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Mystery Science Theater 3000: Manos The Hands Of Fate
If 1966's Manos, the Hands of Fate isn't the worst film ever made, it's certainly one of the strangest; the Texas-lensed oddity, a vanity piece for writer-producer-director-star and fertilizer salesman Hal P. Warren, concerns a family that encounters a supernatural polygamy sect after an aimless drive through the Texas desert. An obscurity to all but the most dedicated "bad" movie fans, Manos was dragged into the spotlight by Mystery Science Theater 3000, which spawned something of a cult following. The Manos set pays tribute to both the film itself and the fourth-season MST3K episode that set off the revival with an impressive collection of extras. The episode, one of the series' best, finds Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson) and the 'bots pushed to their limits to poke fun or even make sense of the picture (they are reduced to simply repeating the film's title during the endless driving sequences), and even Dr. Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) and TV's Frank (Frank Conniff) find it necessary to apologize for inflicting the film on them. Nevertheless, there are some stellar bits throughout the episode, many of which address one of the film's most unsettling aspects, the sect's twitchy, goatish henchman, Torgo: Joel and the 'bots muse on whether Torgo's weirdly oversized thighs (which, according to Manos lore, are due to his being a satyr) really make him a monster, and head writer Mike Nelson turns up in the closer as Torgo to make the world's longest pizza delivery. The episode also features the second half of the Chevrolet training film Hired!, one of MST3K's most well-loved shorts.
The two-disc Manos special edition includes both the original 1993 MST3K episode and the film minus the riffing, as well as a number of solid extras. Chief among these is Hotel Torgo, a terrific 2004 documentary that reveals the disastrous creation and release of Manos through an interview with a garrulous surviving cast member (Bernie Rosenbaum, one half of the "makeout couple") and visits to the original locations. Hodgson, Beaulieu, Conniff, and Mary Jo Pehl revisit their own tribulations with Torgo in Group Therapy, an amusing interview segment that examines the show's love-hate relationship with Manos. Both halves of Hired!, complete with riffing (though without Hired! The Musical, a hilarious song-and-dance spoof featured in MST3K's take on Bride of the Monster), are also included, as is a new feature short, Jam Handy to the Rescue, which looks at the production company responsible for Hired! in an educational film spoof starring and written by Larry Blamire (The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra). A brief interview with Hodgson on MST3K's long history of skewering short films and the original wraparounds from the syndicated Mystery Science Theater Hour round out this stellar, MSTie-must-have set. --Paul Gaita