One of the great things about the rise of cult movie home video labels is that it has made it possible for cinema’s bastard children to be rescued and giving a loving treatment that their theatrical release never offered. Manos: The Hands Of Fate is a film that has been in need of that kind of love for decades: all video versions of this title have historically been derived from the same smeary SD master. However, the film’s original elements were rediscovered by film print collector Benjamin Solovey, who successfully crowd-sourced their remastering. Synapse picked up his handiwork for blu-ray release and the results are a loving tribute to this oddball film’s appeal.
The transfer created by Solovey and his cleanup team will make the Manos fan’s jaw hit the floor. Despite the lo-fi shooting style and periodic out-of-focus shots, everything is amazingly detailed and colorful here (look out for the eye-popping reds of the Master’s robe). The results have the proper gritty texture of cheap film stock but look better than anyone could have imagined. Similarly impressive cleanup work has been done on the mono soundtrack, which preserves the raw sound design and dubbing but gives it all a shocking level of clarity.
Better yet, the disc also features an array of supplements that help put the twisted charms on Manos: The Hands Of Fate into the proper cinematic context. The first is a commentary track pairing the “Master” himself, Tom Neyman, with his daughter and castmate, Jackey Neyman-Jones. It’s a low-key chat where the two reminisce about the shoot and poke fun at the film’s shortcomings in a bemused yet fond way. There are some nice nuggets of info in there, particularly some info about Diane “Mahree” Adelson’s subsequent career and observations about how John Reynolds, the actor who played Torgo, was a tormented soul in real life.
Next up are a string of featurettes. The first is “Hands: The Fate Of Manos,” a fast-paced, 30-minute featurette devoted to the film’s history and cult following. Solovey functions as a kind of on-screen narrator here, laying out both the legends and the hidden facts behind the film’s oddball genesis as Neyman, Neyman-Jones, Adelson and other are brought in to flesh out those facts into anecdotes. Along the way, you get some intriguing insights into the script and why the camerawork looks the way it does as well as some funny tales from the film’s calamitous première. This segment was helmed by Daniel Griffith and he gives it a zippy pace that delivers witty tales of oddball filmmaking at breakneck speed.
The other featurettes are short and targeted. Solovey returns for a six and a half minute segment about his remastering work on the film. He offers a detailed explanation of the process, filling the viewer in on all the challenges in the frame-by-frame restoration and discussing how he tried to make the film look as good as it can while staying true to the limitation of its shooting style. There’s also a four-minute piece about Rachel Jackson, who wrote and staged a puppet adaptation of Manos. She explains how the concept was born, offers her thoughts on the film and gets into the challenges of restaging the film for puppet theater.
In short, this disc of Manos: The Hands Of Fate proves that the best restoration efforts can come from the least likely places — and outsider cinema scholars everywhere will appreciate its thoughtfully curated presentation.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of Manos: The Hands Of Fate, click here.