If you told me you've never had a "worst movie ever" discussion with your friends, I'd be pretty surprised. Most of us have gone through a phase where we track down the worst movies we can find (and some of us, like myself, never really outgrow that phase) to ridicule them and place them somewhere on our "worst ever" list. But can a movie really be the worst ever? Most people you ask will tell you that Plan Nine From Outer Space is the lowest you can go, regardless of whether they've actually seen it themselves or not. Others will point their finger at Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. This is of course because it's really edgy and hardcore to say anything popular is piss-spiked vomit.
It gets more complicated. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that no movie has ever been below Plan Nine on the lack-of-talent-and-production-values list. It's still a pretty entertaining movie, even if it's for all the wrong reasons. Shouldn't the worst movie you ever saw be the one that aired at one in the morning a couple of years ago, made no impression at all, and then was forgotten? Or maybe it should be the one that was the most painful to watch? Obviously, there is no set scale to judge by, and while I'd like to insist that you can't get any lower than Simply Irresistible starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and that goddamned magical crab, nothing I say can ever change the fact that everyone has his or her own critic's code.
Here's a funny thing: you can pick any scale, measure Manos by it, and you know what? Manos is fucking awful. It's poorly directed, acted, edited, it's boring, and it's painful to watch. And I don't know where to begin. How about
with some facts?
Manos (1966) was written and directed by Hal Warren (who also plays the main character), a fertilizer salesman who, according to legend, made a bet that he would be able to make a highly successful horror movie and keep the tab below $20,000. Which isn't a lot of money for an entire movie, even when you take into consideration that this is 1966 dollars, but I still don't see where the money went. Transportation? Doubtful, there are about three different locations in the entire movie. Food? Don't think so, if the minimal cast and crew were to eat
$20,000 worth of food over the span of two months, you'd see different waist lines in each shot. Photo equipment? Nope, only one camera was acquired for the shoot, and it was an old piece of crap that could only film for 32 seconds before it needed to be
rewound (not rewound as on a VCR, rewound as in manually cranking a frigging handle). Audio equipment? None at all. The movie was shot silent, and then three people came in afterwards to read all the lines. Visual effects? The superimposed title in the opening scene is the most advanced effect in this movie. Hookers? This was shot in El Paso, if they were going to burn $20,000 on whores, there wouldn't be time to shoot the movie. The only way I can explain the expenses is by assuming Hal got a really bad film processing deal.
One day I'll write an introduction that isn't five hundred words long. Mark my words.
A tried and true way of giving your audience a good first impression of your movie is to have a kid look directly into the camera in the very first frame. I'm probably going to point out quite a few goofs like this before this piece is over, but there's just no way I can include them all. Just assume there are about five similar mistakes between each time I bring one up. Anyway, the protagonists of the movie are a family of three on vacation. They're lost and the kid is cold, but they manage to keep their spirits up by squeezing into to the front seat together and singing "Row row row your boat". Framing a close-up shot with three people in it can be a challenge, but Hal eliminates the problem by having the back of the mother's head cover up everything else. And thus ends the first minute of
Manos: The Hands of Fate.
The family drive for a while at about 30 mph, and are suddenly pulled over by the sheriff. "All right, mister. I see you've got a tail light problem," the sheriff says while writing a ticket. "No excuse. Running late, first vacation, kid getting tired," father Mike replies. I'm not sure how a tired kid could cause a tail light failure, but hey, I've seen the rest of the movie and I know when to let a minor offense like this one slide. When there's a mushroom cloud rising, you don't pay attention to a firecracker. The sheriff is no stranger to letting things slide either: Mike only has to ask, and he tears the ticket to shreds.
What follows next is a series of landscape shots filmed from the car. Which normally would be a good thing. Establishing the scene and all that. The only problem is, this goes on and on for several minutes, and everything is really ugly and brown and gray. And I'm not a fan of the jazz music either.
Suddenly, the jazz is interrupted by a rock song. The change in music is triggered by the introduction of two new characters: two teenagers who drink and rub their faces together while sitting in a car by the road. After a while, you can see a shadow moving at the very edge of the screen. The kids make out for about fifteen more seconds, and then the girl looks into the camera for a couple of seconds before looking in the other direction with an expression of crazy surprise on her face. "I wonder where they're going," she exclaims. Only problem is, she had her eyes closed while the car passed. And she couldn't possibly had seen it driving away either, because she was busy looking into the damn camera. And she couldn't have heard the car either, because the car made no sound because there are only four or five sound effects
in the movie and they just couldn't find a donor in time for this particular scene. There is only one possible explanation to how this scene turned out the way it did:
- The cameraman didn't manage to get the passing car into the frame.
