From The Inside – Outsider Filmmaker Harold P. Warren

When I was in high school I watched the Tim Burton film, Ed Wood, a bio-pic about the notoriously bad filmmaker often cited as the worst filmmaker of all time. Since then my obsession with bad films has grown exponentially. Recently I’ve come to realize there is an entire sub culture in the world of cinema I’ve come to call Outsider Filmmakers. People with little to no previous talent or training that decide to put their money where their mouths are, thinking “Gee, I could make a movie better than those fat cats in Hollywood!”

More often than not these films wind up being some of the worst films ever made and in some of these cases, the films reach that special realm of “so bad they’re good.” Recent examples of this include The Room and Birdemic.

As my research into this world grows I discover more and more filmmakers that I’ve never heard of and their truly crappy films. I’ve decided so share my research in this column. I will discuss the filmmakers and their films. I begin this series with who, while perhaps not the first, could easily be called the Godfather of Outsider Filmmakers. Harold P. Warren is most likely a name you’ve never heard, but perhaps you’ve heard of the only film he ever made, “Manos” The Hands Of Fate (1966).

Warren was an insurance salesman who lived in El Paso, TX. One day Warren met a location scout named Stirling Silliphant (who would go on to write In The Heat Of The Night) and made a bet with him that he could make a low budget horror film that would be successful. So Warren raised about $19,000, got his hands on a 16mm camera, hired a bunch of local theater actors and spent two and a half months making one of the worst films ever.

Seriously, Manos makes Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space look Oscar worthy. The film is so bad I’ve only seen it as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and frankly I’d be a little scared to attempt watching it without the riffing of Joel, Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot. Few films made the bots cry like Manos did. Both Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank even apologizes to the guys about how bad the film is.

Warren wrote, directed, produced and even stared in Manos. The plot, what little there is, follows a family that is on vacation. They stop at a place called the Valley Lodge where they meet a man named Torgo. Soon they find themselves in the hands of a The Master, looking a lot like Freddie Mercury and his many wives. Perhaps the film serves as a searing indictment of Mormonism and polygamy. Who knows?

Torgo watches over the house while his master is “away.” Torgo is supposed to be a satyr-like creature, however what is supposed to appear as backward bending knees just makes it look like he’s got a little elephantiasis. And the way he talks and walks is seems like Togro is just drunk the whole time. Torgo was played by John Reynolds who sadly put a shotgun to his head and killed himself in 1966 one month before the premiere of the film.

Warren plays the father of the ill-fated family. The acting across the board in this film is atrocious. In fact, every aspect of this film is absolutely abysmal. There is even a shot in the film where the clapboard can be seen being pulled out of the shot. So weak is the story that of the 68 minute running time, roughly the first 10 minutes consists of the main characters driving.

Literally … just driving.

Warren used a camera only recorded for 30 seconds at a time before it needed to be wound again. Shots that he wanted longer just cut together poorly. And its painfully obvious the cinematographer, Robert Guidry couldn’t frame a shot to save his life. I’ll give Warren credit that he wanted to shoot his night scenes at night, and not do day-for-night, but without proper lighting the scenes are laughably dark.

The camera also didn’t record sync audio so all the dialog is poorly dubbed in later. The entire dialog in the film was re-recorded by two men (Warren and another man) and one woman.

The film ends with “The End?,” which is easily the scariest scene in the whole film. The idea of a second Manos film gives me nightmares.

Just about everyone involved in this film never worked on anything ever again, and after watching Manos you won’t wonder why.

It’s also worthy pointing out that “Manos” is Spanish for “Hands,” so the film is really called “Hands” The Hands of Fate

Warren himself admitted the film was terrible and could work better as a comedy. Quentin Tarantino owns a 35mm copy and says it’s his favorite comedy of all time. So now it’s up to you to watch the film yourself. Is “Manos” The Hands Of Fate a terrible horror film or a great comedy? You decide.

I have a several directors lined up to feature here, however if there is a filmmaker you’d like to see me write about, let me know. I’m always looking for more Outsider Filmmakers.

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