Because, you know, “Manos.” But not in so many words.
El Paso insurance and fertilizer salesman Harold P. Warren once met Academy Award winning screenwriter Sterling Silliphant. They got to talking, and Warren mentioned that horror movies aren’t that hard to make. So Warren and Silliphant made a bet that Warren could make a horror movie all by himself.
Manos: The Hands of Fate was made on a shoe-string budget of $19,000. The cast and crew were payed no wages and would instead be paid in the film’s profits. (Oof.) To the surprise of no one, nobody got compensated except for Jackey Neyman (the little girl and daughter of Tom Neyman, “The Master”) who got a bicycle and her family’s dog, who got a lot of dog food.
Actors were hired from the local theater and a modeling agency. Most of the film was shot at the ranch of Colbert Coldwell, a lawyer who shared an office with Warren. The movie was shot on a 16 mm Bell & Howell camera, capable of taking only 32 seconds of footage at a time, which is why in some scenes the camera dissolves to the exact same scene. The audio wasn’t recorded, either, so all the voices were dubbed later.
The character of Torgo was meant to be a satyr. Actor John Reynolds world a metallic rigging made of wire coat hangers and foam that were intended to be goat legs. However, Reynolds wore these backwards unintentionally, so instead he was just a man with big knees. Tragically, Reynolds would commit suicide a month before the film’s premiere.
As for its cult status as a comedy, actress Diane Mahree (“Margaret”) thought it was pretty funny from the start. She recalls laughing at the movie at the premiere. Warren, by the way, thought it would be a great promotion for the movie to enter Mahree in a West Texas beauty pageant with the hopes that she would make it all the way to Miss America. That didm’t happen… but she was a finalist. Mahree went on to have a long modeling career in Europe.
Also picking up on how goofy the film was: the El Paso Herald-Post, whose review was titled “Hero Massaged to Death in ‘Manos — The Hands of Fate.'” Manos: The Hands of Fate would likely have faded into obscurity forever, leaving no mark but perhaps that in Sterling Silliphant’s wallet, if it wasn’t for a damn comedy show that makes fun of bad movies.