You wouldn't call 1966's "Manos: The Hands of Fate" a horror classic: In fact, the independent flick, made in part so that a Texas insurance and fertilizer salesman could win a bet, is known today as being one of the worst movies ever made.
But chances are good that "Manos" wouldn't been known at all today had not the Comedy Central series "Mystery Science Theater 3000" featured it as one of the targets of its mockery in a 1993 episode. The concept behind "Mystery Science Theater" was that a human and his two robot companions were held captive in outer space and forced to watch bad movies; as the movie was shown, the three protagonists would make wisecracks about the flick.
The episode of "Mystery Science Theater" that features "Manos" is considered one of the best in the show's run. And it turned "Manos" into a cult favorite.
Now, more than 50 years later, "Manos" is getting a sequel, aptly named "Manos Returns." The movie, shot in western Oregon, gets a Corvallis screening on Tuesday, Oct. 30 at the Darkside Cinema in Corvallis as part of a double feature with the original "Manos." Some of the film's cast and crew, including some people who were in the original film, will be on hand for a question-and-answer session.
It looks as if The Master — the mysterious leader of the evil polygamous pagan cult in "Manos" — gets the last laugh.
"Manos: The Hands of Fate" dates back to a bet that Harold P. Warren made with an Oscar-winning screenwriter, Stirling Silliphant. Warren was active in the theater scene in El Paso, Texas, and once appeared in an episode of the TV series "Route 66," which Silliphant created. When chatting with Silliphant in a coffee shop, Warren claimed that it wouldn't be that difficult for someone outside the industry to make a movie, and bet that he could do so on his own. Warren sketched out a plot outline on a napkin and then raised $19,000 to make the film, using some of his El Paso theater pals.
In "Manos," a family vacationing in Texas gets lost on a road trip as they search for a hotel called "Valley Lodge." The family searches and searches for the hotel, and the film is infamous for its long shots of them driving — interspersed, for some reason, with shots of two teenagers making out in a car.
Along the way, the family stumbles into the clutches of the aforementioned evil polygamous cult, and its leader, the man known as The Master.
The Master was played by Tom Neyman; Neyman's daughter, Jackey Neyman-Jones, played Debbie, the young daughter of the lost travelers.
Neyman-Jones now lives in Falls City. After "Manos" was featured on "Mystery Science Theater," she watched as the movie achieved cult status and would be contacted by fans of the original: "I'm out there in the world," she said. "I'm getting the fandom and I'm enjoying it."
The growing popularity of "Manos" gave her an opening to reach out to her father, from whom she had been estranged for many years: "He could get a little bit of that 'Manos' love," she said.
Efforts in 2010 and 2013 to launch a sequel fell through. Finally, in 2016, Neyman-Jones launched a Kickstarter campaign, raised about $24,000 (in today's dollars, much less than the movie's original budget) and assembled a team of filmmakers and actors, including her father.
The crew included Joe Sherlock of Corvallis, a specialist in making low-budget horror movies, who signed on as director of photography. Tonjia Atomic of Washington state directed the movie, but had to make the pitch to Neyman-Jones about why she was the best possible director for the project. Ygal Kaufman, familiar to mid-valley movie buffs as the curator of Community Movie Night and a self-proclaimed "huge fan of cult horror," talked his way onto the shoot as an actor and sound technician.
Neyman-Jones, who worked on the script for "Manos Returns" with Atomic and Rachel Jackson, said the key was to find just the right tone, to somehow pay homage to the original but also to the "Mystery Science Theater" exposure that has helped the original endure.
So fans of the original "Manos" will see plenty of references to it in the sequel — some more obvious that others. And it's probably no surprise that the new film starts with people lost in a car.
But "Manos Returns" isn't a comedy, and it's not meant as parody, although it has moments of (intentional) humor. It's meant, first and foremost, as a horror flick.
"We were going to make the best movie we could," Neyman-Jones said, "just like the original" cast and crew set out to make the best movie they could.
For his part, even though he admits that the original "Manos" could be taught as a primer course in everything not to do while making a movie, Sherlock said "there really is a creepy story and myth underneath it all," and the cast and crew tried to tap into that tone while shooting the film over a nine-day stretch two years ago around Falls City and Dallas. "We did decide that rather to play to the humor, we would try to play it straight."
That was important to the director, Atomic, as well. She said some of the original cast members, such as Tom Neyman, saw the sequel as a chance to improve on "Manos: The Hands of Fate."
"They wanted to be vindicated for that and to make something of quality. I wanted to give that to them. But for me, there was a lot in the original that worked."
"Manos Returns" has been screened a number of times already, in Seattle and Wisconsin, and the reaction from fans has been positive thus far: "Audiences are really responding well," Atomic said. "It's been greater than my expectations."
Neyman-Jones agreed: "So far, anybody's who's seen it who didn't like it has kept their mouth shut." Talks are underway to get a distribution and video deal for the flick, but nothing is in place yet.
What Neyman-Jones remembers most, though, is the reaction from another person involved with the movie: Her father, Tom Neyman, who played The Master in both the original and "Manos Returns," died unexpectedly in November 2016, a few months after shooting wrapped on the sequel.
The wrap party for the movie was held at The Bread Board in Falls City. As Neyman-Jones and her father approached the eatery, he caught a glimpse of the people inside waiting to pay him tribute, to give him a bit of that "Manos love."
"I'll never forget the look on his face," she said. "He couldn't have been happier if he were walking on a red carpet in Hollywood."