Thursday, January 16, 2014

"Manos Rocks" Part One

Greetings Manos Fans. 
Today, I would like to introduce you to a guest writer, Matias Nicieza.  Matias lives in Spain and has been a Facebook friend for some time and a Manos fan for much longer.  He came up with an idea for me to list the top 15 reasons why "Manos Rocks".  I thought that was a great idea and I posted on The Official Manos: The Hands of Fate Fan Club asking for listing ideas.  In the meantime, he sent me his own list of 13 reasons why Manos Rocks.  It was so good, I thought I would share it, unedited.  He wanted me to let you know that this particular list is devoted only to the film itself and doesn't include the community of wonderful people united by Manos fandom.  That's a whole other list! 
Next post will be the list the fans are working on.  Feel free to chime in.  Why do YOU think Manos Rocks?

  • For an amateur production, it’s actually pretty well made. Believe me, I know my stuff. I’ve watched a good number of amateur movies, and collaborated in quite a few. In that respect, I’d say Manos blows most of them off the water both technically and narratively. It has a well-sustained plot, pretty good continuity (including color and light being consistent from shot to shot –with the exception of the borrowed snake footage, that is- something really unusual in this kind of production) and, contrary to popular opinion, the camerawork is quite good and stays in focus. Just check the restored version. And the sound quality is also pretty good, despite some unfortunate cases of dubbing (hello, Debbie).
  • It’s about a cult. This is, of course, totally subjective, but I’m a sucker for movies about twisted religious cults. Everything from the original The Wicker Man (I refuse to watch the remake, thank you very much) to Beneath the Planet of the Apes. So, I was born to love Manos.
  • The ending. Yes, for a lot of people this is the final nail in the coffin, so your mileage may vary. But for me, the fact that they dared to do something this creepy and downbeat in 1966, with the Studio System and the Hays Code just making its exit, is quite remarkable. If made in Hollywood, the producers would have forced a happy ending on it, thus destroying the achievement.
  • The dreamlike quality of it all. The effect watching Manos produces, is of witnessing a movie made on Mars. Out of this world. It has the feeling of a dream (or should I say nightmare), which makes it captivating despite all its shortcomings, or in fact because of some of them. Dreams don’t have total coherence, and don’t need to.
  • The found footage-like look. MST3K said that every frame of the movie looked like someone’s last known photograph. Which, to me, just adds to the eerieness of it. There’s just something about that look (usually believed to be 8mm) that I find hypnotic. And it makes it work like a neat time capsule.
  • The setting. Particularly the altar/columns area, which is like watching a cross between a Church of Satan ritual and a 1920s silent film extravaganza. Manos does play a lot like a silent, despite having sound and dialog. The stylized acting of Tom Neyman as The Master helps.
  • The music score. It’s a really excellent jazz/easy listening/bossa nova blend. Some parts may seem at odds with the images, but it works for a movie that’s well described by the word “odd”. Even the much-maligned “haunting Torgo theme” was in the style of horror movies of the time. Just check the beginning of Hammer’s The Revenge of Frankenstein, which includes a few notes that seem to be announcing the arrival of our favorite big-kneed henchman. And “Forgetting You” is a terrific love song.
  • The art. Apart from playing the Master, Tom Neyman did provide the art pieces we see through the movie, and the Master’s robe. Which all add to the atmosphere. We can believe this is a real cult, with all that hand symbolism. And the robe is quite a sight. One of my favorite pieces of horror wardrobe, ever.
  • Diane Mahree. It’s not fair to judge her acting since her voice was dubbed, but gosh, did that woman have screen presence. She made the camera fall in love with her. And Torgo, too.
  • The Master. Manos is frequently criticized for its acting. But there are two performances that I genuinely consider to be more than half-decent. Tom Neyman’s is one of them. His previous experience on stage (on more than one kind of stage – more on that later) does show. I don’t know if that was the intention, but his performance does channel both Boris Karloff in The Black Cat and Christopher Lee’s Dracula to me. He had great presence and became an unforgettable villain.
  • Torgo. Who doesn’t love Torgo? Puffy knees aside, he’s a character to pity. He may be part of a demonic cult (probably reluctantly) but all he wants is a little love. Like everyone of us. He may be creepy but he’s also an underdog to root for. And, of course, John Reynolds is that other decent piece of acting I referred to. I do believe that he could have had a career in movies as a reliable character actor. Which makes his sad ending twice as unfortunate. Imagine him working under a professional director with real talent for actors.
  • "Well, whatever it is you're not doing, go don't do it somewhere else." The necking couple scenes are useless and would be better off excised from the movie. Except for the fact that one of them includes this line. Don’t tell me it’s not a great quote.
  • The Master’s speech. “O Manos, thou of primal darkness…” This is my favorite scene in the movie by far, ever since the first time I watched it. It does have all the flavor, mannerisms, and inflections of a real sermon/prayer, of no matter what religion, which is what makes it so effective and one of the creepiest moments of the show. Of course, years later I learned through Jackey two things that make it even more awesome: that Tom Neyman was at one point an ordained minister, which explains why he does the scene so perfectly, and even more amazingly, he did write the whole speech himself, to have something to say during a scene that, in the script, only required him to stand there and display the robe. So, with anyone else than Mr. Neyman in the role, my favorite moment from the movie and one of the main reasons I’m a fan of it would have never existed. At all.