- The actress who was supposed to react to this car missed her cue.
- The director contemplated the situation for a while before telling the actress to carry on acting.
- The actress reacted by looking at the director, then back at the guy she was making out with, then into the lens, and then finally in the direction she should have looked twenty seconds ago.
- Somehow, this take made it to the final cut of the movie by accident.
Twenty seconds too late or not, she sure was surprised when that car passed. Her boyfriend doesn't really care, but he pretends to be interested by making sounds and hoping his girlfriend will think they are real words. Okay, "nuttin' up that road" is pretty easy to make out, but I refuse to spend any more time trying to figure out what he meant by "maeinlekebnt". The girl shrugs it off, looks into the camera three more times, and then latches onto her boyfriend's face again and stays there.
After this exciting scene, good old Hal turns it down a notch and gives us another couple of minutes of gray dirt passing by, only this time around the dashboard of the car covers about seventy percent of the screen. I've heard that these endless car scenes scenes were supposed to have opening credits superimposed over them but hey, you know what, they never got around to making opening credits. Four or five camera rewinds full of roads and poles and bushes later, we get back to the kids. This time around, they're told by the sheriff to go somewhere else and make out. Not sure why, but... wait a minute, what was that over in the corner of the screen? Let's rewind and zoom in.
Let's say hi to Mr. Clapboard, everybody! While we're talking about shoddy filmmaking, let me tell you how the dialogue in Manos works. A shot usually starts with an actor or actress waiting around for the director to shout "action". Sometimes, they just stand around looking completely dead, like the sheriff in the scene in question. After an affirming nod to signal he got his
cue, he delivers a line and then waits for the cut to be called. Then there usually is a moment with absolute silence where a character without a line is looking at nothing in particular. Then there are a couple of seconds of another player waiting for the cue, in this case the girl in the car fixing her hair. She delivers the line, and then looks at the director awaiting his approval or request for another take (haha, that's a little joke). And so on and so forth. This is how a scene with two people sharing eight lines can amount to a minute of screentime.
After the lovers are chased away by the cops, we go back to the main story, where dramatic things are going on. You ready for this? Mike and his family... are still driving around on a dirt road! But hang on! We cut to an empty shot... What are we supposed to be looking at? The bushes? The dirt? Wait, there the car comes. And there the car stops. There are a couple of lines to remind us that these people are lost, and then Mike starts the car up again... and backs into a turnaround... and puts the car in reverse again... and he's off! Wait, choked the engine. Back again a bit... and forward... and he's out of the frame! And we're left with the bushes again. And then there is some more driving, and then... you know what, I'm going to stop there and just tell you that this paragraph could have been three times as long and that you should be glad it isn't. There's a fifteen-second bit with people getting out of the damned car, for crying out loud.
So why are they getting out of the car in the first place? Well, they suddenly see a house that wasn't there a moment ago. Scary stuff, but if you're lost, you're lost. Better go ask the guy on the porch for directions, phantom building or no. Enter Torgo the satyr. That is, he's supposed to be a satyr, but you never get to see his horns or hooves. In fact, all you get is the wonky legs beneath his pants. That and his uncontrollable horniness. I'm not sure if satyrism is an excuse to keep wobbling all the time or if this particular satyr is a victim of Alzheimer's, but no matter what the reason behind Torgo's jitters is, he sure is a peculiar little fellow.
"I am TORgo. I take care of the place while the MASter is aWAY!" Torgo exclaims as Mike and his family approach. Where Mike's response would be is instead a couple of seconds of silence (and a shot of the wife looking at nothing in particular and the camera). Then Torgo suddenly notices the girl: "But the CHILD. I'm not sure the MASter would appROVE! Or the dog (I forgot to mention the dog, didn't I?). The MASter doesn't like children." The tourists inform Torgo that they only want to know the directions to Valley Lodge, and Torgo tells them there is no such place in the area. Then he stands there for some time. After a while, Mike's wife notices it's getting dark, and Mike demands to know "which way is out of here". "There is no way out of here," Torgo informs, "It will be dark soon. There is no way out of here." Mike suggests they should just stay at Torgo's place until next morning. His wife isn't all too keen on the idea, and neither is Torgo. And of course, the MASter would not appROVE. When pushed, the satyr caretaker has to think for a while. "I don't know about it. I just don't know." What follows is a series of shots of people looking from side to side while nothing happens. There's some spooky music going on, so it's supposed to be dramatic. After half a minute of this nonsense, Torgo agrees to let them in. The MASter, however, will be very disTURbed.
