As I sit here typing this, listening to the Manos: The Hands Of Fate soundtrack which, due to its strange detachment from this planetary existence, has become synonymous with the images it was created to accompany (try listening to it without picturing the film in all its weird, badly edited glory, I dare you), I can’t help but think “did we really need a Manos expanded universe?” It recently came to my attention that some of the original cast members had been rounded up to reprise their roles in Manos Returns, a film which had apparently been doing the festival rounds last year. But upon investigating this quite frankly stunning bit of news, I also discovered that a motherfuckin’ prequelhad been produced as well, also starring one of the original cast members, in 2018. What the hell is this insanity?! But Manos: The Rise Of Torgo really does exist… and that’s not all. There’s a bloody TV SERIES in development too! Manos: The Debbie Chronicles will feature the titular daughter - now all grown up - having escaped the clutches of Manos and “hunting down monsters with her team of survivors and misfits.” It all sounds very… well, familiar.
You can feel the dramatic tension in the air.
I love a good crap film. I feel that it’s one of the only times where it’s okay to laugh at someone else’s expense - don’t kid yourself, that’s exactly what you’re doing - whether it’s at terrible dialogue, poor performances, a story that makes no sense, bad special FX or all of the above (and more besides), we are essentially mocking someone else’s hard work. But as I say, I think that this is alright. Most people want to be remembered and most people in the entertainment industry want to be famous and have their work talked about. Would we remember Ed Wood if it weren’t for his earnest yet hilariously terrible films? I’m sure Tommy Wiseau would - apart from the people who had crossed his path - be an unknown figure outside of the acting classes he took (and learned nothing from). Would any of us have even heard of Manos if it weren’t for Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show actually dedicated to taking the piss out of bad films? Come to think of it, most of the films that MSTK3 showed were pretty much unknown until they tore them to shreds. They laughed at the movies and we laughed along with them, and that experience - shared by many - elevated these celluloid obscurities into a collective consciousness. There’s an annual Troll 2 party in LA. Entertainingly shit films are great; a true guilty pleasure.
The thing is, a large part of what makes these films so endearing is that they were made with the best intentions. None of these people set out to make a bad film. Sure, some of them were rushed jobs for tax purposes, directors and writers hired at the last minute by producers who didn’t give a shit, cast & crew getting paid bare minimum (if at all). Hell, Manos was made as a bet: I don’t think there were any winners for that one. So is making a sequel, or prequel, or TV spin-off series the right idea?
How can you capture the tone & feel of a film that was made seriously by people who had no fucking clue what they were doing? The obvious route to take is a film that tries to be bad on purpose, but outside of actual spoofs like Airplane or The Kentucky Fried Movie, modern exploitation gonzo-style films like Grindhouseand Hobo With A Shotgun, or short comedies like Italian Spiderman and Danger 5, I’ve generally found this to be a bad idea, a “try-hard” if you will, where the joke wears thin too quickly. “Haha look how badly their voices are dubbed,” “haha look how shoddy the camera work is…” this lasts about 5 minutes, so what about the remaining 85? Of course, I’m not saying it can’t be done, the titles above prove that, but Manos is such a baffling choice. These projects will either be comedic in tone, in which case good luck to ‘em maintaining that for a feature-length film, or they will try and emulate the movie that came before it, in which case: why? Why do we need a prequel, sequel and TV spin-off series to a film that’s so infamously dull? Well, there’s only one way to find out. Thankfully (or, depending on how you look at it, perhaps not), both Rise Of Torgo & Manos Returns are available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. I’ll watch them, as I pretty much will watch anything, hoping to be entertained, whether it’s because they’re well-crafted with an engaging storyline or because they’re funny (whether intentional or otherwise). As long as they’re not shit shit, then it’ll be fine. Until I can muster up the courage though, I’ll continue spinning my Manos: The Hands Of Fate soundtrack LP. I actually quite like the music anyway. Oh wait, that means that Manos DOES have one good quality!
- Mark Anthony Finch
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