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Manos: The Hands of Fate is a low-budget 1966 horror film which is widely considered to be one of the worst films ever made.
Mike and Margaret, along with their daughter Debbie and the family dog, are on a nice family vacation — but along the way, they fail to find their way to Valley Lodge. As night begins to fall, they decide to spend the night in a strange-looking house on the side of the road. The caretaker of the house (Torgo) sPeAkS wItH OdD eMpHaSiS, has extremely bulgy legs (he was meant to be a satyr), and continuously refers to "The Master" — who is the undead leader of a cult dedicated to the dark god Manos. The Master, Torgo, and The Master's wives want to kill the intruders, but can't come to an agreement as to who to kill: Torgo wants to keep Margaret alive so she can be his wife, The Master wants to keep Margaret alive so she can be his seventh wife, and the wives want to kill both Margaret and Mike (but are unwilling to kill Debbie, which leads to them fighting amongst themselves). As the night continues, Mike and his family find themselves in great danger, and they eventually come face-to-face with The Master himself...
Manos was written, directed, and headlined by El Paso fertilizer salesman Hal P. Warren, who was trying to win a bet with Stirling Silliphant (screenwriter of In the Heat of the Night and a genuinely talented fellow), as Warren believed he could make a successful horror movie on a minimal budget. Without any previous movie-making experience, Warren soon found himself in over his head — but he decided to press on despite having a bare-bones Bell & Howell camera, no remote sound equipment, and a cast composed mainly of non-actors and local extras. The end result was a film so awful, it provoked laughs instead of chills at its first screening in El Paso. After Manos' initial failure, Warren suggested the film could be Gag Dubbed and re-released as a comedy.
The film languished in obscurity for nearly thirty years until it was discovered by the producers of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which riffed Manos in a 1993 episode and proved Warren's suggestion right. For tropes from the episode, see here.
For more laughs at the film's expense, see The Agony Booth's recap or I-Mockery's review. Thanks to its newfound popularity, Manos spawned a Broadway musical (Manos: Rock Opera of Fate) and a 2004 documentary (Hotel Torgo). Riff Trax did a live riffing of the film on August 16, 2012.
In 2011, the original 16mm workprint of Manos was discovered, and the person who found it established a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a complete high-definition restoration of the movie from the pristine-condition workprint (it raised almost 400% more than the initial goal). A side-by-side comparison of the restoration illustrates the dramatic difference between the restored version and the currently-available DVD release.
The Master approved these examples:
- AcCENT Upon the Wrong SylLABle: ToRgO dOeS tHiS, nAtUrAlLy.
- Amateur Cast
- Angry Guard Dog: The one that later eats Peppy is one of these.
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: This was presumably behind the naming of the cult's god; the Spanish word for "hands" is "manos".
- The Bad Guy Wins: The Master gets the two protagonists — and their little dog too.
- Battle Harem: The Master has a harem of wives who are ready to fight for him — and fight each other.
- Big Bad: The Master
- Bilingual Bonus: "Manos" is Spanish for "hands", which means the movie's title literally translates to Hands: The Hands of Fate — or, perhaps, Hands: Las Manos del Destino.
- Broken Record: Torgo in particular, but everybody falls under this trope. But, really, Torgo in particular.
- Bumbling Dad: Mike
- The Cast Showoff: Tom Neyman was an artist; the proof is in The Master's portrait, which he painted.
- Catch Phrase: "ThE mAsTeR wOuLd NoT aPpRoVe."
- Cat Fight: After the wives try to decide on what to do about Debbie, they get into one of these, which was presumably intended as a form of Fan Service.
- Central Theme: The Master's cult has a bizarre fixation on hands. As explained above, "manos" means "hands" in Spanish, but beyond this fact, the connection is never explained.
- There's a lot of focus on Torgo's hands as he awkwardly tries to grasp and paw at various women throughout the film. One of his hands is taken as punishment for his transgressions; this, combined with The Master having so many wives, suggests hands may equate to a form of possession. The Master possesses the entire family by the end of the film. …Sweet Odin's Raven, does this movie make sense now?!
- The staff Torgo carries around has a hand on it, as well.
- Chest Insignia: The Master has a black robe with a big pair of red hands on it. It's an interesting effect, since it's not obvious they're hands until he spreads his arms out, but it gets old quick.
- Cowboy Bebop at His Computer: A film review from shortly after the premiere lists Torgo as the film's "hero", though granted he's the closest thing to one.
- Crusty Caretaker: Torgo is one of these. Mike presumably takes his place in the ending.
- Department of Redundancy Department: Certain words and phrases tend to be repeated. Certain words and phrases get repeated.
- There's also the title itself; "manos" is Spanish for "hands". Torgo's frequently repeated line about how the Master would not approve of anything counts, too.
- There is no Department of Redundancy Department. The Master would not approve. There is no way out of here. The Master would not approve. There is no Department of Redundancy Department. It will be dark soon. There is no way out of here.
Torgo: There is no way out of here. It'll be dark soon. There is no way out of here.
- One character even appears to contradict herself with this redundancy! The following quote is, more or less, one sentence thanks to the actress' delivery. (The problem seems to be that the same actress was dubbing two separate voices; see the Talking to Himself entry below.)
Bride Of Manos: The woman is all we want. The others must die. They ALL must die. We do not even want the woman.
- Does Not Like Shoes: The Master's wives are all barefoot.
- Downer Ending: The Master wins. See The Bad Guy Wins entry above for more info.
