“Manos:” The Hands of Fate is, in fact, one of the worst movies ever made. Shot on the cheap by Texas salesman Harold P. Warren in the 1960s, the film disappeared into obscurity after a disastrous premiere until it was discovered in the early 1990s by the writers of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The bizarre film and the pain MST3K characters Joel Robinson and the Bots suffered while watching it made the episode an instant classic.
The film itself is ostensibly a horror movie. A hapless family gets lost while attempting to take a vacation and find themselves at a house in the desert looked after by Torgo. The vague goatman worries that the Master will not approve of the family spending the night. Over the course of the evening, the family discovers the Master is a worshiper of lesser devil “Manos” and covets women to add to his harem of seemingly immortal wives. Things unravel as Torgo becomes interested in having a wife of his own and the family attempts to escape the hands of fate.
The above summary may be one of the more lucid attempts to tell the story of Manos.
Since its airing on MST3K, the film has inspired costumes, fan art, music videos, attempted sequels, name-checks in television series and documentaries about the making of the film.
In 2011, Los Angeles area cameraman and film collector Ben Solovey discovered the workprint of Manos in a collection of film cans he bought in San Diego. Surprised to have the film in its purest form — the workprint was compiled from the camera negative — he set out to restore it with the aid of a Kickstarter campaign (disclosure: I contributed to the campaign long before working at Bleeding Cool). In the end, it took nearly five years to complete the project, secure a distributor and release the restored version of the film.
Solovey long had the support of actors Jackie Neyman Jones and her father, Tom Neyman, who played the little girl and the Master in the film. But as a recent article in Playboy revealed, Solovey could never come to terms with Warren’s son, Joe. Feeling edged out by Solovey’s restoration effort and Neyman Jones selling Manos related merchandise, he attempted to assert ownership of the film.
Though Warren has a notice of copyright for the script — then called Lodge of Sins — the film itself has no copyright notice or documentation. That error leaves the film without firm legal protection, the same fate befell the original Night of the Living Dead. “Something needs to be done to protect Dad’s legacy,” Warren told Playboy. “People are trying to make money off of it and don’t even care.”
“Joe seems to think I’m in it for the money, and nothing will dissuade him from that perception,” Solovey countered. “Where was he when nothing was going on with the movie?”
The restored workprint now resides in cold storage at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Film Archive. Solovey also obtained a copyright for the restoration work and a Blu-ray release of that effort is now available from Synapse Films.
Warren, meanwhile, believes he still has control of the film. But, perhaps, he has something more valuable: the rights to the story of Harold P. Warren; the salesman who wanted movie fame, but never lived to see that his work is, indeed, immortal.