"It's like a train wreck; you just can't
take your eyes off it."
- Bobby Thompson, Entertainment Weekly
One wouldn't think that an Academy Award-winning scriptwriter would be mentioned as participating in the worst horror film ever made, but you'd be wrong. Stirling Silliphant (January 16, 1918 – April 26, 1996), most noted for his screenplay for IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (he also scripted genre films VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED and THE SWARM) was roped into a cut-rate, cheesy production on a bet by fertilizer salesman Harold P. Warren and MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE was born.
Ed Wood's PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE is often cited as the worst horror movie ever made, but recently, MANOS has been usurping PLAN 9 from the Throne of Z-movie Shame. It was also deemed worthy of an episode of MST3K if that tells you anything. Despite its dubious quality, MANOS has become a cult favorite among trash movie fans.
Despite Silliphant's "screenplay", the film was largely unscripted and scenes were done on-the-fly, contributing to its overall amateurish look. One wonders if it should have been filmed at all, but it has remained a cinematic curiosity over the years, enough to have a Blu-ray version released after a film student in Florida discovered a 16mm copy.
Following is an article describing more about this quirky film.
The Amazing History of the Worst Movie Ever Made
Your new favorite bad movie is here to take your soul.
By Samuel Williamson | March 13, 2023 | Collider.com
Many titles can contend for the spot of "worst movie ever made", but few do the job as well (or as terribly) as Manos: The Hands of Fate. This 1966 folk-horror film follows a family on a road trip who get lost and stumble across a house in the middle of the Texas desert, where they discover a pagan cult. Sounds like a million other movies, right? Well imagine those movies, but told in the most uneventful, incompetent way possible. Now you have Manos. But how did this monstrosity come about? Like many other so-bad-it's-good movies, this nice pile of trash was born from bizarre circumstances surrounding folks who never, ever should have been allowed near a camera. What resulted is absolutely entertaining, but wholly crap.
What Is 'Manos: The Hands of Fate' About?
Manos: The Hands of Fate has just about the simplest folk-horror setup possible, yet it still manages to fumble every aspect of it along the way. After a husband, wife, and daughter end up lost on their vacation, they discover a house being guarded by the bizarre, Huckleberry-Finn-with-a-beard-looking-man, Torgo (John Reynolds). Torgo claims that his master is away, and refuses to house the family. In a strange defiance of horror movie logic, the father (Harold P. Warren, the director, writer, producer, and star of the film) commands him to let them stay the night. Things quickly get out of hand. The Master (Tom Neyman), a mustache-sporting cult leader, is revealed, and then things start getting really "scary" for the family.
How 'Manos: The Hands of Fate' Was Made
Manos: The Hands of Fate came to fruition in ways that, I guarantee you, no other movie can claim. Harold P. Warren, a fertilizer salesman and local El Paso theater enthusiast, met legendary screenwriter Stirling Silliphant on the set of the show Route 66. Warren believed that horror movies were easy to make, and bet Silliphant that he could make one on his own outside of the Hollywood system. He enlisted the help of local theater actors, rented out camera and audio equipment, and raised $19,000 for the budget. There was no debating it, money was on the line and Warren had a bet to win — Manos had to be made now.
Manos' production was rushed, to say the least. With rented equipment and actors that weren't being paid weighing on him, Warren had to hurry this sucker up. The rushed nature of the film could not be more obvious. It's a film that feels edited almost entirely in-camera, at least in the visual sense. The camera used for this film could only capture up to 32 seconds of film at a time, leading to many bizarre jumps and spurts in the editing. Audio is a different story. There wasn't any sound recorded on set! Instead, Warren, a few cast members, and some random residents of El Paso helped dub over the on-screen actors' lines. This definitely didn't sharpen up the movie's quality at all, as the newly dubbed audio rarely matches up with the actors' lips on screen. Nine times out of ten, the presentation of a film is a clear sign as to how the quality of the film will be, and this one is no different. Manos is a film made with cheap, cheap equipment, all at the disposal of a fertilizer salesman. How could this go wrong?
It would be far from a hot take to say that Manos is a bad film or even one of the worst films ever, but it should be noted that it is highly entertaining. Its endless sea of flaws that crash down wave after wave make it an experience that never fails to be laughable. Manos might not be great, but it's got an awkward and hypnotic tone to it, one that feels like you're inside a dream. It also just feels like an awesome bad movie, that's for sure.
