Thursday, December 31, 2015

Manos : The Versions of Fate

Manos : The Hands of Fate is one of the most extraordinary bad movies ever made.  It has had a surprisingly long history for a film that, by all accounts, should have been relegated to an El Paso urban legend.  In this blog entry, I will identify the most well-known versions of the film and their releases to date.

Versions of the Film

1.  Original Theatrical Release

Originally Released : November 15, 1966 at the Capri Theater in El Paso, Texas.

The versions that are available are at least two generations from the source material.  The film was shot on 16mm color reversal stock, giving a positive (natural) image.  From there, a blow up 35mm internegative was created with the soundtrack added, and from it 16mm and 35mm positive release prints were created from the internegative.

Manos was shot without any sound and used the full area of the 16mm film frame.  Full frame 16mm or 35mm has an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, but the academy ratio is 1.37:1, mainly to account for the optical soundtrack on the side and the thicker borders between frames.  The resulting camera image had to be cropped to fit within the smaller confines of the academy ratio when the soundtrack was added so it could be played in theaters.  The film was edited in four to six hours, which is a very short period of time and allowed mistakes to remain in the picture.

Voices were dubbed in later in a studio by Hal Warren, John Reynolds, Tom Neyman and William Bryan Jennings and one unknown female voice actor.  There are eight distinct female speaking roles (Margaret, Debbie, the first three of the Masters Wives, the two women at the end, the makeout woman) compared to six male speaking roles (Michael, Torgo, the Master, the two Deputy Sheriffs and the makeout man).

2.  Mystery Science Theater 3000 Version

Originally Broadcast : January 30, 1993

The film was apparently taken from a box of tapes of public domain films and projected on the screen while Joel and the Bots would sit in front and riff on the movie.  The quality of the film itself is poor and not helped by the fact that it is being projected from videotape.  Of the film, 51:13 appears to be used.  The rest of the time is used by the Hired Part 2 short, the host segments and the transitions, commercial breaks and mST3K credits.

The riffers here are Joel Hodgson (as Joel Robinson), Trace Beaulieu (as Crow T. Robot) and Kevin Murphy (as Tom Servo).  Also appearing in the episode are Trace Beaulieu (as Dr. Clayton Forrester), Frank Conniff (as TV's Frank), Jim Mallon (as Gypsy) and Mike Nelson (as Torgo).

3.  Rifftrax Live! Version

Originally Performed Live : August 16, 2012

The film is taken from Ben Solovey's 16mm print of the original theatrical release, but the color has been restored independently of Solovey.  Unlike the MST3K version, the entirety of the film appears to be used for this riff.  The riffers here are Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy (returning to the scene of the cinematic crime) and Bill Corbett.  The live event was recorded for posterity.

4.  Restored Workprint Version

Released on DVD and Blu-ray : October 13, 2015

This was based off the materials found in 2011 and painstakingly restored by Ben Solovey

This version combines the 16mm positive camera footage with the optical soundtrack from Solovey's print of the 16mm theatrical release version and a few film clips of the driving sequences which were not included in the workprint film.  Quality-wise it will not get any better than this because there are no dupes being used.

It is missing the infamous visible clapboard error when the makeout couple are shown for the second time because those frames were not included in the workprint materials in Solovey's possession.  There are a few dissolves (the fade out and fade in combinations) in the theatrical release that could not be recreated for the workprint because of a lack of suitable film material on each side of the dissolve.  Approximately 14 seconds may have been left out of this version compared to the original theatrical release.

Optical Disc Releases of the Film

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Manos: Hands of Fate

Released : November 20, 2001
Distributor : Rhino Home Video
Format : DVD (earlier released on VHS)
Version : Mystery Science Theater 3000 Version
Extras : MST3K Outtakes

This was one of the first MST3K episodes released on DVD, and in these days Rhino released each episode separately.  This release is Out of Print, and has been superseded (except possibly for the hour long outtakes from the making of this episode).

Manos: The Hands of Fate

Released : October 7, 2003
Distributor : Alpha Video
Format : DVD
Version : Original Theatrical Release 1:08:39
Extras : None (Alpha Video Catalog and Chapter stops do not count)

This DVD starts with a shot of the family in the car.  The MST3K version starts a few seconds earlier, but the original theatrical release starts a few seconds still.  This release is still in print and representative of the so-called "public domain" releases of the film.  Strictly for people on a severely limited budget.

The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection - The Essentials

Released : August 31, 2004
Distributor : Rhino Home Video
Format : DVD
Version : Mystery Science Theater 3000 Version
Extras : Released in a two disc set with the MST3K Episode Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

This disc has no extras and is out of print.  Unfortunately, the MST3K episode of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is not to be found elsewhere in print on disc.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Manos The Hands of Fate Special Edition

Released : September 13, 2011
Distributor : Shout! Factory
Format : DVD
Version : Mystery Science Theater 3000 Version and Original Theatrical Release
Extras : Interviews with Joel Hodgson, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl and Trace Beaulieu, MST3K Short Hired! Part One, Mystery Science Theater Hour wraps, "Jam Handy and You" featurette, "Hotel Torgo" documentary

This release comes with two discs and is in print and includes the very informative Hotel Torgo documentary. The documentary features Bernie Rosenblum, who was a crew member on the film and also the male half of the makeout couple.  The uncut Original Theatrical Release can be found on the second disc.  For the show, the extras and the price, its a very good deal.

I have started to become an Amazon affiliate, so I will be able to earn a tiny bit if a purchase is made through a link.  Here is the link : Mystery Science Theater 3000: Manos The Hands Of Fate

Rifftrax Live! Manos The Hands of Fate

Released : July 12, 2014
Distributor : Legend Films
Format : DVD (streaming and SD or HD digital download available)
Version : Rifftrax Live! Version
Extras : Outtakes from film riffed by Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, DVD only, Extra riffs of shorts "Welcome Back Norman" and At Your Fingertips: Cylinders"

This is a release of the recording of the live rifftrax session described above.  The outtakes were taken from the Harold P. Warren Family Trust, which is owned and operated by his son, Joe Warren.  I haven't watched the whole of the riffing, but the rifftrax guys do care about the quality of the films they riff if the film is included.  The riffing for Welcome Back Norman is pretty good.  RiffTrax: MANOS The Hands of Fate

Manos: The Hands of Fate

Released : October 13, 2015
Distributor : Synapse Films
Format : DVD or Blu-ray (separate releases)
Version : Restored Workprint Version 1:09:27 and Original Theatrical Release (a.k.a. Grindhouse Edition, Blu-ray only), 1:09:41
Extras : Audio Commentary, Hands: The Fate of Manos Featurette, Restoring the Hands of Fate Feaurette, FELT: The Puppet Hands of Fate Featurette

There is not too much to say about this disc that has not been said above.  The picture quality on the Workprint version is amazing, and the sound quality is also very good.  The featurettes are well-worth the time.

Manos: The Hands of Fate [Blu-ray]

Manos: The Hands of Fate


If you want the best copy of the unadulterated film around, go for the Synapse releases.  Alpha Video's DVD has been totally superseded by Synapse's DVD.  The Synapse Blu-ray is superior, so you should obtain if you have a way to watch or rip Blu-rays.

As far as the riffed version go, if you are a Joel fan, you should get the MST3K Special Edition, while Mike fans should seek out the Rifftrax' DVD.  Alternatively, you can find the MST3K episode on YouTube for free (annotated) and the Rifftrax' version on Hulu.  The older MST3K releases likely command high prices because they are out of print.

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