Your Capsule Movie Review

October 30, 2007

Manos: The Hands of Fate:

The two people who read this site undoubtedly know about this movie, intimately.  But just in case…..

If you’re like me, and I certainly hope you are, and you spend your nights watching one awesome movie after another, there comes a time when you have to remind yourself there are some spectacularly awful movies out there.  Not just bad in the Must Love Dogs kind of way, but the Mystery Science Theater 3000 way.

My personal favorite awful movie is Batman and Robin, and as epically stupid that movie is, at least it could be considered competently made.  Manos is both and everything and more.

Its plot is simple and generic enough: a wayward family find themselves trapped in a spooky place and are terrorized by weird people who do bad, evil things to them.  There have been literally millions of movies with this same story.  How Manos succeeds at its failure is textbook filmmaking.  Every single facet of this movie should taught at universities: Don’t Do This 101. 

A lot of the blame is naturally heaped on the director, Hal Warren.  Rightly so, but his greatest mistake was using a camera that couldn’t record sound and could only film for thirty seconds at a time.  The budget was only a meager 19,000 samoleans, but really, that was 1966.  Where in the sweaty hell did all that money go?  He reportedly didn’t pay any of the actors, many of the actors made their own costumes, and he apparently didn’t build anything close to resembling a set.  Surely he could’ve gotten a decent camera.   But such as it is, he ended up with a slapped together mess of thirty second shots of silent footage, under lit and badly dubbed over and menaced by swarms of moths.

No wait, his greatest mistake was the script.  I mean, Robert Rodriguez shot El Marachi for a six pack of cervesa and with guns that could only shoot one blank at a time before they jammed.  That movie was turned out great because he knew how to edit, whereas our Hal didn’t.  Also, write.  Robert McKee’s Story didn’t exist back then, but I’m hoping that someone told our Hal that your movie’s conflict shouldn’t be based on the inexplicable bad decision of the idiot protagonist (played by Hal Warren) to stay at the strange lodge (I believe Roger Ebert had a term for this called The Stupid Plot).  The plot structure meanders from there, and when the conflict is almost resolved as the family finally comes upon the brilliant idea of “running away” from the danger, the wife trips and sobs a bit.  In a normal movie, the husband would drag her to her feet, yell a rousing speech right in her face, and keep on like a good American.  But this is Manos, so our Hal relents and they trudge back to certain doom.  Thus, the scene accomplishes nothing but killing screen time.

The entire movie is like this: nothing happens, and then when something happens, it takes forever to happen, and then it takes forever for something to happen again.  I should have timed it, but when our hero Torgo is told to stand up, he takes what feels like five full minutes to do so.  Supposedly the….things he was wearing in his pants was causing him real physical pain, but come on, Hal, edit that sucker down.

Oh yeah, Torgo has huge knees, if you didn’t know.  This is meant to be scary.  He also talks like Stephen Root in Office Space.  Legend has it the actor became addicted to pain killers in the course of this movie and eventually committed suicide.  Which just piles on the tragedy.

You can read more details and in depth analysis of this movie at Yakmala! and the Agony Booth. There is so much to talk about in a movie where almost nothing happens.

But yeah, this movie was bad.  Thankfully I watched the Mystery Science Theater version, wherein the evil scientists had to apologize to Joel for subjecting him to it, no less.

PS: Oh yeah, forgot to mention the inappropriate jazz soundtrack and the random couple who make out for a full twenty four hours and have nothing to do with anything.

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