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Film / Manos: The Hands of Fate

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WARNING: May contain less defacing and burning hands than advertised. note 

"Every frame of this movie looks like someone's last known photograph."

"Manos" The Hands of Fate is a 1966 American No Budget horror film written, directed, produced by and starring Harold P. Warren. It is widely recognized to be one of the worst films ever made.

Mike and Margaret, along with their daughter Debbie and the family dog Peppy, find themselves lost on the way to Valley Lodge during their family vacation. As night begins to fall, they decide to spend the night in a strange-looking house on the side of the road. Torgo, the house's caretaker, greets them upon their arrival. Torgo sPeAkS wItH aN oDd EmPhAsIs, has extremely bulgy legs (a failed attempt by the filmmaker at making Torgo a satyr), and continuously refers to "The Master"—the undead leader of a cult dedicated to a dark god known only as Manos. The Master, Torgo and The Master's conclave of wives want to kill the intruders, but can't come to an agreement as to who to kill: The Master wants to keep Margaret alive as his (seventh) wife, Torgo wants to keep Margaret as a wife for himself, and the wives want to kill both Margaret and Mike but refuse to kill Debbie, which leads to them fighting amongst themselves. As the night continues, Mike and his family find themselves in great danger — and they eventually come face-to-face with The Master himself...

Texas native and future fertilizer salesman Hal P. Warren pulled triple duty by writing, directing, and starring in Manos. Warren wanted to win a bet with Stirling Silliphant (a genuinely talented fellow, the screenwriter of In the Heat of the Night among others) by making a successful horror movie on a shoestring budget. Without any previous movie-making experience, Warren soon found himself in over his head—but he decided to press on with a bare-bones Bell & Howell camera, a lack of remote sound equipment, and a cast composed mainly of community theatre actors and local extras. The finished film provoked laughs instead of chills at its first screening in Warren's hometown of El Paso; Warren himself, demonstrating eerie prescience, suggested after the screening that someone could Gag Dub the film and re-release it as a comedy.

The film languished in obscurity for thirty years until the producers of Mystery Science Theater 3000 discovered it;note  the MST3K episode that featured the film proved Warren's suggestion right—and became one of the show's most famous (and beloved) episodes. For tropes related to the MST3K episode itself, please visit its Recap page.

For more laughs at the film's expense, check out The Agony Booth's recap or I-Mockery's review. Manos also spawned three major fan works: a computer game adaptation of the film, a crossover with Splatterhouse, and a Retraux NES platformer.

Thanks to its popularity post-MST3K, Manos spawned a 2007 musical (Manos: Rock Opera of Fate, performed in Chicago) and a 2004 documentary (Hotel Torgo). RiffTrax performed a live riffing of the film in August 2012, which you can purchase as a VOD.

In 2011, film buff Ben Solovey bought a host of old film reels hailing from distributor Emerson Films via an eBay auction, partially because he saw Manos listed on the collection of reels. That Manos' reel ended up surprising Solovey when he received it, because he'd actually bought the film's original 16mm workprint. Solovey established a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a complete high-definition restoration of the movie from the pristine-condition workprint; by the campaign's end, Solovey raised almost 400% more than the initial goal. A side-by-side comparison of the restoration illustrates the dramatic difference between the restored version helmed by Solovey and the currently-available DVD release (created from third-generation sources and degraded beyond repair). A legal battle between Solovey and Harold's son Joe held up the process, in which it was revealed that Hal never secured the copyright to the film itself. Ultimately, the restored film was released on October 15, 2015 thanks to Synapse films. It featured a commentary track by Tom Neyman (who played the villainous Master, as well as doing many other behind-the-scenes jobs) and his daughter Jackey Raye Neyman Jones (who played Debbie), both of them providing some fascinating insight into the Troubled Production.

