Translated from Spanish, the word ‘Manos’ actually means ‘Hand’. So the title of this film is really just Hand: The Hands of Fate. This is the story of an odd desert cult ruled by the omnipresent Manos, or Hand, whose powers are never completely defined. Hand’s only long term goal seems to be to serve someone called ‘The Master,’ by making sure he has as many wives as possible. It’s a cautionary tale about not imposing your company on complete strangers.
The film opens with a lot of driving. Is it a coincidence that so many bad movies begin with endless, pointless driving scenes? Both Birdemic and Manos share a near identical opening sequence.
In the car, married couple Michael (Hal Warren) and Margaret (Diane Mahree) travel with their daughter Debbie (Jackey Neymen) to the nondescript ‘Valley Lodge’ and get lost along the way. There is plenty of signage for Valley Lodge, yet somehow none of the locals have ever heard of it. Then again, they only ask for directions from two bumbling, moronic policemen and a teen couple whose sole purpose in life is to sit in a car and make out for hours.
The family grow exhausted driving around in circles into the evening (more endless driving!) when they come across a building that they somehow hadn’t noticed before. Or maybe it materialized, it’s not really clear. When they stop to ask directions they are greeted by one of the most odd characters in cinematic history: Torgo (John Reynolds).
Torgo quivers when he moves and stutters when he speaks. He appears nervous, but alas, he also doesn’t know where ‘Valley Lodge’ is. Now Michael really steps out of line and invites his family to spend the night. Torgo refuses, because ‘The Master’ doesn’t approve of visitors staying over. But Michael, being an imposing ass, insists that his family and their puppy are staying. Then they watch as Torgo, with a clear physical handicap, retrieves their luggage for them. Remember, these are the characters we are supposed to care about; characters who force their way into someone else’s home and then have a disabled person carry their suitcases.
Once inside, Margaret quickly becomes scared upon hearing the creepy, ominous things Torgo tells them about his Master. It’s not long before they find their dog dead. They try to leave, but their car won’t start. Torgo tries to feel up the fabric of Margaret’s dress. These are signs that would make most rational people think ‘maybe it’s time to run away.’ But not Michael and Margaret – there’s no stopping them from staying the night. Margaret doesn’t even bother to draw the curtain while she undresses in her room. Fortunately Torgo happens by her window…
This whole time The Master (Tom Neyman), has been lying on a stone slab surrounded by women tied to wooden poles. Torgo confronts his sleeping Master about his numerous wives and insists that this new girl, Margaret, is going to be his. The Master has so many wives already, it’s about time he threw some action Torgo’s way. But the Master disagrees. When he awakens he tells his many wives that the best way to serve Hand would be to eliminate Torgo for this betrayal. No one gets wives but him, damn it! So the scheme seems to be that their house appears to lost strangers, Torgo is some sort of slave to the Master who helps him attain more women, and this somehow serves some unseen entity called Manos. Got it?
The Master follows through with his plan. Once Michael finally comes to his senses, he gathers his family together, and tries to escape on foot into the night. But it’s dark in the desert and they are eventually caught. Once cornered, Michael shoots at The Master with his gun and- wait. He had a gun THE WHOLE TIME? And chose not to use it until now? For whatever reason though, the bullets don’t hurt the out-of-focus Master. On top of that, the police officers from earlier hear the gunshot in the distance and think nothing of it, because sound travels at night in the desert. It must have been coming from Mexico. Those cops sure go out of their away to rationalise avoiding work. The couple making out in their car also hear the shot, but are too busy licking at each other’s saliva to care.
Finally, for his betrayal of the master, Torgo is gently slapped to death by the Master’s wives and his hand is sacrificed to Manos.
They kill Torgo by gently poking at the camera lens.
Both Debbie and Margaret become new wives to The Master. It’s not clear what purpose the wives serve to him, other than being tied to poles and bickering among each other, but I really don’t want to know why the five year old child had to become one of the Master’s wives. With Torgo dead, Michael takes Torgo’s place and greets the next batch of women lost driving in the desert. And that kids, is why you don’t invite yourself over to someone else’s house.
Despite the technical shortcomings, there are some interesting visual elements and its clear at least some thought was put into the film. The Master himself and his costume could have been quite terrifying, with his arms spread wide so his robes display two red hands. I don’t know what the hands mean but if I did, I might be scared. The soft jazz soundtrack also doesn’t help create the ominous tone the filmmakers were going for.
Following production, the coat was sold to children’s public access and is now used to teach kids how to count to ten.
This film, because of its age, can be difficult to watch. It’s very slow paced, and doesn’t really bring the funny until Torgo makes an appearance. But Reynolds’ performance as Torgo is such a unique failure, it really makes this bad movie worth the watch at your next friendly gathering. Like the bee farmers in the Nic Cage vehicle The Wicker Man, the problem with Manos: The Hands of Fate is a lack of clarity, since we as an audience are never given a complete understanding of who or what Manos is, or the purpose of their cult. Audiences are too busy trying to keep up with the bizarre sequence of events to have time to be scared.
If a sequel to this movie were ever considered, a good title might be Pierna: The Legs of Fate. Bet you can’t guess what pierna is the Spanish term for.