Thursday, September 29, 2011

Culture Shock: 09.29.11: The third-worst movie gets 'special treatment'

According to the collective wisdom of voters at, the worst movie of all time is "Superbabies:Baby Geniuses 2," which is arguably the career low for the late Bob Clark, considering he also directed near classics like "A Christmas Story" and the Sherlock Holmes thriller "Murder by Decree."

The second-worst film is a German production from 2004 called "Daniel the Wizard." I know nothing else about it, and I plan to keep it that way.

Currently ranked third is a little movie called "Manos: The Hands of Fate."

Plucked from obscurity to become the best episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," this cinematic cow patty was made on a dare by the late Harold P. Warren, who wrote, directed and starred in it. That’s three strikes right there.

Warren, a fertilizer salesman from El Paso, Texas, knew nothing about making movies, and "Manos: The Hands of Fate" testifies to his every bad decision, both in front of and behind the camera. And yet "Manos" is hypnotic. You can’t look away. Every frame has something to offer, even when it’s out of focus, which is a lot of the time.

"Manos" is no ordinary train wreck. It’s a high-speed passenger train full of piranha derailing in Six Flags during spring break.

That’s probably why "Manos: The Hands of Fate" is the first MST3K episode to earn the royal treatment — a two-disc "special edition" DVD set that includes both the MST3K version and the original as intended by Hal Warren, left to stand, however wobbly, on its own. Add new interviews with the MST3K cast and the documentary short "Hotel Torgo," which details the making of "Manos," and you basically have the Criterion of crap.

This Shout! Factory release also includes the documentary "Jam Handy to the Rescue," directed by Chattanooga filmmaker Daniel Griffith and starring a deadpan Larry Blamire ("The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra"). A clever, tongue-in-cheek parody of old educational films, "Jam Handy" is the story of Henry Jamison "Jam" Handy, who produced training films for the military and Chevrolet. And it’s here because Handy’s short "Hired!" is the comedic fodder for the MST3K crew at the start of "Manos."

Basically, Shout! Factory’s special edition is the ultimate "Manos" experience.

But what is it about "Manos" the film that makes it worth this effort?

Is it the characters saying lines of dialogue twice for no reason? The nonsensical script? The lapses in good taste and judgment? Bizarre characters like Torgo, the lovestruck satyr/caretaker with bad knees?

The protracted driving scenes? The lingerie wrestling sequence? The catchy, yet inappropriate jazz score? The two teenagers who seem to be in a completely different movie?

Who can say? All I know is "Manos: The Hands of Fate" has spawned no fewer than three stage versions, including a musical and one with puppets. And a sequel, "Manos: The Search for Valley Lodge," starring surviving members of the cast, is in the works for 2013 — as improbable as that may seem.

This past year, movie hostess Elvira,Mistress of the Dark, finally took her own shot at "Manos" on her revived "Movie Macabre" show.

Without a doubt, "Manos" has finally made it. It’s the big time, now.

Sadly, Warren didn’t live to see his movie become the phenomenon it is today, ridiculed but beloved, an inspiration to other independent filmmakers, giving them the confidence that comes only from knowing you can’t do any worse.

Thank you, Hal, for making a really, really bad movie.


  1. Chris Doyon (Nilbog3000)1:04 AM

    Manos is trully craptacular and well deserving of the terrible honors it has earned. No discussion of bad films is complete without the mention of Troll 2. Available even on Blu-ray, the child star of the film, all grown up, has made a documentary, "Best Worst Movie" that is a vital part of the experience. That said, Manos is only viewable because of the MST3K crew. Watching it 'clean' alone could lead to suicide by drowning - by holding your head underwater in a toilet bowl. Troll 2 merely makes you forget how people do things and talk to each other.

  2. Actually, I live-tweeted "Troll 2" back on Sept. 26 when it ran overnight on THIS TV. It's on Twitter under the #troll2 and #ThisTV hashtags.