DirectorHarold P. Warren
Release Date(s)1966 (October 13, 2015)
- Film/Program Grade: D-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
Manos: The Hands of Fate, considered by many to be the worst movie ever made... even worse than Plan 9 from Outer Space... even worse than The Room. Well, I don’t really agree with that sentiment, but it’s one that’s been echoed by many film fans all over the world. The thing is though, if you watch enough bad movies, or rather good/bad movies (as I often do), you’ll come to the conclusion that Manos is far from the worst movie ever made.
I know it sounds like I’m giving this movie high praise of some sort, but trust me, I’m not. The first time I watched Manos, I watched it completely cold, not knowing anything about it and without the support of a group of people around me to make fun of it with. I really thought I had just witnessed the worst thing I had ever seen. Over the years, I’ve seen it many times since then, mainly due to it being featured prominently on what is considered to be one of the best episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and just recently, via the folks at Rifftrax. I suppose seeing it through that spectrum can give you a set of rose-colored glasses about it. However, I’ve always tried to hang on to my memory of my first encounter with it. It was abysmal, and I think it is for anyone who watches it without the aid of laughter.
For anyone who’s unfamiliar with Manos: The Hands of Fate (quite literally, Hands: The Hands of Fate), here’s the movie’s background. In about 1965, El Paso fertilizer salesman Harold P. Warren made a bet that he could make a movie. After writing up a story and gathering up a very small crew and a set of ragtag amateur actors and models, he proceeded to do just that. The movie has a small town premiere and some showings at drive-ins, but was mainly forgotten. In the early 1980’s, the movie was rediscovered, quickly making the rounds and building its reputation as one of the worst movies ever made.
What’s most surprising about such an amateurish effort is the fact that it does, indeed, have a story. It’s certainly not the most intelligent or well-told story, but the fact that it has a beginning with a proper set up, a middle, and an ending (a twist ending, at that) is why, at least for me, it doesn’t qualify for the title of “worst movie ever made”. I’ve seen far worse movies with absolutely impenetrable stories that have no coherent structure of any kind, even big Hollywood movies. It’s all a matter of taste, I suppose, or perhaps what you’ve been exposed to, but I find Manos kind of charming in how inept it is. What kills Manos in the long run is its soundtrack, the length of its scenes, its on-screen mistakes, poor acting, and overall pace. It’s a real drag to sit through for the first time, but once you’ve seen it, it’s a little easier to take a second time through (if you can muster the will to do so).
A simple story about a mother, father, and daughter finding themselves stranded in the desert where an evil being and his assistant are seducing passersby one by one into their evil fold sounds like it has the potential to be a very compelling movie. It isn’t, but that doesn’t mean it has no merit. It was made with good intentions by a group of people that were doing their best with what little experience they had. Manos: The Hands of Fate is definitely an awful movie, to be sure, but worst ever made? Nah. I disagree with that wholeheartedly, but you be the judge.
Restored from newly-discovered materials and transferred at 2K resolution, Manos: The Hands of Fate is presented with loving care. It’s true that restoring a movie like this is a bit like polishing a turd, and if that’s the case, this is one good-looking turd. The 16mm elements exhibit what you would expect: an extremely grainy, full-frame presentation. Special care has been taken to not make the film look modern in any way, but rather to present the film as if it came straight out of the editing room in 1966. There is more picture information on all sides, seen here for the first time. Grain is prevalent, of course, but so are the many film artifacts both on the negative and in the gate itself: streaks, weak areas of the frame, black lines, speckling, camera flashes, density... basically everything. Color reproduction is very strong, even though skin tones are kind of all over the place, but primaries are the transfer’s strong suit. Black levels couldn’t be deep if they tried, while brightness levels are problematical, yet with satisfactory contrast. Detail, however, is probably this presentation’s most apparent feature, both in the foreground and background. It’s not and never will be abundant, but having seen this movie many generations removed for years, it can only improve. The audio is an English 2.0 DTS-HD track stemmed from the original mono. It’s a much cleaner-sounding soundtrack than viewers of the film have been used to over the years, but again, it’s never going to be perfect. As is, it’s definitely a major upgrade. All of the overdubbed dialogue is perfectly audible, with sound effects and score filling out the proceedings nicely. Obviously, there is no dynamic range to speak of. For a movie that’s been seen in the worst possible condition for many years, this transfer is a bit of a miracle, and the folks at Synapse (specifically restoration producer Ben Solovey who oversaw the project) knocked this one out of the park. There are also subtitles in English or Spanish for those who might need them.
The extras include some terrific goodies to look into, including an audio commentary with Jackey Raye Neyman-Jones and Tom Neyman; the Grindhouse Version, which is basically the unrestored version of the film (and is only available on this Blu-ray release); the Hands: The Fate of Manos featurette; the Restoring the Hands of Fate featurette; and the Felt: The Puppet Hands of Fate featurette. As this film has been released through different companies over the years, there’s certainly more supplemental material out there from companies like Alpha Video, Shout! Factory, and Legendary Films. There are plenty of more interviews, documentaries, and even a set of outtakes from the film on other releases. So if you’re a fan of the film, I suggest you seek those extras out because they are plenty and widespread. That’s not besmirching the work that Synapse and Ballyhoo have done with this Blu-ray release, however. Their work here is very entertaining and informative, especially the restoration featurette, but there’s plenty of more extra material out there if you want to find it.
Having Manos: The Hands of Fate restored with such loving care just further illustrates the fact that it’s not the worst film ever made. A constant reminder is that it was made independently by a group of people with very little experience and with no budget. The result certainly isn’t capable of winning Oscars, but it will be entertaining audiences for years to come on some level and live on much more than many of its betters. Synapse’s tender-loving release of it will ensure that. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons