The Battle Over the Worst Movie Ever

In 1966, Hal Warren made a movie called Manos: The Hands of Fate. He used one cheap camera that couldn’t even record sound. He talked a local theater group into acting for a cut of the profits, but there weren’t any. The premiere audience laughed at it! And then they forgot it for 26 years.  

A flimsy horror story centered on a vacationing family who run afoul of a polygamist cult leader and his henchman, Manos played a handful of drive-in theaters before slipping into obscurity. Decades later, Mystery Science Theater 3000, a television show specializing in the mockery of misguided films, unearthed the movie like a fossilized turd. The 1993 episode devoted to Manos became an instant cult classic. Fans marveled at the seemingly endless footage of Warren driving around the desert, the inability of the Filmo 70 to focus and frame shots at the same time and the utterly bizarre performance of John Reynolds as the character Torgo, portrayed as a twitchy, knobby-kneed groundskeeper while Reynolds himself was often baked out of his face on LSD.

“It seemed like it was maybe a crime against humanity, but you couldn’t be sure,” says MST3K writer Frank Conniff, who had pulled Manos from a stack of tapes at the show’s offices. “It has an atmosphere, a vibe. Why did people latch on to it? I don’t know. It’s like the Supreme Court’s definition of porn: You’ll know it when you see it.”

MST3K gave the movie what it needed: jokes to fill the voids. But the film the show used was a poor copy of a copy. Then in 2011, a film buff discovered an original print. He immediately set about raising money to restore it to its “original glory.” The question arose: who has the rights to the movie? It was thought to be in the public domain, but Hal Warren’s son disputes that. And then a mysterious third party, a man who once tried to film a sequel to Manos, emerged to get involved in the copyright saga. You can read the whole sordid story of Manos: The Hands of Fate at Playboy. The article is SFW. -via Metafilter

The restored version of Manos: The Hands of Fate will be released on Blu-ray October 13th. You can see the MST3K version now at YouTube.

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