Manos: The Hands of Fate: The Video Game That Doesn't Suck Like The Movie That Spawned It

Manos: Hands of Fate Works Better As Video Game Than Film

Movieline would like to introduce The Player,  a recurring feature in which we look at the crossroads where video games and moviemaking intersect.  We'll regularly be looking at games that inspire movies, movies that inspire games and a lot of fun stuff in between.  For our first foray,  Luke McKinley writes on Manos: The Hands of Fate, an excruciatingly bad 1965 micro-budget film that manages work well as a video game. 

"The game of the movie" is a worse curse than Cruciatus, and usually causes more pain. It’s such a guarantee of failure that even the Street Fighter movie game sucked, and that started with one of the greatest games of all time.

They’re terrible because the studio has to acquire the license, and when any company spends most of its budget on lawyers, the lawyers are the only ones who get to have any fun. Once the rights are secured, there’s usually enough cash left in the kitty for a design team of two interns and a crayon.

FreakZone Games found a way around this: Start with the worst movie of all time. That would be Manos: The Hands of Fate.  (To watch the entire movie, if you dare, scroll down to the YouTube video below).  This abomination was made when an insurance and fertilizer salesman named Harold P. Warren bet  that he could make a horror movie for less than $20,000. He failed spectacularly. The results would have less painful — and more coherent — if he’d filmed himself drinking $20,000 worth of tequila.

The actors are so bad that they can barely talk. One is so bad he can barely walk. John Reynolds, who played Torgo, handyman and henchman to the villainous "Master," appeared to have taken his acting classes from electroshock therapy.
Torgo in Manos: Hands of Fate

Reynolds'attempts to look supernatural make his appearances look jerkier than an art student's stop-motion film — and more tedious, too. It can take up to three minutes for him to cross a scene, and if you think the camera or actors do anything to distract from this you are wildly overestimating: a) their commitment to the project; b) their understanding of cinema, c) their baseline brain activity.

Then there's the movie's title villain, The Master, played by Torn Neyman. At one point, he studies himself in the mirror and declares, “Yes, I am the face of horror.” That's him in the poster with the fancy moustache. Scary, right?

In addition to being widely recognized as one of the biggest stinkers in filmdom, Manos is also a testament to the healing power of laughter. The movie is now a cult favorite thanks largely to the crew behind Mystery Science Theater 3000, who mocked it to pieces in 1993, and, on Aug. 16, mauled it a second time — this time, live — when they reunited under the name of Rifftrax.

FreakZone took a similar approach. The video game version of  Manos: The Hands of Fate is an homage to retro gaming and a satire of almost every other movie game ever made. It avoids sucking by wallowing in the cliches of video-game movie adaptations.

And there are many. In the 1980s and '90s, every movie franchise was turned into a platformer. Childish sword and sorcery tales, action movies, romantic dramas, tearjerkers about people in wheelchairs who were scared of heights — it didn't matter.

Manos, the game, improves upon the movie right from the get-go with better acting. It also reminds you of how evil games used to be before they started being built for the mediocre skills of broad movie-going audiences.

In FreakZone's Manos, it's possible to die at the first jump. Tap A and misjudge the distance, and that's it, you're dead. (In Manos, the movie, the Master takes a good 20 minutes to get around to killing Torgo.) There are also invincible immortal enemies (who do nothing but float up and down), edge-of-the-block jumps for bonus items, and even curse-inducing sine-wave-flying enemies to knock you off platforms and trigger Castlevania flashbacks.

The real glory of this game is proving that the internet is better for creativity than a whiteboard made of LSD. Hollywood spends more money to minimize risk than the Secret Service, and the gaming industry hasn't just  been taking notes.

If you walked into a video game publisher in the '90s and told them you wanted to make this game, they would have hired new security to escort you out of the building just so their regular security didn't have to touch you. But now a few people with the right combination of skills and mental problems can build and sell a game like Manos: The Hands of Fate for a couple of bucks, and it's fantastic. There’s a real chance the $1.99 I paid for the game will represent 50% of the publisher's entire profit on the sale, but I’m still glad I gave it to them.

That's because with Manos: The Hands of Fate, FreakZone has achieved the impossible: It made a game that was better than the movie.

Luke McKinney loves the real world, but only because it has movies and video games in it. He responds to every tweet.

Follow Luke McKinney on Twitter.

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