November 2, 2003
Halloween: The Costume of Fate
I’ll tell you right off the bat: if you’ve never seen Manos: The Hands of Fate before, then you won’t get my costume. It’s widely regarded to be the worst movie of all time to ever get into a theater. You’ll notice that the IMDb rates it as the second worst movie of all time, but clearly irrational J-Lo hatred is the cause of that rating, rather than a film as poor as this.
It was made by a fertilizer salesman (no, really!) in El Paso, Texas who wanted to be a director. The film was shot with a camera that could only hold about 30 seconds of footage, so none of the shots last longer than about 15 or 20. And I’m not talking about the kind of innovative multiple-angle storyboarded finesse that movies like Apollo 13 pulled off because the Vomit Comet wasn’t able to make zero G happen for very long.
It’s nothing like that.
What the limited shot time meant to the filmmaker, we may never know. In fact, it’s possible that no one ever told him. I believe the film was made through the technique of running through until out of time on the camera, reloading it, and then starting shooting again. During this time the actors (and I use that term very loosely) were expected to remember approximately what was happening, and pick it back up. This results in comically terrible cuts that occur in the middle of sentences, random changes in shot length during a single scene, and even an action that’s repeated because a cut was not edited (There’s one scene in which the same action and line are actually said three different times from three approximately equivalent vantage points in rapid succession because of the bizarre way the cuts are interspersed).
But even that’s better than the framing. It’s rare that the main action takes place anywhere near the center of the shot. But it’s even more rare to see a shot in which no one’s head is cut off at the top. Whoever was holding the camera (and, yes, they were pretty much holding it, or at least jumping up and down near the tripod a lot) made very sure to get everyone’s feet in all the shots, but forgot to include their heads on as much of a regular basis.
The camera also didn’t record sound, so that all had to be added later. What stilted dialog there was in the movie was provided by as few as three people, who, I’m judging, worked at gunpoint under the influence of powerful anti-convulsants. Early in the movie when the sheriff pulls a couple over, and you here what sounds like a schizophrenic police officer having a discussion with himself, that’s actually supposed to be two people.
Not that there’s a lot of dialog. The script to Manos: Hands of Fate would only fill three or four cocktail napkins when written in crayon, which is how I imagine it was originally envisioned. You get the sense early on that the solution set upon for this was to have:
- Redundant dialog. Maybe the audience missed it the first time. Plus, notice that the title, translated, is “Hands: The Hands of Fate.” This is a bad sign.
- Long stretches of time in which nothing happens, such as the shots of the road going by that take up the first 10 minutes of the movie. At one point they fade out, only to fade in to the same scene again!
- Walking slowly. A significant portion of the movie revolves around the conveyance of luggage from the car to the lodge and vice versa by a person with all the motor control of a three-year-old on crack.
- Pointless scenes. For example, a subplot (???) of the movie involves the plight of two wacky kids (both voiced by the same effeminate-sounding gentlman) in search of a make-out spot who are repeatedly hassled by the cops. Granted, it’s stupid, but it also bears no relation whatsoever to anything else that happens in the movie.
- Torgo. ’nuff said.
The movie makes no visible attempt at anything approaching continuity. And I don’t just mean making sure that the background is constant from scene to scene, I’m including continuity of thought as well. Consider the following dialog:
[quote]We only want the woman,
The others must die.
They all must die,
We do not even want the woman.[/quote]
That was all consecutively spoken by a single person. You can tell because the camera is focused on her feet, and the lower half of her head shows that her lips are… doing…something.
There’s so much more to be said about this movie, and I found an excellent review at The Agony Booth which includes a detailed play by play of the entire movie.
When Manos was released, the audience laughed so hard that the crew slunk out of the theater in well deserved shame. It was not until Mystery Science Theater 3000 made a version of it that it reentered the public eye. And theirs is a very enjoyable one.
The character I dressed as is known only as The Master. He sleeps through the first half of the movie, but when we finally see him, the effect is extremely overused. His main role in the movie is to have a big mustache, laugh in a maniacal manner, and spread his arms wide so that we can see that the robe he’s wearing has large red hands on it:
As you can see, his costume is little more than a black poncho.
I began working on my costume at about noon on Friday, when I ventured out to the fabric store for the fixin’s. Once there, I was somewhat overwhelmed, but I found a nice saleslady to help me out. “I need some help finding red and black fabric for a costume I’m making,” I said. “What kind of fabric do you need?” she asked. “Cheap,” I said.
Fabric and other trappings of sewery in hand, I returned to my suite to craft my costume. First I cut out the giant hands.
My philosophy with regards to this costume was that it should conform to the same standard of integrity as the movie itself. As a result, I neither measured or marked anything. I just cut stuff. I’m pretty impressed that the hands came out as
Once the hands were cut out, I used some iron-on glue stuff that the fabric lady had talked me into buying. It wasn’t too hard to use, but I found it was much better at sticking to the iron than to the cloth.
Costume Making Safety Tip #1: Do not inhale the smoke generated by that iron-on glue stuff when it burns onto the iron. Trippy.
Luckily it wasn’t too hard to get that off.
Once the hands were ironed on, I went over to use Sarra’s sewing machine. I stiched around the hands and then cut out the neck part and added red around the collar (front and back). It took a while to finish, helped in no part by the fire alarm that went off about two minutes before I was done.
Here’s how it looks completed. I’m pretty happy with it. In fact, I’d lay decent odds that I did a better job on it than the on in the movie (there’s no obviously visible zipper on mine, for example)