Every TV series has that episode, the one fans cite more than the others. For “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” that episode is the one featuring “‘Manos’: The Hands of Fate,” which may very well eclipse “Plan 9 From Outer Space” and other stinkers as the worst movie ever made. As Frank Conniff points out during the group interview on disc two, “‘Manos'” distinguishes itself because so many other bad movies were at least made by people with some filmmaking experience, even if they never learned how to be very good at their jobs; “‘Manos,'” however, was filmed by salesman Hal Warren, who made a bet with screenwriter Stirling Silliphant that making movies wasn’t very hard and he could make one too.
(If you’re wondering why I’m writing “‘Manos'”: The word “Manos” is in quotes in the film’s title sequence, even though the other words aren’t. This is remarked on a few times by Joel, who keeps saying “Manos” with air quotes. (And since we put movie titles in quotes here at Film Threat, obviously I need to use single quotes around “Manos.”))
Thus we have a movie shot with a single camera incapable of capturing sound, with a capacity for only about 30 seconds of footage at a time. Every character had to be redubbed later; at one point, Joel notes that two men in a scene are voiced by the same person, who doesn’t bother to alter his voice for one of the characters.
The plot involves a family that stumbles across a polygamous cult running a motel in the middle of the desert. The acting, featuring locals from the El Paso, Texas area where the film was shot, is predictably awful, although John Reynolds, who plays the infamous Torgo, isn’t bad. He brings the right amount of creepiness to his role, and in the hands of a better director, he could have made a career out of acting. Unfortunately, he killed himself several months after the film was made, the victim of a painkiller addiction that happened while trying to deal with the injuries caused by the metal rigging he wore under his pants. He was apparently supposed to be a satyr, according to the lore surrounding the film, but he wore the braces backward.
“‘Manos'” is so awful that even the mad scientists pop up a few times during the episode to apologize for the awful pain they’re inflicting on Joel and the bots. I believe that’s the only time that happened during the entire run of “MST3K.”
The first platter in this two-disc set also includes “Group Therapy,” which offers up insights and recollections from Joel Hodgson, Mary Jo Pehl, Trace Beaulieu, and Frank Conniff, and the “MST Hour Wraps” that accompanied the episode when it aired as part of “The Mystery Science Theater Hour,” which repackaged 30 shows into one-hour slices.
Over on disc two, you can watch “‘Manos’: The Hands of Fate” in all its un-riffed-upon glory, so you too can mock it, or perhaps inflict it on an unwitting enemy. However, the centerpiece is “Hotel Torgo,” a documentary about the making of the film. While Hal Warren and others involved in the movie have passed away, the director tracked down one cast member, who also served a role in the crew, and accompanied him to the filming locations. His stories are fun to hear.
Disc two also offers up “Jam Handy to the Rescue!,” a mockumentary about Jam Handy, who made many of the insipid training films mocked on “MST3K” over the years. Handy was responsible for “Hired!: Part Two,” which Joel and the bots watch before enduring “‘Manos.'” Joel Hodgson also pops in for “My (Educational) Short Life,” a brief interview in which he talks about why the show tackled many shorts over the years and why they picked many of the Jam Handy ones.
As an added bonus, Shout! Factory threw “Hired!” parts one and two on the disc together, just so you can watch them back-to-back, if you want. Part one originally aired with “Bride of the Monster,” which is in the “MST3K” Volume XIX set.