When writing about bad movies, it’s hard to avoid mentioning Mystery Science Theatre 3000.
This little show that could crawled out of public access on to cable and satellite (SciFi Network and Comedy Central) for a remarkable ten year run.
The premise of a custodian sent to space to be used as a guinea-pig in an experiment combining isolation and exposure to bad movies proved to be a perfect way to showcase celluloid stinkers and justify a steady stream of “riffing” (heckling) from the hapless astronaut and his robot companions, Crow and Tom Servo, throughout the screening.
When the show wrapped, its performers found way to recycle themselves as professional “riffers”. The show’s creator and original host Joel Hodgson, teamed with former companions in arms Trace Beaulieu (the original “Crow”) and Josh Weinstein (the original “Tom Servo”) to form Cinema Titanic.
Mike Nelson, the show’s former head-writer who took over when Joel left, turned “riffing” into a virtual empire, first by providing funny audio commentary tracks to stinkers on DVD, then by pairing with Kevin Murphy (“Tom Servo”) and Bill Corbett (who played “Crow” in the final seasons) to form The Film Crew. He tried to get “riffing” to go beyond the usual public domain titles but was basically informed that doing so would see him sued out of existence. However, the arrival of iPods changed all that as Mike came up with a brilliant plan to record podcasts called Rifftrax which need only to be timed with the film but contain no copyrightable material whatsoever. This allowed him to be able to riff on blockbusters while they are still in theatrical release. If you’re sitting in a theatre and some guy with headphones is cracking up next to you- he may be listening to Rifftrax.
In the course of their ten years riding the electron streams they did manage to unearth a few gems of Painjoyment™ but none as mesmerizingly awful as Manos-The Hands of Fate.
The plot (for lack of a better word) involves a dad (Hal Warren– the film’s director, producer and what-have-you) taking his family out for a very very very very very (very) long drive (driving shots at the beginning of the film are interminable) until they find themselves checking into a lodge run by a bizarre troll of a man called Torgo (John Reynolds- who committed suicide later. We are told for unrelated reasons) whose knees seem afflicted in a bizarre way. He is meant to be a pan-like satyr but the result is just some creep in comically baggy pants. The odd coat-wire and foam contraption to produce that effect apparently caused excruciating pain which may have aggravated his mental deterioration.
As you can hear, Torgo also has the single most annoying theme in film history.
Torgo claims to serve “the Master” who, it turns out, is the leader of a weirdass polygamous cult no ones ever heard of as they don’t have snappy commercials or send guys in white shirts and ties to canvass neighbourhoods looking for suckers, er, I mean, new recruits.
Legend has it the film was the result of a bet between fertilizer salesman Harold “Hal” Warren and screenwriter Stirling Silliphant (and brother of Creeping Terror scribe Robert Silliphant, by the way) when the two met on the set of a Route 66 episode Warren had a walk-on part in. Warren claimed it was not so difficult to make a motion picture. Silliphant was amused by his chutzpah and took on the bet. The film’s plot was laid out on a napkin, Warren amassed $19,ooo and went to work with local actors an crew members to whom he promised a cut of the profits(suckers!).
The film premiered in El-Paso on November 15, 1966 to a jeering audience but Warren still won his bet. Thankfully for him, he didn’t bet it was easy to make a GOOD film.
The film quickly sank into obscurity after an ill-fated local run. A sale to television resulted in a 16mm print floating about. It fell into the public domain rather quickly (Warren probably decided to save the expense of copyrighting it) which is how it came to the attention of MST3K cast member Ray Conniff (“TV’s Frank”) who pitched it to his buddies on the show.
The rest as they say, is history.
For one thing, it was the first (and possibly only) film the mad scientists (Beaulieu and Conniff) ever apologized for at the end of the broadcast. That is saying a lot!
Manos quickly became one of MST3K’s best loved episodes. It was realeased on VHS, on DVD as part of a double-feature disc set called Mystery Science Theatre 3000 “The Essentials” where it was paired with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.
Quentin Tarantino is said to have a 35mm copy of it – which seems highly unlikely. He is quoted as saying it’s his favorite movie (or at least one of his favorites) -which is very likely given that QT will claim every other film is “one of his favorites”.
It floats about the very bottom of the ratings on IMDB and scored a truly remarkable 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Now Manos is finding it’s way on DVD again, this time on its own double-disc Special Edition featuring both the MST3K episode and the uncut version of the film.
Personally, I was introduced to the film via MST3K. I have since acquired it “uncut” but every attempt I’ve made to sit through this film untethered by the riffs has been a failure.
Yes, folks, the Cinémasochist has his limits and this film is it!
Perhaps you’re up to the challege. Click on the YouTube link below and find out.
Pain Level: Off the scale!
Quality of Pain: Like someone jammed a whole bunch of wire coat hangers down your pants.
Painjoyment™: You will need something to alleviate the pain in order to get the enjoyment. The MST3K cast’s riffs are a good start. I have a few more suggestions but I am told impressionable teenagers read this blog so…