Midnight Double Creature Feature! Manos: The Hands of Fate and Repo: The Genetic Opera
Oct 29, 2016
We've covered some heavy literature this week, so here's a Double Creature Feature with two horror-comedy classics.Repois intentionally funny.Manosisn't. But they're both great popcorn films to watch with a group of friends!
Manos: The Hands of Fate
Director: Hal Warren
Genre: B-Movie, Cult Classic
Released: By Mistake
Summary: Hal Warren was a fertilizer producer by trade. He was very good at his job.
So, imagine you’re friends with a big-time Hollywood screenwriter – the kind who wins Oscars – and you say “Hey, making movies isn’t that hard. I bet you ten-thousand dollars Ican make a movie,” and your screenwriter friend says “You’re on.” And now, you know, you have to make a movie. Because you just bet ten-thousand dollars that you could.
You might end up with Manos: The Hands of Fate, but you’ve probably seen a movie before and know the general principles of how they work. I give Hal Warren the benefit of the doubt – as a busy fertilizer producer (I wasn’t kidding), he probably hadn’t seen many movies, and just did the best he could. But, he’d bet his friend Stirling Silliphant (screenwriter, In the Heat of the Night) that he could make a movie, and he wrote, produced, directed, and edited Manos: The Hands of Fate.
Bless his heart.
I won’t bother with a summary, because laying out the plot may give you hope. Someone competent – even half-competent – could remake Manos and turn out a pretty good horror film. Instead, I’ll tell you why you should watch it anyway.
The camera used only could only shoot about thirty seconds of footage at a time. The editing process seems to simply link thirty second segments together, whether all thirty seconds are relevant or not.
They didn’t record any dialog live; all the lines were dubbed back in later. The dubbing was done by fewer actors than were in the movie. This means you have people talking to themselves. You also have a middle-aged woman doing the voice of a six-year-old girl.
The Master looks like an emaciated Tom Selleck in Bea Arthur’s clothing, if there was a sale on evil caftans. He’s also an actual actor, and he’s trying, but there’s only so much you can do as the Master.
Manos means “hands” in Spanish. The film is literally Hands: The Hands of Fate.
Hal Warren cast himself as the lead. He is a better director than actor.
There are two dogs in the movie, and one child. You may have heard the old acting adage, “Never act with dogs or children.” The two dogs and the kid show up the rest of the cast.
Torgo. Oh, yes. Torgo is the henchman of the mysterious Master, and he might be a goat man. That was the intent, but the budget didn’t match up, so he has on strange leg prosthetics that cause him to walk like a drunken sailor. They don’t give a goatlike appearance. He was also the best actor involved, and he’s trying to make Torgo work. He’s genuinely creepy at times. He’d be creepier if the editing was competent.
The ending is genuinely shocking and induced moral indignation in the audience at the premiere. As I said, this is a good horror story ruined in execution.
Manos has a loyal cult following thanks to being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the early 1990s on Comedy Central. This version, with running commentary by some very talented comedians, is the most readily available form of the movie. If you try to watch it unaltered, I highly recommend making fun of it yourself. Hal Warren himself apocryphally said after the premiere that he’d have redubbed it as a comedy had he realized what it looked like as a finished product. It’s a movie that has to be seen to be believed, has many quotable moments, and is a great night with some popcorn and a sense of humor.
Repo: The Genetic Opera
Genre: Opera, Comedy, Coming-of-Age, Dystopian Horror
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Summary: A dystopian horror steampunk comedy opera. If you’re not sold off that description, I’m sorry, I can’t help you.
“Industrialization has crippled the globe
Nature failed as technology spread
And in its wake, a market erected
An entire city built on top of the dead.”
- The Graverobber, “21st Century Cure”
You think health care is bad now? In this industrial future, pollution has gotten so bad that organ failure is part of life. Fortunately, GeneCo will create a custom heart or liver for you…for a completely reasonable payment schedule, of course. But don’t get more than 90 days delinquent, or you’re subject to repossession, which is likely to be fatal.
Yes, this is ridiculous. But the human stories behind this are the real treat of Repo. Rotti Largo is the patriarch of GeneCo, still mourning his lost love Marni, who left him for his best friend Dr. Nathan Wallace. Marni died in childbirth due to Nathan’s medical errors…errors caused by Rotti, who blackmails Nathan into becoming the chief of GeneCo’s repo men. Nathan’s daughter, Shilo, is kept inside by her father, away from the corruption of the city. However, when she sneaks out to visit her mother’s grave she catches the attention of a dying Rotti who seeks a worthy heir to his empire. This is a desperate situation, because his own children are a plastic surgery addicted pop star, a violent psychopath, and a playboy who staples old lovers’ faces over his own. Shilo also gets the attention of the Graverobber, a gentleman drug dealer who extracts a painkiller called Zydrate from corpses to resell.
And, yes, we’re ridiculous again. And it really is an opera – no spoken dialog, just some incredible songs and incredibly fun performances. Paul Sorvino devours scenery as the villainous Largo, but with enough of a human edge that you empathize with him, even if you can never fully support his actions. Anthony Stewart Head is similarly brilliant as the imminently human Dr. Wallace, but his psychotic joy in his work as the Repo Man reminds you that there’s a violence right below the surface at all times.
For my money, though, the real treat is Alexa Vega as Shilo, whose coming of age over the course of the opera is marked both in her vocal style and expression, moving from an innocent child, to a rebellious teen, to an adult who learns to accept the imperfect world her father tried to save her from, as well as the imperfect father who was only doing what he thought was necessary.
Then add the guest stars – Tony-winner Sarah Brightman’s turn as Blind Mag, Shilo’s Godmother, is naturally a tour-de-force. Joan Jett pops in for a duet with Shilo during her punk rebellion anthem “Seventeen”, and dark pop icon Poe shows up as an audience plant for GeneCo extolling their generosity. There’s nudity, blood, Dr. Wallace operating a corpse like a puppet for a song, the Graverobber acting as a Greek Chorus providing exposition, and the glorious trio of horror icon Bill Moseley, professional heiress Paris Hilton, and industrial rock legend Ogre as Rotti’s worthless children Luigi, Amber Sweet, and Pavi. None of them can sing nearly as well as the remaining cast, but their charming efforts make their songs as much fun as any of Head’s bravado solos.
This is a film best enjoyed with friends, and preferably with subtitles on so you can start singing along. And if you watch it on DVD, the commentary is as much fun as the film, discussing the problem of hiding Alexa Vega’s new tattoo that she got in the middle of filming, drinking with Paris Hilton, and the rest of the behind-the-scenes antics.
Does the film have a point? Shockingly, yes! Repo isn’t subtle in its criticism of for-profit health care and cosmetic surgery. Shilo’s struggle between her “genetics” and her own dreams is an existential crisis – is she defined by a past she could not control, or can she choose a new future? And Repo’s opinion on this is as subtle as a baseball bat to the face. The movie’s lack of an actual baseball bat to the face is purely an oversight, I'm sure.
But let’s put that aside. This movie is fun. Remember when movies were fun? The frantic pace, the operatic insanity, Rotti exclaiming “Be Healed!” as he enters the opera house likes a benevolent dictator, Amber Sweet desperately trying to get a hit of Zydrate from the Graverobber as he tries to teach Shilo about the realities of the world, Nathan singing a duet with himself as he switches between the genteel Dr. Wallace and the psychotic Repo Man, Pavi’s insanely effected stereotypical Italian accent which no other Largo family member has, Luigi stabbing an intern who messes up his coffee – these are all parts of a huge, baroque, chapel to the idea of a fun evening – an evening at Rotti’s Genetic Opera.