Harold P. Warren’s Manos: the Hands of Fate is one those adorably odd micro-budgeted films that have garnered a strong cult following because of an astonishing, unclassifiable “otherness.” Complete with actors who appear to be hypnotized, bizarre dubbed dialogue and myriad moments of 'whaaaa?', Manos is less a film than it is an experience. A fairly trippy experience.
It was made far and away from the typical Hollywood system, defying category, logic and basic narrative structure. Shot in El Paso, Texas, in 1966, the film was the result of a bet Warren made with screenwriter Stirling Silliphant (The Poseidon Adventure). The two struck up a conversation at a coffee shop while the writer was in town shooting a film. Warren told Silliphant that making a movie would be easy and bet him that he could shoot one entirely on his own. Using local theater actors and a script that he originally outlined on a napkin, the ambitious insurance salesman shot the film for about $19,000.
The final result was a film that mystified even the inexperienced cast and crew. Though the plot is difficult to describe, the hilarious print ad for its world premiere pretty much sums it up: "A cult of weird, horrible people who gather beautiful women only to deface them with a burning hand!" The film played a few West Texas drive-ins, but quickly disappeared into public domain obscurity.
It wasn’t until it was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 that the film became a bona fide cult hit. Terrible prints of Manos have circulated on DVD for years, many second- and third-generation copies of a poor VHS transfer. Arguably, part of the flick's charm is its shabby condition, which, when combined with its post-production dubbing, makes Manos often feel like it was shot in an alternative universe.
Recently Benjamin Solovey, a film collector in San Diego, happened upon the movie's original 16mm Ektachrome work print through an eBay auction. When he discovered what he had found, he quickly began raising money for a full restoration. His Kickstarter campaign proved hugely successful as Manos fans came out of the woodwork to donate funds. A realistic goal of $10,000 was easily met, ending with over $48,000 — over twice the budget of the original production.
Before-and-after comparisons on Solovey’s website reveal a wider composition of the images, vivid colors and much sharper focus. Fans of Manos will be viewing a completely new film once it is released on Blu-ray. Solovey also plans to strike new 35mm prints for potential theatrical exhibitions. The intriguing restoration process, which is ongoing, can be followed on the Manos in HD site as well as on the Facebook page.