Wednesday, September 30, 2015

MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966) - SPECIAL EDITION

MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966) 

Label: Synapse Films

Release Date: October 13, 2015
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 73 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Full-Frame (1.33:1)
Region: All Regions
Cast: Tom Neyman, John Reynolds, Diane Mahree, Hal Warren, Jackey Neyman
Director: Harold P. Warren


Manos begins with a cold start, no credits and no titles, we have nuclear family Mike (Harold P. Warren) and Maggie (Diane Mahree) on a ill-fated road trip through rural Texas with their adolescent daughter Debbie (Jackie Raye Neyman), along with the family dog "Peppie". Along the way the stubborn Mike makes a wrong turn and the doomed family become stranded at a weird lodge out in the middle of nowhere. There they meet a strange caretaker named Torgo (John Reynolds) who has a strange leg deformity, and walks with the aid of walking staff with a hand-shaped design atop it, and then they meet the cult leader, known only as The Master (Tom Neyman). Oh, and his legion of polygamous cult-wives, of which he would like to make Maggie one of, but first he must dispose of her husband and child. This is the very simple set-up of Manos: The Hands of Fate, the sole directorial effort of Texas fertilizer salesman, turned inept b-movie maker, Harold P. Warren, a poorly conceived cult-thriller starring a cast of nobodies who like himself would never again make a movie, and with good reason. 

The "standouts" of the movie are the caretaker Torgo and the cult-leader "The Master" played by John Reynolds and Tom Neyman. Reynolds line delivery is strange to say the least, an oddly pitched voice, he's a lowly bearded henchman who dreams of having his own wife, coveting the Master's six-wives until Maggie shows up at the lodge, his desire for her is what causes a rift between the two men. He has a physical deformity, a bulging of the knees which seem to imply he might be some sort of mythical satyr, a hoof creature. The Master as played by Neyman is sort of awesome, a pale-faced stagey performance as he makes prayer to the evil spirit of Manos, "the primal darkness who dwells in the depths of the universe in the black chasms of night", this is good stuff and super hokey, these are some of the best lines in the movie and Neyman is playing it up for all it worth. The Master wears an iconic black robe with the huge red hands imprinted upon it, that damn robe is probably the one genius thing about this movie, it's pretty awesome. There are a few fun flourishes to be found, a painting of The Master with a glowing-eyed demon-dog hangs on the wall, that is something I would definitely hang on my own wall. There's also an abundance of hand-themed sculptures throughout the movie, which was sort of neat. 



The Master's wives bicker about the fate of the young child Debbie, the master wants her attractive mother for himself and condemns the child to death, but some of the wives want to keep the child for themselves, leading to some hair-pulling and girl-fighting among them. The actresses playing the cult-wives were borrowed from a local modeling school at the time, some attractive ladies but awful actresses. Mike's wife Maggie as played by model Diane Mahree, an attractive ginger with light-eyes and a smattering of freckles, very cute but an awful actress just like pretty much everyone else. That all the women were dubbed by the same voice-over actress probably doesn't help matters any, but even if they had dubbed their own voices this would still be a hot mess, there's just no way around it. 

Throughout the movie strange music cues pop-up ranging from jazzy pieces which at times reminded be of the Vince Guaraldi Trio Peanuts theme, plus an inappropriately suspenseful music cue that pops-up while Torgo is carrying luggage from the family's car to the lodge, and it sounds very much like a short snippet from the Twilight Zone theme. Technically this is a cluster fuck of a movie, loaded with bad lighting, awful acting, and some of the worst editing you will ever see, rumor has it the entire movie as edited in a drunken four hour marathon at a local TV station, and by the look of the damn thing that is a certain possibility. Director Harold P. Warren, who stars as the khaki and cardigan wearing Mike, was in over his head with this Satanic slice of b-movie making. Maybe his heart was in the right place, but as they say, the road to b-movie Armageddon is paved with aspiring directors with good intentions.