Jackey would later write a memoir, entitled Growing Up with Manos: The Hands of Fate: How I was the Child Star of the Worst Movie Ever Made and Lived to Tell the Story, going into more detail into the film's production and the Ragtag Bunch of Misfits who made it, as well as how the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode changed her life and helped her reconnect with her father.

A sequel, entitled The Search for Valley Lodge, was reportedly in production sometime in 2013 until they ran out of money; the crew supposedly filmed in El Paso and used much of the original cast. Production resumed in 2016, and the film was released in 2018 as Manos Returns.

In 2015, an independent video game was made of the movie (or, arguably, the MSTing of the movie) in the style of a NES platformer was released on Steam.

In 2016, Spectrum Games (of Cartoon Action Hour fame) celebrated Manos' 50th anniversary with Manos: The Cards of Fate, a card game based on the film. The game is endorsed by Jackey Neyman Jones.

Manos: The Hands of Fate contains Master-approved examples of the following tropes:

  • Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable: ToRgO dOeS tHiS, nAtUrAlLy.
  • All There in the Script: In Warren's screenplay the couple making out in the car are named Sally and George, while the defiant head wife of The Master is Lenore, in what is probably an homage to The Raven.
  • Author Appeal: Rifftrax suggests that this is the sole reason there’s a scene where Mike - whose actor wrote and directed the movie - gets licked by one of the wives.
  • And I Must Scream: With a healthy dollop of Squickinvoked:
    The Master: [To Torgo] I know of your visits to the tomb... The women have told me. They may not be able say anything, or move when you're there... but they remember everything you say to them... everything you do to them.
  • Angry Guard Dog: The one that later eats Peppy is meant to be one of these. Presumably they thought a big Doberman would be inherently threatening, but it comes across as more of a Big Friendly Dog, and its affection for Tom Neyman (its real-life master) is frankly adorable.
  • And Your Little Dog, Too!: Peppy is first to die.
    Mike Nelson: Man, this movie is racist. The black character dies first.
  • Artistic Licence Film Production: A real life example that bleeds into the film. A clapperboard can clearly be spotted in several of the film's shots, having been accidentally left in the edit. It is well-known that Warren did no on-set sound recording, opting to dub everything later, making the use of a clapperboard (which is meant to help sync up audio and video recording) seem like something he just did because he thought that's how filming is meant to work.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: This was presumably behind the naming of the cult's god; the Spanish word for "hands" is "manos".
  • Asshole Victim: Mike, in spades. EVERYTHING that happens to his family is because he wouldn't accept he'd gone the wrong way.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: The Master gets the two protagonists, their daughter—and their little dog too.
  • Battle Harem: The Master has a harem of wives who are ready to fight for him—and fight each other.
  • Big Bad: The Master, a cult leader seeking more brides.
  • Bilingual Bonus: "Manos" is Spanish for "hands", which means the title literally translates to Hands: The Hands of Fate—or, perhaps, Hands: Las Manos del Destino.
  • Body Motifs: Hands, of course.
  • Broken Record: Torgo in particular, but everybody falls under this trope. But, really, Torgo in particular.
    Torgo: There is no way out of here. It will be dark soon. There is no way out of here.
  • Bumbling Dad: Mike. It's hard to say how intentional this was, but he really comes across as a dim-witted, grouchy, and all-around unlikeable guy.
  • The Cast Show Off: Tom Neyman was an artist; the proof is in The Master's portrait, which he painted. See Off-the-Shelf FX for more.
  • Catchphrase: "ThE mAsTeR wOuLd NoT aPpRoVe."
  • Catfight: After the wives try to decide on what to do about Debbie, they get into one of these, which was presumably intended as a form of Fanservice. On MST3K, Servo suspects the film was made specifically for this scene.
  • Celebrity Resemblance: Tom Neyman, who plays The Master, bears a strong resemblance to Frank Zappa, which certainly doesn't help make him any scarier.
