Synopsis: Ever since RiffTrax Live: Manos the Hands of Fate aired in theaters nationwide, people have been asking us when it will be available for home viewing. Seriously, non-stop. Leaving notes under our windshield wipers. Lurking outside our windows at night, softly whistling the Torgo theme. Polite, perfectly friendly facebook comments. All KINDS of crazy ways!
For those who missed it in theaters, this is a completely new riff of Manos the Hands of Fate, the Texas-fertilizer-salesman-directed classic made famous by Mystery Science Theater 3000®. All new jokes, same old Torgo. See Mike, Kevin and Bill riff it all on stage in front of a live audience at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville!
eyelights: the sarcastic riffing.
eyesores: the insipidness of Manos.
“I can’t take it, Mike!”
‘Manos: The Hands of Fate’ is a favourite bad movie for fans of RiffTrax, ever since the cast of ‘Mystery Science Theatre 3000’ skewered it on January 30, 1993, as the closing episode of Season 4. Although it’s now widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made, and rightly so, it has been dragged out of obscurity by ‘MST3K’ and its fans.
So it seemed like a natural fit for the ‘RiffTrax’ gang (which stars some of the former cast members of ‘MST3K’) to poke fun at it live in front of an audience for their sixth stage show. Recorded and broadcast nationwide from the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, TN, on August 16, 2012, it found Mike, Kevin and Bill in great form.
After a quick introduction, which features the trio wittily presenting the evening’s programming schedule to the audience, they immediately started with the second short in the limp-wristed slapstick “Norman Krasner” series (of four, as they only made one short every five years from 1974 to 1989), 1979’s ‘Welcome Back, Norman’.
The 7-minute film finds Norman arriving from a trip. Watch Norman look for his car at the airport. Watch him try to find his way out of the lot. Sigh. It’s so pathetic and pointless that Mike quips “‘Welcome Back Norman’ is filmed in front of an indifferent studio audience”. Ha! Then they get the audience to imitate Norman’s groan of despair: “Auuugh”. 7.75
As ineffectual as these “Norman” shorts are, I’ve seen far worse. I just wonder who produced these and why. Who was the target audience? Why were there sequels? Was the original that popular? If so, then why only make a new one every five years? I mean, they’re only a few minutes long each and feature the same star and crew…?
In any event, immediately afterwards, Mike “surprises” the others by serving up what he claims is a sponsor’s ad… for Californian prune juice. There’s no brand shown or mentioned – it’s just some Orville Redenbacker-looking mofo extolling its virtues and drinking two glasses of it – which leaves the riffers utterly aghast. It’s kinda funny. 7.5
The next short is another in the ‘At Your Fingertips’ series, which brought us “Grasses”, the horticulturist’s nightmare (for the ‘Reefer Madness‘ live performance). Called “Cylinders”, it consists of watching kids making crappy arts and crafts with cardboard rolls; you learn literally nothing about cylinders. The film sucks but it’s riffed brilliantly. 8.0
And then came ‘Manos: The Hands of Fate’. Originally released in 1966, the 74-minute picture was produced, written and directed by Harold P. Warren (who also stars as the lead). Made on 19,000 dollars, legend has it that the reason Warren made it was to prove to a screenwriter friend of his that horror films could be made on the cheap.
It’s a piece of $#!t. There’s no other way to describe it. I’ve seen some terrible films in my time (most recently ‘Sledgehammer‘), but there’s seriously no redeeming value in ‘Manos’: it’s ineptly produced, directed, filmed, edited, written, performed, …etc. It’s all bad. Plus which it’s so bleeding boring that it’s difficult to muster any interest in it.
The story consists of a couple and their young daughter on a holiday, driving around and getting lost on their way to their hotel. Strangely, they go down a dead end yet find themselves at a shack. Desperate for a place to stay for the night, the husband insists that they stay there, even though both the caretaker and his spouse protest.
That’s right: Michael just imposes his family on Torgo. He doesn’t care that the place is neither a hotel nor is it clean. And he isn’t at all put off by Torgo’s weird twitching, jerky movements, utterly bizarre knees (which were meant to look like a deformity, but looks instead like he stuffed his pants with bean bags) and his strange warble.
Meanwhile, his spouse, who is creeped out by Torgo, doesn’t stand up for herself and lets the weirdo drool all over her while her husband is distracted. Then their dog dies. Then their car dies. Then their daughter runs out and they find a “tomb” with women tied to posts and the Master of the house (ahem… I meant “shack”) lying on a slab.
The rest of the picture is a confusing mess that finds the father passing out and being tied to a post by Torgo, the women discussing what to do with the family, debating killing the child, while the Master (whom Mike claims looks like Jeff Fox worthy in a muumuu) pouts. There’s a subplot wherein Torgo and the Master fight over the spouse.
There’s also a feeble attempt at humour with the recurring gag of a couple trying to make out on an isolated road, but keeping on getting caught by the cops – who for some reason have nothing better to do than patrol that road AND have a problem with young adults necking in public. As lame as it is, it’s the only source of fun in ‘Manos’.
As hilarious as some of the funny as the RiffTrax crew’s quips were, for me watching ‘Manos’ is an ordeal; I just can’t seem to derive any satisfaction from it – and that includes the ‘MST3K’ version as well. I know it’s considered a hilarious classic by fans, but I can’t muster up any enthusiasm – it’s probably the episode I’m least likely to watch.
But watching the ‘Rifftrax: Live’ version of ‘Manos: The Hands of Fate’ was entertaining enough and I’m sure that some people will lap this up eagerly.
I just can’t.
Post scriptum: The DVD is an excellent purchase for fans because it also features 30 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the original ‘Manos’ film – with commentary by the RiffTrax gang. They discuss the history of the film, how they first discovered it and then comment on all these silly outtakes. It’s a truly superb extra.
Date of viewing: August 31, 2015