Sunday, 27 March 2016

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS: MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS

67. MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966, dir. Harold P. Warren)

27/03/2016


To call "Manos: The Hands of Fate" the worst film ever made, even over Ed Wood films like "Plan 9 from Outer Space," and "Glen or Glenda," the latter of which I need to review one day, is a dubious and patronising honour to give something that clearly involved effort from many people, no matter how misplaced, but it has secured the film's survival and, having watched the film, may have brought closure to those that made it.

The film's very simple story is of a family that gets lost on the way to a holiday home, stumbling upon the lair of a cult. All human life is here - the innocents, the "Master", his henchman, the followers / wives / concubines, and the guard dog. Add eerie imagery, darkness, a creepy portrait, and many images of hands, and that should be enough of a diversion at the cinema on a Friday night.

Why "Manos" has to be seen is to believe a film can be made quite so badly - it is in the public domain, and is easily found online. Going beyond the usual wooden acting and incomprehensible script, there are shots that go on too long; whole sections of driving shots that look like they were from the director's home movies, and kept in to make the film long enough to be a feature; few, if any, sound effects; actors that look like they are waiting to be directed; bad editing, symptomatic of an entire hour-plus film being assembled in only FOUR HOURS; the colour film stock not being suited to night shooting; shots being out of focus; HAIR BEING CAUGHT IN THE GATE OF THE CAMERA; the dubbing of all the characters by a group of three people, with one woman playing all the female parts, as the no sound equipment was used during shooting...

However, the music, much of it jazz, and completely out of place for a horror film, is brilliant.

You can look online for the rest of these, as they are chronicled in excruciating detail. Even the cheapest exploitation film show some evidence of competency, and even while Harold P. Warren, the writer / producer / director / star of "Manos," is often described primarily as a fertiliser salesman, he also appeared in bit parts on television shows like "Route 66," and the film's cast and crew came from the amateur dramatics group of which he was a part - in watching "Manos," you get the feeling of an amateur play having got out of hand. 

Despite the film arising from a bet with Stirling Silliphant, the writer of "Route 66," that Harold P. Warren could make a horror film himself, involvement in a bigger production should have made clear of your own limitations in doing it yourself, that problems with the picture cannot be fixed "in the lab," that actors need clear direction, and that more time should have been spent editing the film into a coherent whole, papering over the very obvious cracks. That way, your cast would not leave the premiere of the film before the end, due to the gales of laughter at a horror film that was played straight.

"Manos" did have a short run in local cinemas around El Paso, Texas, where it was made, before fading into obscurity, never having made back the $19,000 it cost to make. Its reputation exploded when featured on the US comedy series "Mystery Science Theater 3000," where it was played in full, and mocked mercifully throughout. Finally, in 2011, the work print was discovered in a sale of film rolls bought on eBay by a cinematographer, leading to a restored print now available on Blu-Ray, featuring commentary and interviews with the surviving cast and crew. 

Watching my copy of the Blu-Ray, it is heartening to see that, behind the derision, there are actual human beings, that did the best job they could, and who are now getting proper recognition and recompense for what they did. They knew they were not getting paid back in 1966, as everyone involved was to share the (non-existent) profits but, unlike so many exploitation films lumped together with "Manos," the people that have been exploited are no longer those that are in it - it is the happiest ending this film could possibly have.




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