krpalmer: (mst3k)
[personal profile] krpalmer
As I work down into the last quarter of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes left to rewatch and comment on, choosing which one to look at next seems less a matter of whim and more a process of careful comparison. One big thing adds a touch of the unexpected that might help keep the process from becoming too ridiculous from the wrong (or right) perspective, though, and that's Shout! Factory. I suppose I would have saved "Manos: The Hands of Fate" not for the end but for close to it, but not that long ago there was an announcement the episode was getting a special re-release with a retrospective discussion among some of the show's creators and other goodies, including the "raw" movie itself for those of special boldness. Having established long ago that I'm far from above buying DVDs "over again" on the mere promise of some small bit of new or improved content, I put in an order for the new edition; when it arrived, I decided I might as well watch it then and take in what's long been one of the most infamous and notable episodes of the series.

While there have long been comments that Manos is "advanced-level Mystery Science Theater" and shouldn't be someone's first exposure to the series, I suppose I'd only seen a few videotapes before I also rented Manos; fortunately, I seemed able to cope. I've wondered a bit if the movie's utter obscurity before the series singled it out helped make it cheaper and easier to release on video at the very beginning, but it was often referenced in the series and seemed memorable among fans. That early release does make me try to think back, though, on how the second part of "Hired!" ("Look! Hired II, Electric Boogaloo!") seemed on its own. Picking up where the first part left off, with the despondent Chevrolet sales manager Mr. Warren being given a porchside pep talk by his father (who keeps swatting at "imaginary elves," and then drapes his rumpled handkerchief on his balding head to the horror of our heroes) about how young, eager salesmen need careful mentoring to improve and excel. Mr. Warren takes his advice to heart ("I'm beginning to sober up and you're scaring me!") and provides loads of hands-on leadership, coaching his salesmen on how to do things better even when they're actually closing sales in a series of jaunty monologues, and then providing a final pep talk to an audience of what might have once been other sales managers. ("G'night! Stay pink, soft, and oily!")

Then, it's on to the movie itself, which is at least in colour but is perpetually out of focus, at times incorrectly exposed, and with moths flying through the night scenes. ("You know, every frame of this movie looks like someone's last known photograph.") The action starts in a most gradual manner, with a one-child (and one-poodle) family driving towards a vacation only to get lost along the way. After inconclusive encounters with the highway patrol ("Sorry, but you're not filming Manos: The Hands of Fate in our town.") and a young couple making out in a convertible, they wind up at a building in the middle of nowhere ("Filmed on location in Spooner, Wisconsin.") taken care of by the bearded, twitching, quavery-voiced, huge-kneed Torgo ("Guy looks like a chainsaw sculpture!") After something between a warning and a threat from Torgo, Mike the husband (played by writer-director-producer-El Paso fertilizer salesman Hal Warren) decides to stay overnight ("You can vacation with Torgo, but don't bring your American Express card.") only to have Peppy the poodle run out into the night and get mauled. Arming himself with the gun he keeps in the glove compartment, Mike discovers the car won't start ("When is this guy going to start demonstrating some simple competence?"), Torgo puts clumsy moves on the wife Maggie, and daughter Debbie has found the horrific hound seen earlier in the awkward painting of "the Master." ("His name's Mephisto! Can I keep him?")

Mike is knocked out by Torgo and tied to an (almost) convenient pole and Maggie continues to be the unwelcome recipient of Torgo's attention. When the Master awakens surrounded by his wives, who wear diaphanous nightgowns with sensible undergarments and unexplained yet suggestive red streamers visible beneath, a discussion breaks out over just how much of the family to kill, which eventually turns into a brawl. ("Next on ESPN, full-contact nightgown wrestling." "You know, this isn't Lysistrata. I like it, but it isn't Lysistrata." "I'm guessing this is the whole reason the movie was made.") The Master, who's taken note of Torgo's uninvited advances on his wives, breaks up the fight and then has his wives assault Torgo ("Oh, come on, die! My arms are getting tired!" "Uh, can I have the watermelons that are in his pants?"), after which he ignites one of Torgo's hands in the smoky ceremonial fire and laughs as his former caretaker vanishes into the night. In the meantime, Mike has been freed by one of the wives, but the family's best attempt to flee into the night creaks to a halt when Maggie can't run any more, and they decide that the Master and company won't bother to look back where it all started. However, it turns out the Master is bulletproof...

All of a sudden, two women in another car are driving through the same kind of choppy montage (with Tom Servo providing a running monologue), and discover the building now taken care of by a still-clean-cut Mike, with his wife and daughter lined up with the rest of the Master's wives (which provokes some particular indignation from our heroes). I suppose it's something that a "happy ending" wasn't contrived, but it can also feed my feeling that the "unhappy endings" of Mystery Science Theater's movies are no less satisfying.

A fairly recent comment has caught my attention that at this point in the series the "Best Brains" were still at a stage where they spent a while just saying things like "In summary, Manos: The Hands of Fate." Still, the retrospective does seem to touch on this as well, with Frank Conniff, Trace Beaulieu, Joel Hodgson, and Mary Jo Pehl suggesting that things like that (including bits in the "host segments" where the mad scientists apologize for the movie) sort of reflect on the "uniqueness" of the independent production. This, I suppose, is one of the episodes where everyone is just sort of along for the ride with the movie.

April 2019

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