'Manos: The Hands of Fate's Editing Does It No Favors
The awkward pace of the movie isn't helped by Warren's complete lack of understanding storytelling. There are so many scenes where characters are standing around, running through the darkness, we're watching cars driving down long roads, or sitting through the most drawn-out fight scene of all time between The Master's many wives. Many "takes" are front and back-loaded with a full or half-second of space, with the actors waiting to hear "action" or "annnd... CUT!" It really makes you wonder how much of this movie was actually edited after being shot. Warren is clearly just buying time at any chance he gets. There is no better proof of this than the "teenage" (clearly actors in their late 20s-early 30s) couple who we keep cutting back to. They have nothing to do with the plot! Warren just gets some weird kick out of showing these two make out, having the cops pull up and tell them to go somewhere else, then we pick back up and watch the next variation of this scene 15 minutes later. These two have nothing to do with the main plot at all! It's so, so strange.
'Manos: The Hands of Fate' Has No Sense of Rhythm
There's also clearly no understanding by anyone involved of how to set a tone with music. There are few better tools for horror filmmakers to use than a good score. Well, here, it seems as though Harold Warren knew that music needed to back his film, but not necessarily what kind of music. The end result is a haphazardly composed jazz score from Russ Huddleston and Robert Smith Jr. Removed from the film, it's really not that bad! Nothing special, but it's serviceable jazz. As for a horror score? Well, the use of clarinets, flutes, and odd twinkling pianos give this movie a sonic texture that no other horror film can claim, that's for sure.
Performances in 'Manos: The Hands of Fate' Can't Save It
The acting is supremely goofy as well. There isn't one lick of a good performance in Manos, everyone feels like they're in an elementary school play. Harold P. Warren is one of the first writer/director/producer/actors in the so-bad-it's-good movies, a position that many would fill later on, most notably Tommy Wiseau of The Room fame. John Reynolds brings a twitchy, scatterbrained performance as Torgo, one that makes much more sense after learning he was on LSD for the majority of the shoot. Tom Neyman as the Master is absolutely giving it his all, he's just surrounded by the cheapest, lamest movie on the planet. It's not that he's great necessarily, he's not even good, but boy does he go for it.
The actresses of Manos can't really be held at fault for their performances. Diane Mahree as Margaret is given nothing to do but worry, scream, and cry over everything going on around her. In a similar display of sexist writing, the Master's wives are given absolutely nothing to do in this movie except bicker about their shared husband and fight each other. Their performances are serviceable, it's just the writing that's so embarrassing. Manos is a product of being made in the 60s and in a very conservative part of the country, but hopefully we'd have more well-written characters in Margaret and the Master's wives if this project was placed in the hands of somebody even remotely competent.
Sealing It's Place in Bad Movie History
Despite the odds stacked against it, Manos managed to premiere at El Paso's Capri Theater, with the profits going towards a cerebral palsy fund. The film was instantly regarded as a total joke by not only the public but the cast and crew as well. Diane Mahree laughed throughout the screening, Jackey Neyman Jones (who played the couple's daughter) cried over her character's voice being dubbed by someone else, and Warren instantly claimed the film to be the worst movie ever. This wasn't met with disappointment though, Warren wore his newfound title with pride. Between selling the film as being based on a Mexican urban legend and wearing the Master's cape for Halloween every year, he clearly has a lot of love for this 70-minute turd.
Manos: The Hands of Fate would go on to live in obscurity for decades until it was rediscovered and popularized in the early 90s by Mystery Science Theater 3000. The film has since caught up to the reputation that Warren blessed it with on the night of its premiere, reigning as one of the worst films of all time. In 2018, both a prequel and a sequel, Manos: The Rise of Torgo and Manos Returns, were made with some of the original cast returning, including Jackey Neyman Jones, Diane Mahree, and Tom Neyman. Regardless of the film's quality at face value, it is a supremely likable film in its ridiculous, goofy nature. It took a village (well, an El Paso) to make this movie, a band of people that were evidently having a blast. The fact that they all instantly owned it as the worst movie ever and wore that badge with honor deserves a massive thumbs up. Much like the family in the original film, here's hoping that many more bad movie lovers continue to join the Manos cult as time goes on.
Do you have the guts (and patience) to watch the whole movie? Click on the link above and prepared to be grabbed by the Hands of Fate!
I have learned that not only is Plan 9 not the worst science fiction / horror movie ever made, but that there are scores of amateurish flicks that fall below the low level of even Ed Wood's sometimes hapless filmmaking. (Beast of Yucca Flats anyone?) Manos seems to have a plot, and that elevates it above a lot of often glorious crap I've seen over the years. The look of the night scenes reminds me of Ed Wood's porno-horror Orgy of the Dead. (Minus the strippers of course.)
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