Not Dead the Way You Know It 

Monday, June 05, 2006

Matt, a native Texan, says that many movies are about Texas but few are filmed in Texas. After having seen Texas in person twice, I needed to see Texas on celluloid and I was up for the challenge of finding a film about Texas set in Texas.

"Manos" The Hands of Fate was filmed in El Paso in 1966 and so I settled Matt down in front of the TV to prove to him that there are indeed movies about Texas made in Texas.

Known as one of the best films of all time, the 1966 "Manos" The Hands of Fate was the work of El Paso fertilizer salesman Hal Warren and features his trademark editting style of thirty-two-second scenes - thanks to the technology of the hand-wound 16mm Bell & Howell camera.

Starring Hal himself as hapless father Michael, Diane Mahree as his wife and little Jackey Neyman as his daughter, with an uncredited cameo by a poodle as the tragic family dog, the story unfolds with the family losing their way and finding themselves at Torgo's doorstep.

Torgo hides a terrible secret in his pants - he is half man, half satyr. Actor John Reynolds, with help of Tom Neyman (Jackey's father and the actor in the role of the Master), designed the prosthetics from wire coat hangers and foam. Rumour has it that Reynolds wore the contraption the wrong way, causing pain and leading to a pain killer addiction. Reynolds' dedication to film is apparent with each painful step his randy yet well-meaning everyman takes across the screen.

The Master sleeps surrounded by his six wives, all models from El Paso agency Mannequin Manor, and with real-life family dog Shanka, who, in this charming family drama*, got a starring role as the Devil Dog.

When the Master awakes all hell breaks loose, with a madcap race between the Master and servant Torgo to win the affection of Michael's wife, amid a ten-minute brawl between the Master's six wives. It is at this point, when the now-famous line is uttered, "The woman is all we want. The others must die. They all must die. We do not even want the woman!"

The thrilling ending brings us back to where we started, though, instead of Torgo, we find Michael in the role of the servant. The film's denouement leaves the audience gasping, for the Master is now surrounded not by six wives, nor even by seven but by eight - little Debbie is among the brides! - the words, "She will grow up to be a woman" echoing in the viewers' ears. This horrific climax is splashed with the words:

The End

So beloved is this film that, in 1998, fans of Torgo tried to get the actor a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The star committed suicide six months after filming wrapped up - no doubt missing the camaraderie and the halcyon highs of the two-and-a-half month shoot.

*Tom Neyman's wife and Jackey's mom made the famous Manos cape, along with the billowing diaphanous robes of the Master's wives. Tom Neyman painted the haunting oil of the Master and his Devil Dog. He also sculpted the metal hands visible throughout the film. Crew affectionately called the film Mangos: The Cans of Fruit. Incidentally, only little Jackey and Shanka accepted renumeration for their roles - a bicycle for the former and fifty pounds of the dog food for the latter - the rest of the cast accepted shares in the film in lieu of salaries, so great was their fate in this classic.

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