this means that the film is also copyrighted. However, no precedent exists for this case so the legal status of the film is uncertain. The release of the restored film is going ahead in spite of this.” — Wikipedia, here.

[52] What with “manos” = hands, the title sequence subtly recalls the equally accidental doubling of the Larry Buchanan opus Attack of the Eye Creatures; as the MST crew says, “They just . . . didn’t . . . care.”

[53] According to the commentary track, the road is, in fact, called Scenic Drive.

[54] “Will I have a bad rep?” is a line suggested by Tom Servo as the teenage girl confronts the highway cops.

[55] “Investigator Graham interests me. Very purposeful looking.” — Manhunter. “I like you, Tony, there is no lying in you.” — Scarface.

[56] A sentiment echoed by Bob Burns in his Beast interview: “All films are interesting . . . It was a film, it did get made. . . . I think there’s a place for every movie that’s been made . . . It has a place. I’m not sure what that place is, but it has a place. I don’t think it should be forgotten.” And Larry Blamire concurs “Every movie is important to see, even the miserably bad ones.”

[57] “Our auteur, ladies and gentlemen!” exclaims Crow as Coleman Francis sits down on the floor of a “Cuban”jail and spreads his legs wide in Red Zone Cuba (Episode 621).

[58] “Say, I knew sex was corny, but who knew corn could be so sexy?” Another painful bit of “humor” from The Starfighters, delivered by the future Congressman Bob “B-1”Dornan.

[59] “What’s a neophyte?” (MST3k, The Starfighters).


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  1. CharlesMartel
    Posted January 1, 2016 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    That’s what MST3K and Rifftrax are for! To enliven movies that would otherwise give you nothing but ,as you said “douche chills”.

  2. Gunnar von Cowtown
    Posted October 29, 2015 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    O’Meara just wrote 6,000 words about “Manos”???


  3. Theodore
    Posted October 29, 2015 at 4:47 am | Permalink

    Manos – hilarious movie. One of my favorites.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted October 29, 2015 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      The Master would approve.

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