Manos and Bad Films Revisited

Question: Can an all-time crappy film be improved through restoration? 

Answer: Absolutely.

Question: Does this make a bad film good?

Answer: Depends on the source material.

Films can be bad for myriad reasons and combinations of factors.  These include incompetent direction, bad acting and inane dialogue, poor writing, limp storytelling or a boring plot, sloppy production values and continuity errors, and technical reasons (inept cinematography, wrong lighting or film stock, poor sound and so forth). There are times when a cast just doesn’t gel. Sometimes a decent film is rendered a disaster through post-production or studio meddling (e.g. Orson Welle’s take on his own Touch of Evil), distributor cuts, dubbing, so-called “director’s cuts” and special editions (Greedo shooting first), MST3K versions (I’m not a fan), and digital mapping (the colorized The Maltese Falcon).  Some films like Jerry Warren’s The Incredible Petrified World (1957) are just plain dreadful and bore a viewer to death.

Director and Producer Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1924-1978) has acquired the notoriety as being one of the worst directors of filmdom.  Most of his films are downright crappy, but they are typically populated with colorful actors.  Tor Johnson struggled delivering a line and he was largely unintelligible, but he was never boring.  Just watch him opposite Bob Hope in The Lemon Drop Kid (1951). I never agreed with the Medved camp that Wood was so bad.  The guy succeeded making films in Hollywood and that’s a tough proposition.

I’m not a film snob, but I look at film’s differently than the average Joe. I like several bonafied classics –I think Casablanca and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre to be brilliant, but I find Citizen Kane to be gigantically overrated.  However, I acknowledge the film’s technical merit. Welles was doing extraordinary things with that film (DOP Gregg Toland certainly contributed to the artisty of Kane).

To me, the look of a film can elevate a production out of the abyss. Back in May 2011, I reviewed The Madmen of Mandoras (1961). It’s not a very good film, but a newly restored print revealed something I missed the first time around as “They Saved Hitler’s Brain” —Stanley Cortez’s cinematography was stunning in that film.  Likewise, dubbing and distributor cuts degrade a film.  Compare some of the old Gamera films shown on TV in the 70’s to the new Shout Factory restored DVDs.  You’re watching entirely different films.  This is even more so with Godzilla: King of the Monsters compared to the restored Japanese film Gojira.  Same film? No, and with a different message.

Several years back I picked up a half-sheet poster of Circus of Fear (aka Psycho-Circus, 1966)(starring Leo Genn and Christopher Lee).  The film is advertised as being in color, but the “color” labeling is pasted over. I always assumed this was an error as I had only seen it in black-and-white.  Actually, the film was released both in color and in b/w.  Theaters just covered over the color label if they had a b/w film copy.  Year’s later I found the original uncut version of the film.  Sure enough, the film is in color and a distinct improvement.  It’s no classic, but a clean print goes a long way.

This all brings us to MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966).  No doubt, this film is a veritable stinker. IMDb users rank it #3 in the all-time 100 worse movies.  It’s bad, but I’ve seen worse (case in point: The Incredible Petrified World).  However, recently a 16mm working print of the film has been revealed and high-resolution scans rendered from various film segments ( The film is double-perforated 16mm Kodak Ektachrome Commercial Safety Film. Note there is a perforation at every frame line and no audio track. Manos shot silent? Kodak film #7255 or Ektachrome C was first introduced in 1959 and discontinued in 1970. Manos was made in 1966, jiving with the film availability time-line.   Oddly, as far as I can tell from my limited research, Ektachrome C was developed for improved response under tungsten lighting (not an outdoor film). Maybe this is the cause of the odd color shifts in Manos. I’m not sure.

Torgo has never looked better!  Early glimpses of these scans indicate that some of the film is in terrific shape.  Hopefully we’ll get to see a full restoration. There also appears to be some 16mm footage that doesn’t appear in various public domain prints and the MST3K parody.  Frankly, I’d like to see the film cleaned up.  I can’t imagine taking on the challenge of re-cutting the film —where would you insert lost footage?  Is an original script available?

The mind boggles. Call in Tarantino.

Here are some references:


How Bad?

2 Responses to “Manos and Bad Films Revisited”

  1. This is really a question of taste. A film is good if it entertains. “Manos, The Hands Of Fate” (1966) and even “The Incredible Petrified World” (1957) are good films because I am entertained by them. Now, we’re talking about the tastes of a middle-aged bachelor, so these might be opinions that are not shared by many others.

    Films like “Avatar” (2009) , “Titanic”(1997) and “Toy Story 3” (2010) are all popular films which have each grossed over $1 billion in revenues. They are terrible films for me, because I am not entertained by them. They are literally unwatchable. The major stars and large effects budgets in these films are wasted because, for me, they don’t add up to entertainment.

    Critically acclaimed films by Welles, Hitchcock, Renoir, Fellini and others can be brilliant and instructive, and act as a good dose of cough syrup: they are good for me, but if they don’t entertain, I am not likely to remember them with much interest. “Citizen Kane” (1941) is the darling of newspaper publishers because Kane was an idealized newspaper publisher, who made a dramatic Faustian bargain.

    Again, this is a question of taste. One size does not fit all. If the film is entertaining, then it is a good film.

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