"Manos" The Hands of Fate (1966) (part 2 of 7)
Next we get a shot of Mike driving, filmed with the cameraman sitting in the back seat. People with severe emotional problems and weak stomachs should probably leave the room, because we’re now about to endure something I refer to as the God Hates Us And Is Now Punishing Us Five-Minute Drive From Hell. It begins when, with absolutely no dialogue or movement of any kind, this one shot goes on for twenty-five seconds. I’m not exaggerating. Twenty-five freakin’ seconds!!
To get an idea of what this feels like, here’s a simple experiment you can try at home: Stare at the image on the right, and start counting: “One-potato… two-potato… three-potato…” all the way until you get to twenty-five. No, seriously. Go ahead and do it. I defy you.
Can’t be done, can it? Now just imagine your eyes are being held open like Alex in A Clockwork Orange and someone’s forcing you to stare at this image. That’ll give you a good idea of what it feels like to watch this shot. Of course, I should note that we’re just getting started here, because once this shot is done, we cut to another shot of Mike driving, filmed from exactly the same angle! (The funniest thing is that parts of this driving montage were actually filmed on an El Paso street called—no joke—Scenic Drive. I’m guessing the name “Armpit of America Boulevard” was already taken.)
I watch the minutes of my life slowly tick away until, thankfully, there’s actually some dialogue. (Never in my life did I think I would be so grateful to hear Hal Warren speak.) Mike wags his finger, angrily insisting that the Valley Lodge sign pointed this way, so they must be going in the right direction. Of course, nobody said otherwise, but I guess we weren’t supposed to notice that. After all, it’s not like we just had a forty second gap of silence where they could have inserted dialogue to this effect.
Anyway, the wife now tells Mike to go back and ask the Make Out Couple for directions. Mike agrees to turn around, but, astoundingly, continues driving in the same direction for another fifteen seconds. [!!] Then we have a cross-fade to another [!!] shot of the back of Mike’s head as he drives. Finally, we fade to a shot of Mike turning the wheel, only there’s a weird slow-mo effect at the beginning that I’m pretty sure wasn’t intentional. Either that, or Mike is making a “bionic” U-turn.
Now, get ready, folks, because here comes—are you ready?—more driving! Shot from the same damn angle! Dear Lord, what did I ever do to deserve this? Look, I’ll return those library books I stole, I’ll give back the quarters I took out of the March of Dimes collection box at the 7-Eleven, just MAKE IT STOP! Thankfully, just as Mike appears to be about to drive right into a sand dune, we mercifully cut away and I put my head down to recuperate.
After I’ve dealt with visions of beasts with seven heads and rivers turning to blood, I look back at the screen and see that we’re back with the two kids making out. Just as we cut to them, however, something black and white flies through the frame. Closer examination reveals this to be the clapboard [!!], accidentally left in the final edit. Now, in most productions, a clapboard is used for the purpose of synchronizing the film with the audio recorded on location. So I don’t even need to point out how stupid it is to use a clapboard in the first place when your camera doesn’t record sound.
Just then, the same two deputies who pulled Mike over for his “tail light problem” drive up. Doped-up Claude Akins comes out and says, “How many times we have to chase [?] you kids?” Make Out Guy protests that they’re not doing anything wrong, so the deputy looks at them for a mini-eternity before finally saying, “Well, whatever it is you’re not doing, go don’t do it somewhere else!” Surprisingly, the kids don’t have a spiritual awakening after being confronted with this Zen-like koan. Then, for no reason, there’s an extreme close-up of Make Out Girl staring off in the distance. After ten excruciating seconds of this, she turns around and yells at the cops to leave them alone. Then she turns back and gets a disgusted look on her face like she just remembered the taste of the cough syrup. The deputy simply responds that he wants “no wisecracks” (hmm, so he’s the one) and tells them to move along.
We cut back to Mike and family driving around in the dirt for a solid minute. I’d complain about this, but the part of my brain that actually expects quality euthanized itself ten minutes ago. Finally, finally, they come to an old shack out in the middle of nowhere. Mike comments that “it wasn’t here a few minutes ago!” but the wife doesn’t care as long as they can get some directions from the “person at the door”.
We get a tight close-up on the guy at the door, and with his shaggy red beard and decrepit mountain man clothes, I briefly assumed that Mike and his family had accidentally stumbled upon the Unabomber’s secret hideaway. We zoom in even closer on this guy and find his head quivering like a bobblehead doll. He’s also holding a black wooden staff shaped like a hand that looks like a giant Afro pick. Mike decides to drive up and talk to him, so we get to watch every last thrilling moment of Mike making a U-turn and pulling up closer to the shack. This is followed by us getting to watch every last thrilling moment of Mike getting out of the car, coming around to open the passenger door, and letting his family out. At long last, the guy at the door speaks.
|Guy at the Door: I am Torgo. I take care of the place while the Master is away! [Pause.] But the child! I’m not sure the Master would approve. Or the dog! The Master doesn’t like children.|
As Torgo speaks, the wife struggles not to make eye contact with him, while Mike says all they want is directions to Valley Lodge. Torgo tells them he’s never even heard of the place, then spends a full five seconds silently twitching and shaking like Katharine Hepburn in On Golden Pond. (I must admit, however, that despite the terrible acting by the guy who played Torgo—and by the guy who dubbed his voice—I still find this character strangely likeable.)The wife gets nervous because it’s getting dark soon, so Mike demands that Torgo give up the goods and tell them how to get to the lodge. Torgo looks off in the distance for several seconds before replying.
|Torgo: There is no way out of here. It will be dark soon. There is no way out of here.|
In response, Mike suggests that his family spend the night there [!!!!], but his wife is naturally not too keen on the idea. The two argue, but for some reason the camera stays focused on Torgo, who’s just staring and convulsing. Mike asks Torgo if they can spend the night, and Torgo just twitches some more. The couple goes back to arguing until, finally, Torgo pipes up that “the Master would not approve!” Mike tries to force the issue, but Torgo remains non-committal.
For reasons I can’t quite fathom, we get an “ominous” piano chord accompanying a tight profile of Mike. Then there’s a comical thirty-second sequence as all three of them silently shoot each other dazed and queasy looks, strongly reminiscent of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Finally, the daughter breaks this unbearable tension (i.e., boredom) by yelling something completely indecipherable. From the sound of things, all of Debbie’s dialogue was recorded using the sound system from a fast food drive-thru. Mike asks again if they can stay the night, and inexplicably, Torgo finally agrees, but warns them that “the Master will be very disturbed.”
We then get a wide shot of Torgo, and for no reasons that are never delved into, he has huge, knobby knees. (The official explanation, according to the interview in Mimosa, is that Torgo is supposed to be a satyr, i.e., half-man, half-goat, but nothing else in the movie even remotely hints at this.) The wife and daughter head inside, and Mike tells Torgo to get their luggage.
Torgo complies, spastically waddling over to the car like Michael J. Fox when he’s forgotten to take his meds. And every time we watch Torgo waddling around in this movie, it’s accompanied by a strange musical theme that can only be described as the bastard offspring of the intro to The Days of Our Lives. The music stops abruptly as Mike hands him the family’s luggage. Torgo again repeats that “the Master would not approve”, and then his own personal theme song starts up again as he stumbles up to the shack with luggage under his arms. (By the way, if you were worried that we wouldn’t get to see every single second of him waddling back to the Unabomber Shack, you can rest easy.)