Audio/Video: For years they were thought lost but somehow the original 16mm film elements have been finally unearthed and lovingly restored by Ben Solovey to create the definitive version of this awful cult-classic, and now on Blu-ray thanks to Synapse Films. I am not one who caught Manos on the Comedy central broadcasts of Mystery Science Theater 3000, no I found this one myself on one of those Mill Creek Entertainment  budget collections, log before I knew this had a cult-following and a reputation as one of the "worst movies ever", but watching it then I certainly knew it was a terrible movie, when I found out that it had a following and a b-movie bomb reputation I was not surprised. Ben Solovey has put a lot of love into this restoration, which is not to say this is gonna be a perfect presentation, it's not. Plagues by instances of print damage, discoloration, poor lighting and bad focus issues that were inherent to the original camerawork, but compared to what we had before this is a damn miraculous Resurrection of the movie. Shot on 16mm the movie has an abundance of large grain particles inherent to the format, but colors and textures are greatly improved, this is way more watchable with some damn fine restoration and clean-up having been done, preserving the awful cult-classic for years to come.


Audio comes by way of a restored English mono track which is also quite an improvement over previous version, but again your mileage may vary given the awful post-dubbing of the original movie, which can sound like it had been recorded in a large box, but it is clearer and stronger than ever before. Apparently all the women were dubbed by the same voice-over actress, including young Jackey Neyman as Debbie, the dub is giving "Bob" from Fulci's The House by the Cemetery as run for his money as the most-annoying dubbed performance in all of horror cinema. Optional English Subtitles are provided. 



Onto the bonus features we have some good stuff to dig through, beginning with an unrestored "grindhouse" version of the movie, enjoy the rough version without the benefit of any kind of restoration or color correction, a worn print of the movie with plenty of fading, dirt and scratches presented in HD.

There's a new commentary from Tom “The Master” Neyman and his daughter Jackey Raye “Debbie” Neyman-Jones. Tom portrayed "The Master" while his daughter Jackey Raye portrayed young Debbie. It's a good commentary filled with their recollections of making the movie and what it was like making this shitty b-movie, there a lot of laughing at what's happening on-screen throughout. The senior Neyman provided a lot of the design and costuming for the movie, offering the services of his car, wife and daughter for the production, including the hand-themed sculptures which he created. 

Also on the disc are three Ballyhoo Motion Pictures produced featurettes which go into the making and restoration of the movie. 'Hands: The Fate of "Manos"' is a 31-minute retrospective featuring Benjamin Solovely who spearheaded the restoration, actors Tom Neyman, Jackie Raye Neyman, Diane Adelson, the son of the actor who played the sheriff and the still photographer on set - all providing some insight into the making Manos. All the participants are very candid about how awful the movie is and what it was like making it, actress Diane Adelson sharing that director Harold P. Warren requested she drop her top during her audition, which she refused, I love that he replied that he was only testing her, that made me laugh. If you love this movie you need to own this release just for this mini-doc.


There's also a short piece with Benjamin Solovely who goes into great detail about the condition of the original film elements and how the restoration was done step by step, and what could and could not be fixed through restoration. The last featurette is a brief piece with writer/producer Rachel Jackson who speaks about the inspiration for her puppet stage show 'Manos: The Hands of Felt'. 


Special Features: 

- All-new 2K Restoration of MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE
- Audio Commentary with Tom Neyman and Jackey Raye Neyman-Jones
- Hands: The Fate of "Manos" – Featurette (31 Mins) HD 
- Restoring the Hands of Fate – Featurette (7 Mins) HD 
- Felt: The Puppet Hands of Fate – Featurette (4 Mins) HD 
- Manos: The Hands of Fate – “Grindhouse” Version (Blu-ray Only) (69 Mins) HD 

There's no getting around what an awful movie Manos: The Hands of Fate, but when a Texas fertilizer salesman makes a movie you sort of have to expect it to turn to shit, wouldn't you think? Truly awful and quite entertaining, the movie has a hokey charm about it that is watchable and fun, for me I love that there's so many scenes without a lot dialogue, it allows you to chime in with a few corny one-liners of your own, that's always a lot of fun with a roomful of friends and few beers. I love that this restoration was crowd-funded by fans, I love that Synapse Films are distributing it, and I love the entertaining extras on the disc. each one giving us a peek behind the curtain of one of the most worst movies of all time. If you love it cheap and crave drive-in era schlock this release right here is the b-movie holy grail of awfulness. 3/5


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