Torgo may have lost the battle of wits, but he's no complete bastard. He offers to get the luggage from the car, and you better believe we get to see every second of his hobble toward the vehicle. This is where we are introduced to Torgo's theme. I've managed to rip this music so you can download it and listen to it at home. Don't worry, it's not a heavy download. In fact, it's three seconds long. Just load it up in your player of choice, set it to loop and enjoy. Here's a gif of Torgo walking to look at while you listen.
[Download Torgo's theme]
When he arrives at the car, the music suddenly stops. He reminds Mike that he has to leave in the morning, because the
MASter would not appROVE! Then he walks all the way back to the house again while his theme plays.
Inside the house, Mike and the missus stop to look at a painting of what they assume is the Master and his dog. We only get a half-second glimpse of the painting at first but don't worry, Hal cuts back to it five thousand times before the scene is over. In fact, this looking-at-the-picture sequence is really fucking long and I'm glad we get an intermission half-way into it when Torgo, accompanied by his theme, wobbles through the room carrying the luggage. There is also a long shot of an empty fireplace, and for some reason this fireplace is so scary the spooky music que has to be played twice to make sure we get how scary it is.
Suddenly Torgo sneaks up behind Mike carrying his staff. When he's standing right behind him, he sloooooowly raises his staff and then carefully knocks Mike on the shoulder. Mike is startled, and looks at Torgo. Torgo doesn't look at Mike. Nobody makes a sound. Hal cuts to a shot of the kid sitting on the couch playing with the dog. We never get to know why the hell Torgo felt he needed to knock Mike on the shoulder.
Mike wonders where the Master is, and Torgo makes things clear by explaining that he "has left this world. Be he is with us ALways. No matter where we go, he is WITH us." Wifey is a bit concerned by this this, but Torgo knows how to comfort: "There is nothing to fear, madam. The MASter LIKES you. Nothing will happen to you. He LIKES you." Notice something odd about Torgo's
lines? Yeah, me too. The couple wonders how the Master can like her when he's dead. "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," clarifies Torgo.
After some shots of Torgo and the happily marrieds looking at the picture and some shots of the kid and the dog doing tricks for the camera, Torgo walks into the room to tell everybody to go to sleep. What, you thought Torgo already was in the room? Yeah, me too. Guess we both were wrong. Suddenly, there's a howl from outside. Mike decides to go out into the desert to check it out. Because when you're inside a house and hear a wild animal on the outside of the house, it's always a good idea to go away from the house and to the place where the wild animal is. When he opens the door, the poodle runs outside, and Mike then goes looking for it with a flashlight and the gun that he had lying around in the car. When he finds the dog, it's dead. His wife comes running outside, and is freaked out when she hears what has happened. Mike says he'll take care of everything and tells her to get back inside the house. She starts running toward the door, but in the next cut she's standing right beside her husband again, still freaking out. Again, Mike says he'll take care of everything and tells her to get back inside the house. She starts running again, and this time she actually goes inside. Haha, I'm just kidding. She's of course right back beside Mike after the cut, freaking out. Mike says her he'll take care of everything, and tells her to get back inside the house. And praise the lord, she gets back inside the house.
When they get back in, they wake their daughter to tell her the dog died. Waking her was easy enough, as it should be seeing how she's been asleep and awake every second shot since she arrived. The couple talk a little among themselves, the wife looks into the camera and gets an "oh shit, that's right, no looking there" look on her face, and then they wake the kid up again. The kid reacts by making a whining sound and then falls asleep. Mike yells at Torgo and demands he gets their bags before walking back outside to start the car up. Unfortunately, the ignition sound effect cuts off halfway through each time he turns the key, so he's he's not going anywhere.
