Shout! Factory has done commendable work with their line of Mystery Science Theater 3000 discs since they took over this franchise from Rhino. Whether the release is a multi-disc set or just a single title, they’ve put admirable effort into what could have been simple catalog releases by putting serious work into the packaging and extras. Their recent Manos: The Hands Of Fate release is a fine example these tactics at work. It’s a generous and ambitious two-disc set that applies more love to this fabled MST3K episode than anyone imagined possible.
For starters, Manos: The Hands Of Fate is presented in both its original and MST3K versions. The feature version is basically the same version you’d get if you picked this title up via a budget label: it’s an old video version that is slightly shorter than the version used for MST3K (a shortened opening scene appears to be the culprit). As any with any old video source, detail and colors are a bit fuzzy but the result is on a par with other current versions of this title. The MST3K episode version has a crisp, colorful video image with no notable defects. Both versions sound fine – the cocktail jazz score and awkward dubbing of the main attraction come through fine in either version.
There is also a surprising plethora of extras spread out across both discs. The first disc features “Group Therapy,” a round-table interview session that includes Joel Hodgson, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl and Trace Beaulieu. This group offers a mix of sly wit and unexpected insight as they explore why the Manos episode is so unique and memorable in their repertoire. Conniff in particular speaks about the appeal of bad movies as an alternative to Hollywood product with surprising eloquence. Elsewhere on the disc as MST3K Hour Wraps featuring Mike Nelson as a bumbling James Lipton-style host. His deadpan schtick is amusing here and its worth a look to the show’s fans.
The second disc offers even more in the bonus feature department. Longtime fans of this episode will be happy to see Hotel Torgo, a short but eventful documentary on the making of Manos. It interviews fans, a man who provided a location and the only surviving/available participant from the shoot, Bernie Rosenblum, to tell the tale of how this fractured favorite came to be.
Luckily for us, Rosenblum was not only an integral part of the shoot, he is also an engaging raconteur with a good memory. His recollections form an engaging tale that is illustrated in a spartan but artful style via atmospheric images of the film’s locations. The stories of filmmaker Hal P. Warren at work are priceless and the end result isn’t too far from Best Worst Movie in how it evokes what is like to survive being in/working on a terrible film.
And that’s not all the second disc has to offer: “Jam Handy To The Rescue” is a featurette about the person behind the educational film group that provided so much memorable classroom-flick fodder for the MST3K crew. That said, this isn’t the short doc you might expect – instead, it’s a novel blend of documentary and satirical humor that represents a unique collaboration between actor/writer Larry Blamire and filmmaker Daniel Griffith.
“Jam Handy” teaches the viewer about the real life of William Jamison Handy, founder of the Jam Handy Organization, via a show-within-a-film approach that is unusual for a DVD featurette. Blamire plays two roles. In the framing device, he is Lineman Larry, a kindly worker who teaches a young boy about Jam Handy by showing him an episode of a t.v. show in which Handy was interviewed. Blamire also stars in the t.v. show as an addle-brained interviewer whose madcap questions and reactions often baffle Handy (who is presented via real footage from an old interview and intercut with Blamire).
The atypical approach works well for a few reasons. The first is Blamire: his script weaves deadpan humor into a knowing recreation of retro styles to achieve a subtle satire not unlike an SCTV sketch. He’s also great in both of his roles, with his work as the interviewer achieving a contagious lunacy. The other reason behind the success of “Jam Handy” is the stylish work of Griffith behind the camera. He recreates the black-and-white look of an educational film with skill and achieves the illusion of Blamire “interviewing” Handy through deft editing that reinforces the humor. As a result, this short works as a fresh, genuinely enjoyable alternative to the conventional documentary featurette.
The “Jam Handy” featurette is also accompanied by a short blooper reel, a faux t.v. spot for the show-within-the-film and a bonus interview piece called “My (Educational) Short Life.” The latter is a nice little eye-opener in which Joel Hodgson discusses how MST3K came to utilize educational films as part of the show as well as the elements that made them a mainstay of its format. The package is rounded out by a complete version of “Hired,” the short that is only partially shown in the Manos episode. It includes the MST3K heckling and offers plenty of vintage educational fun.
Simply put, this is an excellent package that goes above and beyond the call of duty in its presentation of a key Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. Having the film in both versions is a good hook but it’s the featurettes that really make this set a winner. Kudos to Shout! Factory for making the extra effort here: it’s sure to make a lot of MST3K fanatics very happy.
To read Schlockmania’s feature review for MST3K: Manos: The Hands Of Fate, click here.