“Manos: The Hands of Fate” is a 1966 horror B-movie written, produced, directed by and starring Harold P. Warren, an insurance and fertilizer salesman from Texas, about a family that stumbles upon a mysterious house while vacationing in the Texas desert. Warren plays Michael, who along with his wife Margaret (Diane Mahree), is taking their daughter Debbie (Jackie Neyman) and the family dog on their first vacation. After losing their way and discovering the house, the family decides to spend the night despite the warnings from Torgo (John Reynolds), a strange manservant that appears to run the place, who says the Master (Tom Neyman) won’t be pleased.
We soon learn Torgo and the Master are part of a polygamous cult that wishes to kill the family; however, the Master’s wives argue whether or not Debbie should be spared. This provides an opportunity for the family to attempt an escape as the cult debates their fate.
Featuring jumpy camera angles, a soundtrack that doesn’t match up to what’s happening on screen, horrible acting, poor dialogue and a disjointed plot, “Manos” is considered one of the worst movies ever made, which is the perfect formula for “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (MST3K).
“MST3K” was a Saturday morning television comedy series created by and starring Joel Hodgson as Joel Robinson, a man trapped on a space station who is forced to watch bad movies, especially horror and science fiction B-movies, along with his robot friends, Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo, voiced by Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy, respectively. In order to make the experience enjoyable and entertaining, Robinson and his robots make fun of movie flaws through comments and snide remarks, as well as ad-lib lines or “riff” on the movie while it’s playing. So instead of watching the movie itself, you’re watching Joel, Crow and Tom Servo make fun of the movie they’re watching. The silhouettes of all three are super-imposed on the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, as if they were sitting in the first row of a movie theater. “MST3K” became a cult classic and ran for 11 seasons. About halfway through, Hodgson left and was replaced by head series writer Michael J. Nelson, who played Mike Nelson.
Although the “MST3K” series has ended, Nelson, Murphy and Corbett haven’t stopped riffing. The trio continues to break down and cut up current releases such as “The Avengers” and “The Hunger Games.” Since the riffed commentaries can’t be released on DVD along with the movie due to copyright and licensing issues, the commentaries, known as “RiffTrax,” are released digitally in mp3 format via a website and the viewer must provide their own copy of the movie. In addition to recording RiffTrax, the trio has also taken the show on the road and performed live riffs while standing next to a movie screen in front of a live theater audience. The performance is then simultaneously broadcast to select theaters around the country.
Although the RiffTrax live performance of “Manos: The Hands of Fate” was recorded on Aug. 16, 2012, that performance was replayed last Thursday at the Showcase Cinemas, 1200 Quaker Lane, East Greenwich, as part of The Best of RiffTrax Live series. It was not only the most unique movie experience I’ve ever had, but also the most fun as I consistently found myself in a fit of laughter.
Adding to the uniqueness of the experience was the theater itself, which featured a full-service restaurant. The front half of the theater was filled with tables and chairs, and the stadium-style movie theater seats each came with a colored wooden block in the cup holder on the armrest. We were instructed to flip the block over and show the colored side if we wanted to see a menu or order a drink, all while enjoying the movie.
The Best of RiffTrax Live will be back in theaters this Thursday with a presentation of “Plan 9 From Outer Space” at 7:30 p.m. at Showcase Cinemas, 1200 Quaker Lane, East Greenwich.