I’ll be honest: I’ve avoided reviewing this movie for a long time.
I don’t think you have to be a bad movie connoisseur to know that Manos: Hands of Fate is a BAAAAAAD movie. Not delightfully bad or amusingly bad, like The Room or Sharknado. Bad bad, like spoiled pork.
Part of that notoriety comes from Manos being covered in one of the most famed episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Also, the film shares the name of the Manos Diner in Ithaca, New York, which we soon came to refer to as Manos: Diner of Fate.
I’d only seen the Manos episode of MST3K once, towards the end of a very long day that included an all-morning TV shoot, drinking, an outdoor concert, drinking, MST3K, downtown for more drinking, and yes, the Manos: Diner of Fate. My memory is a bit foggy. What I do remember is that the movie seemed to wear down even Joel and the ‘bots… or maybe I was the worn-down one.
Okay, enough tap-dancing. Time to saddle up.
Manos: Hands of Fate (or “Manos”: Hands of Fate, according to the title cards) opens with driving. Ugh… We’re joining a family on a care-free vacation that involves driving, more driving, getting pulled over for a busted tail light, some more driving, driving again, and still more driving. At one point, Margaret asks her hubby, Mike, if they’re almost there. “Only 12 more miles,” he assures here, and then promptly drives what seems like another 120 miles.
They also encounter a “teenage” couple making out in their car on the side of the road. We’ll cut back to that couple throughout the film, suggesting that they’ve engaged in a 36-hour make-out session.
They eventually stop at a lone, run-down house with a hillbilly out front. I’m assuming our family is only stopping to ask for directions, but before they can say a word, the hillbilly bleats out, “I am Torgo. I take care of the place while The Master is away.” Torgo then mentions that The Master doesn’t like children. Naturally, this causes Mike to insist on staying the night. Not that Torgo offered. Mike is kind of a tool.
Before we move on, we need to talk about Torgo.
When I was a child, I had these inflatable Hulk “instant muscles.” They were like water wings that you’d wear under your shirt. You’d then use a pump to inflate the “muscles,” simulating the experience of “Hulking up.” You always hoped to rip your shirt – sure, your mom would be annoyed, but it’d be worth it.
So not only does Torgo resembles a character from The Beverly Hillbillies, but he seems to have those instant muscles on his thighs. As a result, Torgo is super bowl-legged… and super slow-moving. In fact, everything about Torgo is slow: he walks slowly, talks (well, bleats) slowly, thinks slowly, reacts slowly. By proxy, Torgo makes everything else slower, too – I swear, time came to a halt during my viewing of this film.
Or maybe that’s because 57% of the film consists of uncomfortable staring. Upon entering the incredibly creepy house, Mike and Margaret spent about 40 hours staring at a portrait of The Master, who happens to look like an angry Freddy Mercury.
(Yes, I know MST3K makes a similar wise-crack, but it’s uncannily accurate.)
Shortly (for this film) after, the family’s pet poodle is mauled, and Torgo comes on to Margaret, telling her that The Master wants her to be his wife. None of this seems out of sorts to Mike, who increasingly proves himself to be an aloof tosser. Maybe he’s just too busy bossing Torgo around to notice what’s going on. Mike certainly doesn’t notice that his young daughter, Debbie, goes missing, launching the saddest attempt to find anything ever. Debbie eventually reappears with a hellhound in tow. Also, she’s found some kind of pagan play set.
We get a fair bit of Torgo fondling unconscious women tied up at the pagan play set, which means we get far too much Torgo fondling unconscious women. Then, in a rare bout of initiative, Torgo cold clocks Mike to the delight of the audience.
And now, for my money, the best sequence in the film: The Master rises! Just in case the preceding tedium of Manos: Hands of Fate had you dozing off, we cut away quickly to the portrait of The Master to verify that yes, this is indeed The Master. After taking his hellhound for a walk, The Master performs a long and rambling spell to wake up his wives. Almost immediately, all the wives start talking at the same time. The Master stands aside, taking in the jabbering and wishing he’d let them sleep.
Eventually, the jabbering is too much for The Master and he leaves. The wives start to argue about something or other, and then engage in some overly choreographed lady tussling. It’s nowhere near as sexy as I’ve made it sound – and I don’t think I made it sound very sexy.
I’d love to tell you that it’s all building up to something, but it’s not. The Master and Torgo argue in the most un-dramatic way possible. There’s a murder via interpretive dance, and an oh-so thrilling “look around the desert at night” sequence. One of the wives slaps around an unconscious Mike (that was pretty awesome, actually).
And just when it looks like the film is reaching its climax… we jump to some undefined amount of time later. Hey, no need to show the exciting parts of the story!
Do I really need to point out that every aspect of the film – the performances, the dialogue, the pacing, the cinematography, the effects, etc. – are terrible? No? Good. Because Manos: Hands of Fate definitely deserves its infamy. But unlike other famously bad films (Plan 9 From Outer Space, The Room, etc.), to say you sat through Manos: Hands of Fate is a badge of honor. In fact, I’m pretty sure you can get a literal badge of honor for making to the end of the film.