  • Central Theme: Hands. The title translates to "Hands": The Hands of Fate. The Master has hands represented on his robes. Torgo's staff is topped with a hand. There's a lot of focus on Torgo's hands as he awkwardly tries to grasp and paw at various women throughout the film. One of his hands is taken as punishment for his transgressions. The Master and his wives worship a god named "Manos" (which as mentioned elsewhere is Spanish for "Hands"). See Off-the-Shelf FX for context.
  • Chest Insignia: The Master has a black robe with a big pair of red hands on it. It's an interesting effect, since it's not obvious they're hands until he spreads his arms out, but it gets old quick.
    Crow: Oh, I wish those hands would just push him over.
    Mike Nelson: If you took away 8 of those fingers, you’d have my opinion of this movie.
    Bill Corbett: Two thumbs up?
  • Closed Circle: The characters are unable to leave, because Mike is lost, his car won't start, and his family wouldn't be up for a long overland hike even if they did know where they were going. Also, some of the dialogue implies that the roads leading away from Valley Lodge would end up leading back to it, suggesting an Eldritch Location.
    TheRe iS nO waY oUt of hErE.
  • Covers Always Lie: The poster claims that the cult of "weird, horrible people" (which seems to consist of only the Master and Torgo) gathers beautiful woman and then defaces them with a burning hand. While they do gather beautiful women, they don't deface them with anything. They just make them stand out in the desert against pillars while wearing nightgowns. They do end up defacing Torgo by burning his hand, though.
  • Creepy Monotone: When Mike replaces Torgo at the end as The Igor, he talks this way, in contrast to Torgo's rather more animated style of speech.
  • Crusty Caretaker: Torgo is one of these. Mike presumably takes his place in the ending.
  • Cult: Finally, a cult movie that is a cult movie!
  • Department of Redundancy Department:
    • The title itself; "manos" is Spanish for "hands", translating to "Hands": The Hands of Fate.
      • In Mexico and Spain, they call this movie Hands: Las Manos del Destino.
    • Torgo's frequently repeated line about how the Master would not approve of anything counts, too.
    • Torgo: There is no way out of here. It'll be dark soon. There is no way out of here.
    Crow T. Robot: ...It'll be dark soon!
    • One character even appears to contradict herself with this redundancy! The following quote is, more or less, one sentence thanks to the actress' poor attempt at dubbing two separate voices.
      Bride of Manos: The woman is all we want. The others must die. They ALL must die. We do not even want the woman.
  • Does Not Like Shoes:
    • The Master's wives are all barefoot.
    • Although it's rarely visible, Torgo has cloven hooves instead of feet, so he wears no shoes.
  • Downer Ending: Not only does the Master end up getting away with his crimes, but he manages to get Margaret and Debbie to become his wives and places Mike under his control.
  • Dull Surprise: Mike, Margaret, Debbie and some of the wives all practice this trope at times.
    • The Master's attempt at a Death Glare generally comes off more like "Not before my coffee."
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: The Master and some of his wives fall under this trope.
  • The End... Or Is It?: "THE END?"
  • Evil Laugh: The Master is an altogether cheery guy.
  • Fanservice Faux Fight: The only reason for the nightgown-clad Wives of Manos wrestling-fight scene (to jazz music) seems to be fan service. It has nothing to do with anything else in the movie.
  • God of Evil: The Master claims Manos is the "god of primal darkness", who punishes those who betray him with "eternal, burning light". In addition, the Master and wives justify their actions (including murder) by claiming Manos would approve.
  • The Ghost: Manos is never seen. He is simply invoked by the Master and the wives.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: "Manos", of course.
  • Held Gaze: Characters stare blankly at each other for long periods, to the point of Padding.
  • Hell Hotel: The family try to stay the night at the Master's home, treating it like a hotel, which goes poorly for them.
  • Hellhound: Well, the dog is supposed to be one. While he barks up quite a storm off-screen, he's very docile on-screen.
  • Here We Go Again!: The movie starts with Mike, Margaret, and their daughter Debbie arriving at a dilapidated motel, where they encounter an odd man who greets them saying "I aM TORgo. I Take CARe oF THe pLaCE whILE the MASTer is awAY." At the end, two women arrive, but they're greeted by Mike who says, "I am Michael. I take care of the place while the master is away."