- Dull Surprise: Mike, Margaret, and some of the wives all practice this trope at times.
- Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: The Master and some of his wives fall under this trope.
- Evil Laugh: The Master is an altogether cheery guy.
- Fan Nickname: The film was often referred to as Mangos: The Cans of Fruit by the more frustrated cast members.
- Hell Hotel: The Master's home is more like a Hell House, but it still counts.
- Hell Hound: Well, the dog is supposed to be one. While he barks up quite a storm off-screen, he's very docile on-screen. See the Real Life Relative entry below for more info.
- Hong Kong Dub: All of the voices in the film were performed by three actors, as the film was shot entirely without sound and the dialogue was added in post-production. For some reason, they still used a clapboard (which is visible in a few shots). The little girl who played Debbie allegedly cried when she heard how she sounded in the movie.
- The Igor: Torgo was originally planned to be called Igor.
- Impossibly Cool Clothes: The Master's robe is awesome.
- Incestuous Casting: Tom Neyman (The Master) and Jackie Neyman (Debbie) are father and daughter. Debbie ends up becoming one of the Master's wives.
- Infant Immortality: The Master's wives refuse to kill a child.
- Informed Attribute: People who knew them insist that John Reynolds (Torgo) and Tom Neyman (The Master) were very talented actors. This isn't evident in the movie, since their voices were dubbed over by talentless people.
- Jerkass: Mike is an unbelievably callous guest.
- Laughably Evil: All of the villains fall under this trope.
- Large Ham: Tom Neyman tries to be this while playing The Master, but he doesn't have the voice to pull it off right. (To be fair, it's not really his voice, so it's probably not his fault.)
- Leave the Camera Running: This trope is unintentionally subverted. Several scenes drag on to the point of distraction, but no single shot is longer than thirty-two seconds (due to the technical limitations of the camera Warren used).
- Leitmotif: The "haunting" Torgo theme serves as this for Torgo (of course).
- Looping Lines
- Lovable Sex Maniac: Torgo again. He's the only character with any personality, really.
- Make-Out Kids: A couple who falls under this trope is in the film for absolutely no reason (the actress broke her leg and couldn't play her original role as one of the Master's wives, and the go-nowhere subplot was an excuse to keep her employed).
- Make-Out Point: There's one of these on the road to the Master's house.
- The Master: This one is self-explanatory.
- Negative Continuity: This is done, unintentionally, from scene to scene.
- Neutral Female: Margaret
- Nice Hat: Torgo's hat is pretty nice.
- No Budget
- Our Monsters Are Weird: Torgo
- Police Are Useless: Most of the local deputies' time is spent bothering a couple who can't keep their lips off of each other. They show up again after Mike fires the gun, get out and walk in front of their car, then turn around and leave. (Warren and his crew didn't have enough lighting for a pan scene.)
- Porn Stache: The Master has one of these.
- Real Life Relative: The actors who play the Master and Debbie are father and daughter.
- The Master's evil dog was their dog, which is why (despite the dubbed-in barking) it's very friendly.
- Red Right Hand: Torgo was supposed to be evocative of a satyr by having goat-legs and a bleating voice. It didn't pan out too well in execution.
- Red and Black and Evil All Over: The Master's robes.
- The Renfield: Torgo
- Scenery Porn: This is attempted with the opening sequence, but bits of footage are repeated and, unfortunately, the El Paso countryside — while not unpleasant — isn't exactly a paragon of unparalleled natural beauty. (The muddy 16mm-to-35mm film transfer didn't help, either.)
- Sequel Hook: The film ends with Margaret and Debbie in suspended animation in the desert. Two young college girls arrive at the house and are greeted by the new caretaker, Mike. Torgo might be dead, but his death was never shown onscreen.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: The happy jazz music playing at the beginning and end, and especially the song played over the credits, would be far more appropriate for a Glamorous Wartime Singer.
- Still Wearing the Old Colors: Torgo's costume is supposed to look like a Confederate uniform to suggest this trope, but it doesn't work (even in the restored version).
- Talking to Himself: Everyone is dubbed by three actors, including Warren himself. When the sheriff points out Mike's burned-out taillight, it becomes an odd Dada experiment in alternate reality.
- Those Two Guys: "The Make-Out Couple" and the two sheriffs have no relevance to the rest of the film. The couple was used because the actress broke her leg early in production; she was intended to be one of the wives, so they worked her into her own, pointless subplot.
- Title Drop:
Manos! God of primal darkness! As thou hast decreed, so have I done. The hands of fate have doomed this man. Thy will is done!
- Too Dumb to Live: Mike insists on staying at the house despite the protests of the mysterious satyr man who calls his boss "the Master"; after things go predictably wrong, he suggests they go back to hide from them while they're all looking.
- Verbal Tic: ToRgO (pause) TAlks (pause) LIkes thIS.
- Vocal Dissonance: Debbie was a little girl dubbed over by an adult woman trying to sound like a little girl.
- What Happened to the Mouse? / What Could Have Been: It's ambiguous whether or not Torgo survives; Warren intentionally left his fate ambiguous, as he planned to film a sequel (which was never produced) starring Torgo.
- Wife Husbandry: "The child is a female! She must not be destroyed. She will grow up to be a woman!"
- Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: The Master's rants fall into this trope.
- You Have Failed Me: When the Master catches Torgo getting grabby with his brides once too many times, he and prepares to sacrifice Torgo to Manos. This doesn't pan out, as Torgo survives despite losing a hand.