ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

During a road trip near El Paso, Texas, Michael (Hal Warren), Margaret (Diane Mahree) and their daughter Debbie (Jackey Neyman) are looking for a place called Valley Lodge. They finally reach a house that is run by the bizarre, satyr-like Torgo (John Reynolds) who, in his words, “runs the house while the Master is away.” Michael and Diane ask him for directions to Valley Lodge, but he informs them that he’s never heard of such a place.

Though Torgo at first objects, Michael asks if he and his family can stay the night, and eventually Torgo gives them a room. Once inside, they find themselves in the center of the home’s dark and deadly secret – the malevolent Satanist known as the Master (Tom Neyman) and his cult of wives.

Oh, the tumultuous decade that was the sixties. Remember that time? I don’t. I was far from even being a good time and eventual leftover stain on my parents’ mattress. Thank God too ’cause what a mess that decade was: The assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK, Thich Quang Duc’s own personal firework show, the breakup of the Beatles, Vietnam, Brian Wilson’s breakdown, the Manson Family, the Altamont Free Concert, Ike Turner’s fist and the ’68 Democratic Convention riots. Combine them all into one giant, hellfire and brimstone clusterfuck, and you still won’t hold a candle to the celluloid atrocity that is Manos: The Hands of Fate.

Too soon?

Manos: The Hands of Fate comes from writer/director/producer/financier/star Hal Warren, a fertilizer salesman – yes, a fertilizer salesman – who allegedly made a bet that he could make a successful horror film for under $20,000. Sure, $20,000 doesn’t seem like a lot compared to what films get made for these days; fifty years ago is a different story, though. Regardless of the time, as I asked back during my review of The Room, I feel compelled to ask once again…

Where the hell is all this money going to?!

You’d think $20,000 a half-century ago could afford you some decent production value. If this taught me anything, it’s that this is apparently the kind of value $20,000 for a film gets you…

  • One hand-cranked film camera that only shoots 32-seconds of film at a time before needing to be rewound again (and F. W. Murnau, Hal Warren is not).
  • Windstorm-esque audio quality (done by shooting the film silent and then having a handful of people record their lines afterward).
  • Bedsheets purchased at some local garage sale for the costumes.
  • A half-assed score that sounds like Warren walked in on Jethro Tull having a drunken jam session at 4 AM and pressed record.
  • The clapperboard showing up visibly in a few shots.
  • Homemade VHS porn after the damn VCR ate the tape at least ten times video quality.
  • A writer that titles his film Manos: The Hands of Fate, which when translated from Spanish to English is… Hands: The Hands of Fate.
  • Dialogue like this…

“But master, you have six wives. Why can’t I have one for myself?”

“You are not one of us. Therefore you cannot have one of them!”

Yeah, that kind of value.

To put things in perspective, 1994’s Clerks was made for around $27,000, which is considerably less than what $20,000 in ’66 would be adjusted for 28 years of inflation. Granted, Kevin Smith could only do so much with the time, resource and budget restraints that he had, but still, Clerks is Inception compared to this.

Seriously, where the hell did all that money go?!!

Awkward is a fitting word to describe this. You’re not just witnessing a car crash here; you’re experiencing a car crash, head-on collision, game of chicken at 100 mph in a school zone, just outside the school in fact, while the children are crossing the crosswalk style.

… No one made it out alive.

Typically, everyone makes a film with the best of intentions. As mammoth of a leap of faith as it might take for you to believe, everyone on the Grown Ups film set probably thought they were in the midst of making the next Young Frankenstein or Ghostbusters.

Okay, that might be a stretch. Well, I’m pretty sure they at least figured it wasn’t gonna suck as much as it did.

However, in Manos: The Hands of Fate’s case, there has to be at least one point, or maybe two or three or twenty where someone amongst the cast and (or) crew thought to themselves, “… What the fuck am I doing here?”

Strip it down to its core, and the film is essentially your everyday basic horror tale of the vacationing family who stops to either ask for directions or ’cause their car broke down and wind up staying the night at a place that houses something evil. It’s a simple and overused premise, but a suitable one if placed in competent hands that have no interest in littering the screen with cops that seem interested in only breaking up couples pulled over to make out (El Paso’s crime rate is probably through the roof) and the creepiest satyr (those mythological half human/half horse creatures) who looks nothing like a satyr and just acts like a weirded out Michael J. Fox.

Hey! I know what you’re thinking. Don’t assume the worst. I said that ’cause the actor, John Reynolds, resembles Michael J. Fox.


And also ’cause he squirms and stutters a lot.

About Reynolds's pervy character Torgo, he doesn't look like a satyr and he's never mentioned as being one, but apparently he's supposed to be one. To help Reynolds portray the character like a satyr, co-star Tom Neyman fashioned a metallic rigging out of the best wire hangers (so much for getting Joan Crawford to participate in this) and foam $20,000 can buy. Unintentionally, Reynolds wore the rigging backward, causing him to look nothing like the mythological beast and more like a drunk, crippled man. Since no one felt the need to speak up and correct the mistake, the device permanently damaged his kneecaps, which led to Reynolds self-medicating with drugs to ease the pain.

Long story short, those self-medicating side effects are quite visible. Extremely visible, in fact. So visible, one agonizingly long and awkward scene between him and Diane Mahree will leave you feeling dirtier than a pedophile teaching a 4th grade sex education class.

Or a pedophile like a certain cult leader known as the Master who ends up taking Michael and Margaret’s little daughter Debbie as one of his new wives – oh, hey, wait! That’s what happens in this film! Go figure!

I could go on and on here, but I think nothing speaks volumes any louder than the reaction from Mystery Science Theater 3000, the TV series responsible for dragging this film out of its obscurity and into the limelight. Show writer Mary Jo Pehl admitted later on that during the writing process, she and her fellow writers were, in her words, “so caught up in the wretchedness of this movie” that they found it difficult to come up with any comments for the episode. This movie rendered MST3K speechless.

Did you hear what I said (imagine that being said in the best angry Lt. Dan voice possible)? This movie rendered MST3K, a show that has made a living off of ripping on more shitty movies than there are stars in universe, speechless.

I kinda figured eventually a film would come along and finally break them.

All aspiring amateur filmmakers, I implore you to see this film. It’s a must-see guide on what not to do, and you’ll certainly be thankful you live in a day and age where decent film editing tools are a little more accessible than they were before.

Hell, after watching this catastrophe, you’ll be grateful for even Windows Movie Maker.

Ranking high up there next to The Room and Troll 2 as one of the worst films ever made, Manos: The Hands of Fate is so jaw-droppingly bad a very solid argument could be made that even Uwe Boll has been given an all-access pass to smack-talk it. Of course, momma raised no asshole – er, for the most part – so I’m aware if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. I guess in spite of the fact that EVERY SINGLE ASPECT of the film screams amateurish and abysmal, at least this doesn’t feature a kid saving his family from food poisoning by peeing on their dinner. Nor does it contain any naval sex.

So it’s got that going for it… which is – uh – nope, still horrible.

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