The cult classic television show Mystery Science Theater 3000 features a man and his two robots trapped in outer space and wisecracking through some of the worst movies they (and you) have ever seen. Shout! Factory normally releases four episode sets, but this is the first single episode release (not counting the Shout! Select DVDs that are only released on their website), and Mystery Science Theater 3000: “Manos” The Hands Of Fate is probably MST3K’s most famous (or infamous) episode. You see, “Manos” the Hands of Fate (that’s the way the title is punctuated) was a pretty obscure movie (and rightfully so) until Joel Hodgson and the crew got their mitts into it. The plot involves a family who takes a wrong turn and end up at the Valley Lodge, home to the demented Torgo and the unseen Master. What strange goings on are going on around here? What will happen to this innocent family? Since manos is the Spanish word for “hands,” is the movie actually “Hands” the Hands of Fate? And why the heck does Torgo walk so funny? These questions are sort of answered in this unearthed craptacular film.
This is a 2 DVD set, and the first one features the MST3K episode itself, which not only features Manos, but also includes the second part of the Hired! Short that they began in the previous episode. This episode is arguably one of their best, mainly because the movie itself is so inept and off the wall. Everything from the horrible acting to the bad post-dubbing of the entire film to the character of Torgo and his abnormally large thighs are ripe for riffing from Joel and the robots. And even the Hired! short gets sort of strange when in the middle of explaining how tough it to sell cars, a man’s father puts a handkerchief on top of his bald head to keep cool (and keeps it there during the duration of the short). Manos is so awful that both Dr. Forrester and Frank (the two baddies who forced Joel to watch these stinkers) apologize to him for it! Again, this is one of MST3K’s more famous episodes, but part of me wonders if this is the best one to introduce somebody to the show, primarily because the movie itself is just so mind-numbingly bad. I would think one of the Gamera movies or even something like Bride of the Monster (the Ed Wood film with Bela Lugosi) might be a bit more accessible. However, if you have experience watching grade Z stinkers, you’ll certainly enjoy this one.
This brings us to disk 2 of the set: the actual unedited version of “Manos” The Hands of Fate in all its glory. When Rhino was in charge of releasing MST3K episodes on DVD, they would sometimes include the original movie with its MST3K counterpart as well, and I wish this was something Shout! Factory would consider doing more often. Not only is it a good way to obtain some of these films, but it helps you see the raw material that the MST guys had to work with (and suffer through) and just how amazing it was that they were able to make these movies fun to watch. Without Joel and the bots at your side, the unfiltered Manos can be tough sledding, but the movie is just so fascinating in its badness.
Shout! Factory, as always, excels in the extras included in their MST3K episodes, and that continues here, with a featurette called “Group Therapy.” Cast members Joel Hodgson, Frank Conniff, Trace Beaulieu, and Mary Jo Pehl reminisce about discovering Manos, bringing it to the general public, and putting the episode together. I like seeing these behind the scenes recollections with some of the cast today and the affection they still share for the show (although I would have liked to see fellow cast members Kevin Murphy and Mike Nelson also). The Mystery Science Theater Hour wraps are included as well. (The Mystery Science Theater Hour, briefly, was additional bits put in when the normally two hour shows were split in half for syndication. These wraps featured Mike Nelson as a Jack Perkins-like host.) These are great fun, especially for somebody like me who never got to see them the first time around. Another extra is a featurette called “Hotel Torgo” with cast and crew member Bernie Rosenblum and Manos Historian (yeah, that’s what it says) Richard Brandt revealing background on how Harold P. Warren, a fertilizer salesman from El Paso with no movie experience, decided to put together this very strange film. There’s also an entertaining and informative short called “Jam Handy to the Rescue” featuring Lost Skeleton of Cadavra’s Larry Blamire as Lineman Larry telling a boy about the history of Jam Handy, a man who made a number of educational films (including Hired!, which was part of the Manos episode). This also includes bloopers for “Jam Handy to the Rescue” and Hodgson talking about his fascination with these old educational shorts. Finally, the disk reunites both parts of the Hired! short (the first part of which was on the MST3K episode The Amazing Colossal Man which has gone out of print). This was a thoughtful inclusion, and it’s great to see Joel and company riff on the entire short in one sitting. And I can’t forget to mention the mini-poster by Steve Vance (which this time is also featured on the DVD cover). There was only one glaring omission in the extras. Believe it or not, there’s actually a sequel to Manos in the works right now called Manos: The Secret of Valley Lodge that even features the surviving cast members. It would have been neat to see how this is progressing and to see these performers again.
This set is a must-have for both MST3K fans and bad movie aficionados. And if you order it directly from Shout! Factory, they’ll include a really cool looking MST stress ball! Enjoy, and just try to get the haunting Torgo theme out of your head!