  • Hong Kong Dub: Every voice in the film was performed by five actors (four males and one female), as the film was shot entirely without sound and the dialogue was added in post-production. For some reason, they still used a clapboard (which is visible in a few shots). The little girl who played Debbie allegedly cried when she heard how she sounded in the movie.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Torgo didn't want to let the couple stay at the house, and Margaret didn't want to stay there. If Mike had listened to either of them, the movie would not have happened.
    • In the end, Margaret declares that she's not up to fleeing cross-country through the desert, and that they need to stop to rest. Where does she recommend Mike take his family to rest? The very house they're trying to get away from. Even worse, he agrees that it might just be the safest place.
    • While trying to flee, the family comes across a rattlesnake. Rather than back away and let it be (as rattlesnakes generally only rattle to alert potential predators of the danger in assaulting them, not when they're about to strike), Mike shoots at it, unnecessarily making a racket that they then worry will lead the Master to them.
  • The Igor: Torgo is the Master's servant, does all the work for him, takes care of the arriving family, has a strange way of speaking and has super-enlarged knees. He was originally even planned to be called Igor.
  • Immune to Bullets: It seems guns are on the list of devices the Master does not approve of, given that bullets evidently don't harm him, or seem to hit him at all.
  • Jerkass: Mike is an unbelievably callous guest.
    • Mike shows up at a place that, despite being called "Valley Lodge", looks like a crappy shack in the middle of the desert. There is no real indication that this is even a place that accepts guests, but Mike immediately starts insisting that Torgo carry his bags and gives them a place to stay. All Torgo did was wander out to see who was outside. For all we know at this point in the film, this could just be Torgo's home, and Mike forced him to put him and his family up against his will. Who does that???
  • Karma Houdini: The Master manages to capture the guests and may very well attract more to a similar fate. Then again he is still in “Manos” the Hands of Fate.
    • Played straight in the bad ending of the video game, but interestingly Averted in the good ending where Mike is able to kill the Master.
  • Laughably Evil: All of the villains completely unintentionally fall under this trope.
  • Large Ham: Tom Neyman tries to be this while playing The Master, but whoever dubs over him doesn't have the voice to pull it off right.
  • Leave the Camera Running: Technically averted. Several scenes drag on to the point of distraction, but almost no single shot is longer than thirty-two seconds, due to the technical limitations of the camera Warren used. Only a few shots could last longer due to technical adjustments. However, some scenes come off as this — in one show, the camera holds on the dog, waiting for it to bark.
  • Legacy Character: Torgo seems to be one of a long line of caretakers, as Mike slips right in at the end.
  • Leitmotif: The "haunting" Torgo theme serves as this for Torgo (of course).
  • Lovable Sex Maniac: Torgo again. He's the only character with any personality, really.
  • Make-Out Kids: A couple who falls under this trope is in the film for absolutely no reason (the actress broke her leg and couldn't play her original role as one of the Master's wives, and the go-nowhere subplot was an excuse to keep her employed).
    Kevin Murphy: Oh hey, a Texas casting couch.
  • Make-Out Point: Two teens make out in a convertible beside the road to the Master's house through the whole movie.
  • The Master: As you might expect, the Master is the master of the house and his cult.
  • May–December Romance: Mike is a little over 20 years older than Margaret, assuming the characters are the same age as their actors were.
    Bill Corbett: ‘First vacation’? You’re like fifty years old. What were ya, a slave in the diamond mines?
  • Mind Screw: In one of the many scenes of the cops harassing the Make-Out Kids, the girl complains that they "aren't doing anything", and the cop replies with "Whatever it is you're 'not doing', go don't do it somewhere else". Umm, what?
