Directed By: Harold P. Warren
Starring: Tom Neyman, John Reynolds, Diane Mahree
Tag line: "A cult of weird, horrible people who gather beautiful women only to deface them with a burning hand!"
Trivia: The entire film was shot with a hand-held camera that could only record 32 seconds of film at a time
One thing most film fans have in common is that, at some point in time, they've compiled a personal list of the best movies ever made, and nothing stirs up debate better than a group of cinephiles getting together to discuss their respective choices. Yet a topic just as contentious as the best film ever is that of the worst film ever. We've all seen our share of lousy movies, but how many are truly deserving of the title Worst of All Time? Well, 1966's Manos: The Hands of Fate may not be the absolute bottom of the barrel, yet any list of cinematic calamities that doesn't at least mention this film should be automatically nullified. Manos is a dreadful motion picture.
While heading to their favorite vacation spot for a little rest and relaxation, a young family: father Mike (Hal Warren), mother Margaret (Diane Mahree) and daughter Debbie (Jackey Neyman), make a wrong turn down a desert road and find themselves stranded near a remote house in the middle of nowhere. They're greeted by Torgo (John Reynolds), the abode's creepy manservant, who reluctantly allows them to stay for the night. But when the sun goes down, bizarre things begin to happen, including the sudden appearance of the Master (Tom Neyman), a demonic priest who rises from his eternal slumber to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting visitors.
My oh my, where to begin? Manos: The Hands of Fate offers so many critical targets to take aim at that it's really no fun picking the film apart. You can't even fall back on such time-honored appraisals as “sloppy editing” or “bad performances”. Yes, the actors are terrible, but complaining about the acting in Manos: The Hands of Fate is the equivalent of bitching about a weed growing in the middle of a poison ivy patch; it's a problem, but there's plenty of shit surrounding it. Hmmm...well, let's see....for starters, it's a 74-minute movie that feels like 7 hours, with a story that slogs along, from start to finish, at an almost glacial pace. The beginning sequence, where we “peer out” the car window as the family drives along, is tedious to the point of distraction (this was initially where the opening credits were supposed to play, but in a recent interview I heard with Jackey Neyman, who co-starred as the young daughter, she reveals director Harold P. Warren forgot to include them!). There are also large chunks of time where the characters just stare at one another, for what seems like an eternity, before finally delivering their lines. As a horror movie, Manos: The Hands of Fate is a bust. Torgo, with his muscular legs and exaggerated manner of speaking, is more funny than menacing, and the main plot, concerning an otherworldly desert cult, is simply too silly to generate any real tension. I could go on and on, but what's the point? Ultimately, I can't think of a single positive thing to say about Manos: The Hands of Fate; it's a boring, confusing, and often unintentionally hilarious motion picture. Manos is awfulness to the 10th power.
Is Manos: The Hands of Fate the worst film ever made? Despite being a complete failure, I'd still have to vote “no”; I've a few titles in mind I feel are even more painful than this one (to be revealed at a later date). Sure, Manos is piss-poor, and gets a failing grade in just about every category. But the worst of all-time? I'm not prepared to go that far.
Would it make my Top Five (or maybe it's Bottom Five) Worst list? Oh yeah, it's definitely on there. No doubt.