Sunday, November 27, 2011

Okay, So This Is Pretty Cool

If you've never seen Manos: The Hands Of Fate, you're missing out on something. Exactly what is hard to say, but it's an experience. It is not a good movie - the writing, acting, effects, camerawork, sound, music, editing, and cinematography are all amateurish at best, and painfully awkward at worst. It has the sluggish, uneven pacing of a drunk, and the story's equally incoherent. It's not an entertainingly bad movie like, say, Plan 9 From Outer Space.

However, the home-made quality of it does give it a certain weirdness - it looks like it could be somebody's home movies from a family vacation in the summer of 1966 - you know, the one that ended with the entire family trapped by the servants of some primordial god and offered up as sacrifice. Yeah, that one. I've heard it described as outsider art, and that's probably not a bad comparison. It was written and directed by its starring actor, who for whatever reason said to himself that this was the story he wanted to tell, and wanted to tell so badly that he got this film made without any real experience in film. Somebody was moved to make this bizarre fever dream of a story, in which caretakers with gigantic knees hobble around with a walking stick, "brides" in diaphanous gowns wrestle in the dirt, and a priest in a gigantic caftan and impressive pornstache invokes the name of "Manos - God of Primal Darkness." And since "manos" means "hands" in Spanish, the movie is basically called Hands: The Hands of Fate. Good or bad, you will never see anything else like it. It will get under your skin and make you wonder what images and ideas are writhing around in the heads of your neighbors, your in-laws, your co-workers. Some otherwise average person really wanted this story told, and that's easily one of the creepiest things about this movie.

So why am I going on about this movie? Because some lucky fellow managed to secure a 16mm workprint of the film in an eBay sale, among boxes of other films. Raw footage, right from the camera. The print quality is miles better than any other extant print - most releases of it on DVD are taken from VHS copies of a 35mm print made from a blown-up negative of the original 16mm print made from Ektachrome reversal stock. So we're talking a copy of a copy of a copy at best. So what's this guy doing with this odd piece of film history?

He's working on an HD restoration from the workprint. 

He's had the print cleaned, and has been updating his website with scans of individual frames, and although Manos is never going to replace Lawrence of Arabia in the cinematography department, the difference between the version most people see and the original is significant. The workprint is miles sharper and clearer and more vibrant than the commercially available version, the original aspect ratio can be restored, and hell, for that matter, he could even re-edit it to maybe make it a little scary after all. It is a labor of love and care for a movie sorely lacking in love and care, and for that alone I am in awe.

If you have seen Manos: The Hands of Fate before, well...somebody is planning an HD restoration of Manos: The Hands of Fate, and your head just exploded. You're welcome.

IMDB entry
Manos In
Available for viewing at

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