  • Missing Child: While Mike is trying to comfort his wife following Torgo's advances on her, Debbie slips out of the house. The voice acting manages to actually work on the following line: "She's my baby, she'll understand... Where is she?!?"
  • Monochrome Casting: The cast is all white despite being filmed (and presumably set) in El Paso, a majority-Hispanic community.
    • Partially a Justified Trope as El Paso had a somewhat higher White population in the 1960's (though it always had a strong Latino community) and it's implied that Michael, Margaret, and their daughter are from out of town.
  • Mook–Face Turn: Torgo, though he really shouldn't have informed the Master of his intentions.
  • Neutral Female: Margaret, mostly, but she does take action when she slaps Torgo after being harassed by him.
  • No-Sell: Michael shoots The Master several times once they return to the house. It does nothing.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Attempted by the film and failed spectacularly.
    Servo: (as Margaret) Ambiguity is scary!
  • No, You: Torgo's Lame Comeback when The Master condemns him.
    The Master: You have failed us, Torgo! For this you must die!
    Torgo: No! You have failed yourself!
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: Tom Neyman, who plays the Master, was a prolific artist, specializing in welding and sculpting, and was going through a period of using hands as a central motif in a lot of his work. Most of the hand-related props and pieces of set dressing in the movie are things Neyman already had lying around his house, and indeed, the movie's entire hand motif exists to justify using Neyman's art. On the Blu-Ray edition's commentary track, Tom even points out a bedspread taken from his house - and he doesn't think he ever got it back.
  • One Size Fits All: Averted. Torgo's welding jumpsuit really does not fit... because, like most things in the movie, it was provided by Tom Neyman, a much bigger, taller man than Torgo's actor, John Reynolds.
  • Our Monsters Are Weird: Torgo. He's supposed to be a satyr (a man-goat hybrid from Greek Mythology), but he doesn't look it.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: At least, we think they're vampires, or at least something like them, considering the bad guy is called "The Master", has a twitchy, terrified servant of dubious sanity, falls into a death-like sleep for long stretches of time ("not dead the way you know it"), states he and his wives must finish their tasks before sunrise, and has a number of "wives" — all common tropes in vampire stories.
  • Pedophile Priest: The Master is a cult leader who takes a six-year-old girl as one of his many brides. Some of the dialogue from the wives ("She will grow up to be a woman!") suggests that it's more a case of Wife Husbandry, but it's still plenty disturbing.
  • The Peeping Tom: Torgo spies on Margaret as she undresses for bed.
  • Police Are Useless: Most of the local deputies' time is spent bothering a couple who can't keep their lips off each other. They show up again after Mike fires the gun, get out and walk in front of their car, then turn around and leave, thinking the gunshots came from Mexico. (Warren and his crew didn't have enough lighting for a pan scene.)
    Mike Nelson: Sir, I noticed your daughter’s wearing one of them seatbelts. Don’t you know those things are dangerous?
  • Porn Stache: The Master has one of these.
  • Rebels with Repeaters: Torgo is supposed to a veteran of the Confederate Army given his costume (the straw hat and cheap gray flannel blazer was meant to look like a Confederate soldier's uniform) though it's unclear if he was transformed into a satyr or some sort of a deformed freak wounded in the war. The shoddy costuming makes it difficult to tell what the hell sort of creature he's supposed to be.
  • Red Right Hand: Torgo was supposed to be evocative of a satyr by having goat-legs and a bleating voice. It didn't pan out too well in execution.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: The Master's robes.
  • Redhead In Green: Margaret in the first half of the film, before remaining permanently in her slip.
  • Scenery Porn: This is attempted with the opening sequence, but bits of footage are repeated and, unfortunately, the El Paso countryside — while not unpleasant — isn't exactly a paragon of unparalleled natural beauty. (The muddy 16mm-to-35mm film transfer didn't help, either.)
    Joel: Visit beautiful Ground Zero.