Back inside, Torgo is putting his satyr moves on Mike's woman. Well, first he tells her that the Master wants her, and then he wobbles one inch at a time towards her with his hand out. A couple of days later he manages to make his way over to her hair and touches it, and another week later she reacts. Then Torgo stands around doing nothing for a good old while, and when the cows finally come home the lady decides to tell him to back off. Torgo then declares his love for her twice and tells her the Master can't have her. Twice. She freaks out. You know what, just go ahead and assume she's freaking out about something for the remainder of the movie unless I tell you otherwise. Saves us a bunch of time. Torgo convinces her not to tell Mike, and just in time too, because here he comes yelling for his wife, who we now learn is called Margaret. Good thing too, I was getting sick of trying to find new ways to refer to her. Mike wants to make a phone call, but "the MASter doesn't appROVE of such... deVICes." Guess they're spending the night after all. Margaret hopes her daughter wil understand. Mike tells her that "she'll understand. She's my baby, she'll understand. She's my baby, she'll understand." Watch out, Mike. Looks like you're catching something from Torgo there.
The kid suddenly disappears, and when they finally find her again she is walking around with a big black dog. Just like in the picture! She explains where she has been and what happened, but since all her dialogue is spoken by a grown woman talking into her sleeve inside an oil drum buried under five feet of cotton, I don't know what she's saying. Except that she was at a "big place". Mike demands she shows him where this is, and when they arrive at this "big place", he witnesses a Freddy Mercury
look-alike lying still on a stone altar. Also, a lot of women are standing perfectly still around him. Mike rushes back to plant his fist in Torgo's face, but while they rush back Torgo has taken another route to the big place. It seems to be fifteen feet away from the house, though, so I'm not sure how they missed each other. Torgo touches the sleeping/dead women a bit, and tells his not-dead-as-you-know-it Master that he won't need to come and dream of his wives anymore now that he will have one for himself. Uh-oh, I wonder if the Master will approve of this when he wakes up.
Meanwhile, Margaret is undressing and is ready to go to bed. Lucky Torgo gets a free show from outside. Then, he runs back into the woods and assaults Mike, who for some reason still is walking around in the middle of nowhere. Torgo then dances around like an asshat for a while, and then spends the next half of the movie dragging the guy up to a tree and then ties him up with a belt.
Meanwhile, the Master awakens. I suppose he's a vampire or something. Except, if he's a vampire and he's lying around on that altar all day, the Texas sun could cause some skin irritation. I don't know. To make it clear that this is they guy in the picture, he sits up with his dog so we get a visual clue. Then Hal cuts to the picture in case some people were still wondering. By the way, this is the same guy that was in that picture earlier.
Because it's extremely essential to the story, we get another scene with the teenagers who still are making out in that damn car. Then the sheriff comes along to tell them to get out of there. This is completely different from that other scene where this exact thing happed, because this time it's night.
Meanwhile, the Master is worshipping his god Manos. A satyr worshipping a pseudo-vampire worshipping a hand god? Sure. Afterwards, he's a little bored, because all his wives are just gossiping around the fire instead of being
"wifey" with him. They're discussing Margaret and the kid. It's "Debbie", by the way. Some of them think they should sacrifice Debbie, others disagree. It's a lot more complicated and confusing and dumb than that, but I'm not going into details. The Master tells them to shut the fuck up and just kill the kid. They keep talking some more, and then stop. Some time later, the Master breaks the silence by yelling "Silence! Silence!" and declaring that Torgo and his first wife must pay. I'm not sure how one of the wives can be guilty of letting Mike in, they were after all asleep until two minutes ago, but if it means someone in this movie is dying, I won't object.
The wives start fighting. First, they push First Wife to the ground. Then everybody run over to her, because she fell down ten feet away. What happens next is a bit difficult to explain. Imagine you and some people you know are standing around in a field. Imagine that you are fighting, but you're not
really fighting, but kinda moving around each other and kinda push while you kinda waltz really, really badly and fall down at random,
preferably on top of each other. You've also got to imagine that you're in a vacuum, so nothing you do produces any kind of sound. Still, there is some weird jazz music going on. Also, you've all got some kind of mental condition. I don't know
what else to say, I can't explain it any better than that.
