Every time I sit down to watch “Manos” The Hands of Fate, I can’t help but wonder what the hell I’m doing. I mean, there’s absolutely no reason to watch Manos. The film has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. It’s ugly, poorly-written, poorly-dubbed, and sheer friggin’ torture to sit through. Even with the aid of Joel and the Bots’ riffing of the film in episode #424 of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Manos proves to be an immense chore. And yet we’re drawn to it, because no movie could possibly be that bad. But there it is. It’s real. And you have to see it to believe it. Manos has, since its appearance on MST3K, become something like the Holy Grail of bad movies, easily finding its way onto the “Five Worst Movies Ever Made” list of every single person who’s ever seen it, and topping most of those lists at that.
And since re-riffing a film has long been a non-issue for the two troupes of MST3K alumni still out there riffing away (Cinematic Titanic proved it could be done most admirably well in their 2008 re-riffing of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians), it was really only matter of time before one of the troupes tackled Manos once again. The honor of re-riffing first what many now consider the worst movie ever made would ultimately go to Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy’s RiffTrax. And last night, RiffTrax, in conjunction with Fathom Events, streamed their live riffing of Manos at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville to over 400 theaters nationwide.
Honestly, this event succeeded in doing something that I never thought possible. Preceded by the hilarious riffing of two incredible shorts and energized by the fervor of the audience, I actually found Manos tolerable! The riffs came fast and often, although with pauses long enough to let some of the more painful moments in the movie shine. Some pretty racy riffs about masturbation and Michael Vick actually seemed to take the audience by surprise, and the trio’s “White Trash Twilight Skit,” performed during one of the many make-out scenes in Manos, earned significant applause even from the theater I attended in Chicago. Whereas Mike and the gang rightly avoided such timely riffs back in the days of MST3K, live riffing proves conducive to timely references in a way that recorded riffing does not, and the RiffTrax gang knows it, for last night’s riffing of Manos was positively chock-full of timely references like these.
The event notably featured a couple appearances by Rupert Munch, currently in the works on a Manos sequel, as Torgo– once invading the audience to again deliver pizzas (a gag borrowed from the MST3K episode) and again at the end of the program in a music video that showcased some footage from Manos II. As for the shorts, the guys riffed on “At Your Fingertips: Cylinders,” a follow-up to the short “At Your Fingertips: Grass,” which they previously riffed as part of the 2010 RiffTrax Live! event centered on Reefer Madness. Prior to that, they showed a slightly disturbing vintage advertisement for prune juice.
Now, rather than reviewing the event chronologically here, I’ll admit that I’ve sort of danced around the proceedings in order to save the best for last. Granted, this screening of Manos was indeed the stuff of riffing legend, but the event actually kicked off with one of Mike, Bill and Kevin’s single greatest shorts riffings to date. The film: “Welcome Back, Norman,” a curious little non-film that tries to do nothing and goes absolutely nowhere, and yet somehow resulted in one of the more hysterical and quotable series of riffs in ages. Hell, I’ve already incorporated the insult, “Your Dad is a Norman,” into my already sizeable grab bag of appropriated riffs! If you didn’t make it to the event, you’ll definitely want to keep your eye out for their riffing of “Welcome Back, Norman.” It will, I contend, become a RiffTrax classic.
RiffTrax Live! will return to theaters on October 25th, 2012 with… wait for it… Birdemic: Shock and Terror. Oh, we are so there!