  • Sequel Hook: The film ends with Margaret and Debbie in suspended animation in the desert. Two young college girls arrive at the house and are greeted by the new caretaker, Mike. Torgo might be dead, but his death was never shown onscreen.
  • Sexophone: The film's incidental music is a sexy sax lick played over and over, the sort of tune you expect in a porno, not a horror film.
  • Sexual Euphemism: When we first see the couple in the car, a jivey Intercourse with You song plays on the soundtrack, with the rather vague title "Baby, Do a Thing With Me".
  • Signature Headgear: Torgo wears a rustic hat throughout the film.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The happy jazz music playing at the beginning and end, and especially the song played over the credits, would be far more appropriate for a Glamorous Wartime Singer.
  • Still Wearing the Old Colors: Torgo's costume is supposed to look like a Confederate uniform to suggest this trope, but it doesn't work (even in the restored version), since it's just a grey hat and blazer over a grey welders' jumpsuit.
  • Supernatural-Proof Father: Mike is simply unable to accept the danger they're in and ignores his wife's pleas to leave.
  • Sycophantic Servant: Torgo
  • Terrifying Pet Store Rat: The Master's "demon dog" is clearly just a very friendly Doberman
  • Those Two Guys: "The Make-Out Couple" and the two sheriffs have no relevance to the rest of the film. The couple was used because the actress broke her leg early in production; she was intended to be one of the wives, so they worked the couple into Mr. and Miss Exposition to establish there's supposed to be nothing where the Valley Lodge is.
  • Title Drop:
    Master: Manos! God of primal darkness! As thou hast decreed, so have I done. The hands of fate have doomed this man. Thy will is done!
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Mike insists on staying at the house despite the protests of the mysterious satyr man who calls his boss "the Master"; after things go predictably wrong, he suggests they go back to hide from them while they're all looking.
    • Margaret clearly notices everything that's going wrong but does nothing about it, relying on Mike to do everything for her.
  • Top Wife: The Master has many wives, of whom the oldest refers to herself as "the First Wife" and seems to be in charge, although she worries that the Master is getting tired of her.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Mike is at best-average looking, frumpy with a constant scowl on his face. Margaret is much more attractive (the actress was a fairly successful beauty queen), and noticeably younger than him as well.
  • The Unintelligible: Debbie, unintentionally.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: No one really bats an eye at Torgo, despite the fact he's either quite deformed or an actual satyr.
  • Vampire's Harem: While not referred to as "vampires", the Master and his wives seem to follow this pattern. At the end of the movie, the hero's wife and daughter become his newest additions.
  • Verbal Tic: ToRgO [Pause] TAlks [Pause] LIke thIS.
  • Vanishing Village: There really is a Valley Lodge. Normally, there's 'nothing up that road.' Then Manos redirects travelers to the Master and ensures they never leave.
  • Vocal Dissonance: Debbie was a little girl dubbed over by an adult woman trying to sound like a little girl. Jackey Neyman said she cried when she heard how awful her dubbed voiced sounded.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It's ambiguous whether or not Torgo survives; Warren intentionally left his fate ambiguous, as he planned to film a sequel (which was never produced) starring Torgo. The tragic death of Torgo's actor, John Reynolds, made that impossible.
  • Wife Husbandry: "The child is a female! She must not be destroyed. She will grow up to be a woman!"
  • Would Hit a Girl: The Master slaps his defiant wife around after she's tied to the pole.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Half of The Master's wives refuse to kill a child.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: The Master's rants fall into this trope.
  • You Have Failed Me: When the Master catches Torgo getting grabby with his brides once too many times, he prepares to sacrifice Torgo to Manos. This doesn't pan out, as Torgo survives, although he loses his hand.