Time now to tie up a loose end from an earlier issue. One of the most popular
articles we ever published in Mimosa was Richard Brandt's "The Hand That Time
Forgot," which originally appeared in M18 and was reprinted in the second
half of A Mimosa Fanthology. That article was about the making of the movie
Manos: The Hands of Fate, a 1960s-era film so adorably bad that it achieved
instant cult status after it was lampooned by Mystery Science Theater 3000
three decades later. Turns out that MST3K has its own fandom where FIAWOL
has every bit the same meaning as it does for science fiction fandom (maybe even
more so, in fact), as Richard discovered once the web version of M18 appeared
on the Mimosa web site. Given that, it wasn't a question ' if ' Richard would
ever write a follow-up article, it was only a question of ' when '.
By now, the legend of Manos: The Hands of Fate should be familiar, if not forgotten: How Hal Warren, a fertilizer salesman in El Paso, Texas, got a few friends together in 1966 and made a staggeringly if not stupefyingly inept low-budget horror film; how it premiered in El Paso and actually found a distributor to play it in a few theaters; how it subsequently all but disappeared and became a Holy Grail of cult-movie completists; and finally, how it was resurrected by Mystery Science Theater 3000 and gained a whole new following, and perhaps a whole new kind of, well, respect, in a way.
But for one little girl, Manos was all this, and more. For little Jackey Neyman, it was the time of her life.
"My father is Tom Neyman, who played The Master," Jackey told me over the phone. "When my parents told me they were making this movie and Hal Warren needed someone to play his daughter, they said, 'It's okay, honey, if you don't want to do it, we can always find another little girl.' And I was, like, 'No way! No other little girl is getting my part!'"
The project became quite a family affair. Her father, an artist, made the "Torgo thighs," the appliances that bulked up John Reynolds' legs, out of wire coat hangers and foam, as well as painting the self-portrait of "The Master" and making the iron sculptures of hands that decorate the film.
"My mom made all the costumes," Jackey says, "including those for the lovely ladies from Mannequin Manor. That was really Hal's personal fantasy, I think, that ten-minute wrestling scene."
And Jackey's dog, Shanka, played the devil dog from the Lodge of Sins.
"Shanka was a real sweetheart, but not that smart. Getting him to obey commands -- like, 'Go here, go there' -- well, that was trouble."
As inexperienced as she was, Jackey didn't think she was necessarily giving her best performance, but her director thought it best to bolster her morale by assuring her she was doing fine.
"Hal was an optimist. He'd just tell me, 'Don't worry, hon, we'll fix it later in the editing.' He was always saying, We can fix this, we can fix that. And I thought to myself, 'Wow -- movies really are magic!'
"What was so disappointing when I saw the film, was I knew I could have done so much better if anyone had only said something. I was very shy and unsure of myself and didn't have very good direction."
Considering they were playing father and daughter, Jackey says there was absolutely no chemistry on the set between her and Hal.
"I was a prop to him," she recalls. "He wouldn't even look at me. I never felt any real hostility, just a kind of -- indifference. I think Hal was a little afraid of me, actually. Hal had a new baby but no experience with children of my age, and when someone hasn't had any kids of their own, they can be kind of intimidating."
For all that, she insists it was the best summer of her life.
"Well, I got to spend all that time with my dad! I loved my dad; he was my hero."
John Reynolds, tragically, never even lasted until the night of the premiere. "Later I realized the reason he was so much fun on the set was probably because he was high all the time."
On the night of the premiere ("I'd spent all day in the beauty parlor," she recalls wistfully), Jackey took the short limo ride to the theater with the rest of the stars, and had that familiar sinking feeling as the film began to unreel.
"Hey, I was only seven and it was humiliating! It was so obviously bad that even a seven-year-old could see it."
One scene mystifies audiences to this day:
"They cut out a scene where Torgo ran off into the desert with his hand in flames," she says. "Now you see the Master stick Torgo's arm in the fire, and next thing the Master is holding up Torgo's severed, burning hand. Now, I don't remember exactly how Torgo's hand came off, but you don't get that from sticking your hand into a fire!"
When "Debbie" spoke her first lines in the film, it delivered the crushing blow:
"Someone else's voice came out! Hal and Diane had gone to Dallas and dubbed all of the dialogue, and somehow I hadn't realized it wouldn't be me talking on the screen. I mean, it was bad enough as it was, but at least people could have heard my real voice!"
"Poor Hal, he had much higher aspirations and ideals. Big ideas and no budget. He did manage to get the movie played at some drive-ins in West Texas, which was quite a feat, considering.
"Everyone worked real hard, and the only ones who got paid were me and Shanka. I got a new bicycle, and Shanka got a fifty-pound bag of dog food."
In the years afterward, Jackey moved to California with her father, and stayed on there when he moved to the Pacific Northwest. Their only souvenirs from the Manos shoot were some stills and a copy of Tom's contract, "which makes clear that no matter what happened, no one was getting any royalties from the movie!"
By the time she was attending Berkeley, she had friends trying to track down a print of the film, but no one could find a trace of it.
"I'm really grateful to the folks at Mystery Science Theater for unearthing it," she says, "because, first, I called them and they were able to send me a copy. And second, because without their commentary, it would be painful to watch! It's kind of like watching a train wreck."
Now that she's Jackey Jones, and all grown up with a successful career as a painter in Oregon, would she have missed out on the experience? Not for all the world.
"I was such a shy, withdrawn, sensitive kid," she tells me. "Catching the acting bug turned out to be my saving grace. I went into theater in a big way at school, and ended up directing the high school play in my sophomore year!"
So, there you have it. Manos: The Hands of Fate can be a life-altering experience.
And we mean that in a good way.
All illustrations by Brad Foster