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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 most hilariously bad 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. The film doesn't specify as to why, but it's possible he has a mental handicap.
  • 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.
  • And I Must Scream: The fate of the women in the tomb.
    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: Peppy is eaten a big Doberman.
  • And Your Little Dog, Too!: Peppy is first to die.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Body Motifs: Hands, of course. The Master's robe has two big hands on it and he can perform some form of dark magic by extending his hands, like when he dismembers Torgo and sets the torn off hand aflame. He may also have some kind of telepathy/mind-rape powers given how Mike has replaced Torgo at the end and Debbie and Margaret have been added to his list of brides.
  • Broken Record: Torgo repeatedly repeats himself.
    Torgo: There is no way out of here. It will be dark soon. There is no way out of here.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Unnaturally Looping Location.
    TheRe iS nO waY oUt of hErE.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: If Mike hadn't been so damned stubborn and just turned around when they had a chance and asked for directions, there is an excellent chance that none of the movie's events would have occurred and they'd have had a perfectly pleasant vacation. As it stands, well...we know how the rest of this story goes...
  • Creepy Jazz Music: The score, by Russ Huddleston and Robert Smith Jr., is an interesting use of stripped-down modern (circa 1966) jazz in a horror setting, mainly centered on piano and woodwind (flute and saxophone), with a few elements of free jazz (the discordant piano, the repetitious riff in Torgo's Leitmotif) tossed in to add to the unsettling vibe of the rest of the film.
  • 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. They took it so literal that Torgo sleeps on a pile of dirt in the corner. Mike presumably takes his place in the ending.
  • Cult: Finally, a cult movie that is a cult movie! The Master appears to have formed a cult in which they worship an evil god called Manos. The movie doesn't explain who or what it is, but we have to assume from seeing unnatural things happen that this particular god bestows dark magic on The Master and his followers.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The title itself; "manos" is Spanish for "hands", translating to "Hands": The Hands of Fate.
  • 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 underreacts and overreacts literally from scene to scene. Sometimes, he has bland reactions to things that he should be concerned about and the other times, he flies off the handle into anger. Debbie and Torgo suffer from it, though Torgo less so until the finale where The Master rips off one of his hands and sets it on fire, causing Torgo to run away in agony.
    • Margaret 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. They look even paler against the desert sand and in those white gowns.
  • The End... Or Is It?: "THE END?" shows up at the very last moment, true to its cheesy horror movie form.
  • Evil Laugh: The Master is an altogether cheery guy. He laughs at Torgo's misfortune at the end.
  • 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. It translates to "hands." What's strange is there are no Spanish speakers anywhere else in the film, so it's possible this was done because it just needed to sound foreign to the audience.
  • 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.
  • Karma Houdini: The Master manages to capture the guests and may very well attract more to a similar fate.
  • 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: Averted hard with Torgo. He is shown to have molested the wives when they are in their comatose state and he makes a pretty disgusting pass at Margaret after bringing her to the guest room. Granted, it doesn't help that she just stands there instead of running away or slapping him, but the behavior makes it clear he's a creep. He later even peeps into her window when she's changing out of her dress.
  • 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.
  • Missing Child: While Mike is trying to comfort his wife following Torgo's advances on her, Debbie slips out of the house.
    "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.
  • Mook–Face Turn: Torgo, though he really shouldn't have informed the Master of his intentions. It ends up getting him dismembered. He doesn't so much turn on The Master as he declares that the family has managed to avoid him so far, and Torgo thinks he can carry off Margaret to be his bride. That very much does not happen.
  • 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: This would have worked if the film had even a teaspoon of competence at any point, but it doesn't. Characters pretty much say everything aloud that they're going to do and while it is creepy to be trapped in a hostile place with a bunch of vampires trying to enslave you, the film itself doesn't supply any true scares nor does it allow the situation to unsettle the audience. It's so poorly done that it actually averts the trope.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Porn Stache: The Master has one of these.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: The Master's robes are black with bright red hands visible when he extends his arms.
  • Redhead In Green: Margaret in the first half of the film, before remaining permanently in her slip.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Poor little Peppy is the first one to die when one of the Master's Dobermans tear it apart.
  • 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, suggesting he was a soldier.
  • 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. We have no idea how he ended up there, but he's implied to be a satyr, so there could be a number of reasons why and how he ended up as a slave to the Master.
  • Terrifying Pet Store Rat: The Master's "demon dog" is clearly just a very friendly Doberman.
  • 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.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: No one really bats an eye at Torgo, despite the fact he's either quite deformed or an actual satyr.
  • 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.
  • 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!" The wives get in a cat fight over if they should kill the child, Debbie, or leave her alone so she can grow up to be one of The Master's wives. Yes, it is as creepy as it sounds.
  • 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. The other half want the entire family dead, even the poor little dog.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: The Master's rants fall into this trope. Most of the time, he's attempting to speak a more archaic English, but it's not consistent.
  • 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.