While this is going on, the Master is confronting Torgo. I can't be bothered to write the whole thing down, but the Master basically says "So, my bitches are telling me you're putting your furry little satyr horn up them when they're sleeping, and now you're trying to get a wife yourself. Don't think so." Torgo argues that the Master has six wives, so it's hardly unreasonable for Torgo to want one.
The Master hypnotizes Torgo and brings him back to the altar. He gives his wives the order to "Kill! Kill! Kill!" and they commence the killing. Did you know you could die from having a bunch of women rubbing your face gently? Torgo knows, that's for sure.
But wait! Torgo wasn't dead. The Master apparently only wanted him a little punch-drunk so it would be easier to sacrifice him to the mighty Manos. And what would please Manos more than anything else in the world? Why,
hands, of course. The Master puts Torgo's hand into some flames, and then it catches on fire and detaches itself from the rest of the arm for some reason. Torgo runs away into the woods never to be seen again, wrist ablaze. It apparently doesn't hurt much, because Torgo doesn't make a sound while the mutilation is going on. The Master laughs manically for forever and then some, and then he gets pissed at First Wife because she talks back to him. He throws Torgo's hand at the base of the pole she is tied to and walks off. I'm assuming he's trying to burn her alive, but since she's standing on a stone block that's higher than the flames can reach and there's nothing that could possibly catch on fire anywhere around her, I think we can safely say that the Master is a
After this, a lot of uninteresting stuff happens, including Mike, Margaret and Debbie running around in the forest (yeah, he got loose) and falling down a whole lot. Margaret freaks out and starts complaining about being too tired to walk any further. She has after all been walking for half an hour. Instead she suggests they should go back to the house, because that would be the last place the Master would look for them. Because, you know, that's where he saw them last. Suddenly Mike is startled as some stock footage of a snake sneaks up on him, and he fires a couple of shots before running away.
The sheriff and his deputy hear the gunshots. They decide to investigate a little bit, so they get their gear out of the car and walk ten feet down the road before shaking their heads and walking back to the car and driving out of the movie. What, you actually thought the fact that these policemen kept reappearing throughout the movie meant they would have any impact on the plot whatsoever? You dumb bastard.
Mike and his family arrive back at the lodge, and to their great surprise, the Master is already there waiting for them. Looks like your plan failed, Margaret. Mike pops some caps, but the Master doesn't seem to be affected. How will this end? And, more importantly, when will this end?
Hal now introduces a couple of new characters: two ladies who also have come to El Paso on vacation. Which means we get more driving shots, only this time around it's rainy as well. We pay a final visit to the teenagers, still kissing in their car, And this time they totally turn the plot around. Or do they? No. In fact, all we get is a shot of the girl looking into the camera and then quickly looking away. That's right, while most directors would cut footage like this from their movies, Hal hangs on to the blooper and gets rid of everything else instead. Why eat the meat when you can chew on the buckshots?
Suddenly, the two ladies come across a house that wasn't there a minute ago. "I am Mike. I take care of the place while the master is away," Mike says while standing on the porch. Dun-dun-DUN! But what happened to Margaret and Debbie? They've become members of the Master's harem. Because the Master is a bit of a pedophile. The end. While the credits roll, we get to see a montage of the best bits of the movie. Lucky for us!
So what happened after the release of this movie? Manos was received by the
citizens of El Paso with snickers and ridicule, and Hal Warren never left his
fertilizer business to pursue the Hollywood dream again. He tried to pitch a
sequel to Manos as well as a whole new concept named Wild Desert Bikers, but for
some freak reason nobody wanted to give him any money. Manos fell into
obscurity, a lot of the people involved killed themselves for various reasons,
and Warren himself died in 1986. Then, in the early nineties, the men and women
of Mystery Science Theater 3000 discovered the movie and featured it in one of
their episodes. I have myself not seen this particular chapter of the show, but
many claim it's the one movie the MST3K gang just couldn't make funny. Whether
this is true or not will be a question of personal taste, but regardless of the
degree of success the resurrection had, it was a resurrection nonetheless. Manos
has clamed its fame, and the Master approves.
So, is Manos the worst movie in the world? Probably not. The world is a big place, and who knows what you can find if you look through a bucket full of used VHS movies in the Czech Republic? Goddamnit, I've been to the Czech Republic, why the hell didn't I check out the second-hand video stores? Now I got a bit pissy. The fact that I've seen Manos five times could have something to do with it. I'm going to bed.
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