In our regular column, guff-film buffs sort the cinematic wheat from the chaff, then throw all the wheat away. This month Sooz Kempner celebrates what she believes is the worst film ever made.
In the mid-1960s Harold P Warren, an estate agent in Texas, made a bet with his friend that he could make his very own feature-length movie. He won that bet when he made Manos: The Hands of Fate, a horror that is equal parts creepy and boring.
Virtually unwatchable without some sort of commentary, I’m here to give you a handy guide to watching what I believe is the worst movie ever made. You see, films like The Room, Troll 2 and Plan 9 from Outer Space are often touted as the worst films ever created but they do at least look like films. Films made by people who have brain injuries, sure, but films nonetheless.
Manos looks like some confused people were corralled in a desert and told to look baffled. It runs at a scant hour and ten minutes but it’s great value because you feel like you’re watching it for around three weeks.
Here’s the plot: a family and their dog are on a road trip (don’t know where to, it seems like Hell) and wind up at Valley Lodge, a house which resembles the one at the end of The Blair Witch Project. For some reason they think the house seems just fine.
There’s a guy called Torgo with massive thighs, who stumbles about with their luggage and keeps chatting about “The Master”. Eventually we see the Master. He looks like Lord Lucan and wears a pretty cool cloak with big hands on it.
Hey guys, this film is called Manos: The Hands of Fate and Manos translates as ‘hands’. This movie is literally called Hands: The Hands of Fate. The Master has a bunch of wives in the cellar who sometimes start fighting with one other for no reason. Anything to fill screen time I guess.
The Master wants to make the mother of the family his next wife but Torgo wants her to be HIS wife.
The family run off into the desert. There’s a bit where the dad (played by Warren, who is at least 25 years older than the lovely woman playing his wife) shoots a snake… that’s pretty weird. The police get involved. The police stop being involved.
The Master appears. The mum and daughter become wives of The Master. Harold P Warren becomes Torgo. The credits roll and finish with the caption “The End…?” No need for the question mark, Warren. It’s definitely the fucking end.
This plot sounds pretty tedious and not particularly original, so what is it that makes Manos stand out against other shitty movies? Let’s break it down.
“None of the shots last longer than 32 seconds. This isn’t a stylistic choice, it’s just that Harold P Warren in his infinite wisdom purchased a camera that could only shoot 32 seconds at a time.”
The film was recorded without audio. The actors are speaking but their dialogue wasn’t recorded. In post-production all the dialogue was recorded by a handful of actors. An adult woman provides the voice of Debbie, the family’s seven-year-old daughter. Don’t feel too sorry for her though, she is clearly really pissing off a dog throughout the opening.
Oh, speaking of the opening, have you ever fancied seeing shots of a car driving for about five minutes while slow music plays? You have? You should totally check out Manos: The Hands of Fate then. There are no opening credits, just endless shots of that bloody car driving through Texas.
Why does the actor playing Torgo have such massive thighs? Turns out he doesn’t; the actor was just wearing the homemade prosthetics backwards. He was meant to resemble a satyr but nobody had the nous to tell him to wear the prosthetics properly so he just looks like a man with giant legs who can’t walk properly. It’s weird that no characters acknowledge this but I guess nobody on the set did either.
I didn’t mention it in the plot summary but there are regular cutaways to a young couple in a car having a snog. I didn’t mention it in the plot summary because it was fuck-all to do with the plot. The girl in the couple looks right at the camera at one point. And there’s even a few frames where you can see the clapperboard. Movie magic!
Look carefully and you’ll see that none of the shots last longer than 32 seconds. This isn’t a stylistic choice, it’s just that Harold P Warren in his infinite wisdom purchased a camera that could only shoot 32 seconds at a time. Interestingly, 32 seconds is the average amount of time a person can watch Manos without screaming in pain.
Here’s something else baffling about the movie: it was made for $19,000, aka about £100,000 in 2016 money. That’s tiny as film budgets go but you can totally afford things like microphones on that budget. You can even afford to make opening credits. I don’t know where the money went. I guess Torgo’s legs were pricey… maybe they were stuffed with $100 bills or something.
If you want to take the plunge and see Manos for yourself I highly recommend the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 version. It’s just appeared on Netflix and means that at least you’re not watching this bullshit alone: it’s a movie that’s designed to be heckled.1493 Views
Funny Women Variety Award Winner 2012. ASDA Kate Bush.