David Roy is a film director who subscribes to the cult of ‘Manos.’ So fervent is his devotion he has created his own prequel to the original film. If you haven’t yet seen Manos: The Hands of Fate, considered to be one of the worst films ever made, this fondly regarded dismal classic is in the public domain (Actually, the issue of who, if anyone, owns the copyright to Manos is still being contested. Hal Warren never put a copyright symbol on the original film so technically it belongs to the public domain. In 2013 his son, Joe Warren, discovered that the screenplay had been copyrighted and believes this means the film itself is also copyrighted. However no precedent for this case exists, so the legal status of the film remains uncertain)
In 1966, insurance and fertilizer salesman Hal Warren had a dream: to make a horror film about a cult in Texas that would make him incredibly rich. Shooting on a camera that could only record thirty seconds at a time and with no sound, instead he delivered a barely coherent, badly dubbed—if admittedly iconic and strangely unsettling—train wreck featuring inexplicably action-free sequences, clapper boards in frame, and a staccato-voiced servant with bulging knees who may or may not be a satyr.
Premiering to a baffled and frankly embarrassed audience —including stars Tom Neyman and his young daughter Jackey—Manos was screened once, then drifted into obscurity until uncovered by the bad-movie-roasting TV show. The episode featuring Manos went on to be one of the most popular episodes of the series and led to a resurgence of interest in this forgotten rough diamond.
The growing popularity of Manos has inspired a successful Kickstarter-funded restoration of the film, a video game, documentaries, a full length puppet stage play (“Manos: The Hands of Felt“), and numerous attempts at a sequel, including Jackie “Debbie” Neyman-Jones’ own Manos Returns, to be released later this year. Roy’s film will be the first prequel to the original Manos.
366 Weird Movies’ Bryan Pike spoke to Roy about his prequel Manos: The Rise of Torgo via a series of international emails.
366: How did you first come across the Manos phenomenon?
David Roy: My first exposure to Manos was through “Mystery Science Theater 3000” way back in ’93. I used to watch the show all the time, and when I saw the Manos episode, I don’t know, somehow it rang familiar. The movie is the worst ever made yet it’s striking, you never forget it.
366: Before we get onto your film, can you tell me more about the cult of Manos? What other activities does the fanbase indulge in? For example are there regular gatherings for screenings of the film a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show where the audience recites dialogue and performs actions to accompany the onscreen action?
Roy: I haven’t seen anything remotely like Rocky Horror. The most I’ve seen is some cosplay at a comic convention. People love to quote the film, mostly Torgo’s lines “the Master does not approve” and “there is no way out of here”—which must be followed by “it will be dark soon.”
There’s always lounging around in The Master’s robe watching the undiluted version of the film, I’m sure a fair amount of fans do that over the weekend.
366: What made you want to make a Manos prequel?
Roy: I had recently re-watched the MST3K episode of Manos so it was fresh in my head. I don’t recall how, but I saw something online about Ben Solovey’s Kickstarter restoration project. In fact it was his final Kickstarter results, 5 times what he asked for to restore the original print of Manos, that solidified my decision to make the film. In reading about Solovey’s project I also learned that Manos was in the public domain, so there were no rights to acquire.
366: On the issue of Manos’ public domain status, did your production ever get approached by Hal Warren’s son? Did he attempt to assert his claim as copyright holder as he did with the RiffTrax performance and Solovey?
Roy: Thus far Joe hasn’t contacted me. It could be because all the other attempts at making a sequel failed and he expects mine to tank as well. In all likelihood he doesn’t even know this project exists. Also with those other guys, they have some money, he could get something out of them, but this is a seriously low budget flick. If Joe came after me the best he’d hope to get would be three movie props and some costumes. Not really a haul one wants to put too much effort in. That and there’s the whole public domain issue which is insurmountable (At the time of writing Joe Warren is yet to bring any formal legal action against anyone creating new works from Manos, neither Solovey, RiffTrax nor Jackie Neyman).
366: How did your own film develop?
Roy: Around the same time I found out about Solovey’s project I was shooting DWN Productions‘ third feature (still a working title) and was already wondering why I hadn’t made my own feature yet. I have a camera, sound equipment, light kit, green screen and editing software; I mean, what else do you need to make a film these days? All you need is a story and the desire to put it together.
So I’m filming actors Danny McCarty, Liz Redpath and Matt Rogers who are regulars for DWN’s productions (they play The Master, Mama, and Torgo respectively in my prequel), and while filming, watching these guys through the camera, the idea snapped into my head that I should make the SEQUEL to Manos and title it “The Revenge of Torgo”! Very exciting!
However, upon investigating the idea, I found that Rupert Munch ((Rupert Munch Talbot Sr. (real name Phil Francis) is a bizarre and interesting sidenote to the Manos saga. Originally posting videos from this youtube page, he approached Joe Warren with the idea of doing a sequel, which did go ahead—with both Neymans on board—but quickly spiraled out of control due to Francis’s ego and bizarre on set behavior. When RiffTrax (the same crew behind MST3K) attempted to do a live anniversary re-roasting of Manos, Francis and Warren came forward as the copyright holders and Francis wrangled an onscreen appearance for himself during the show (which was subsequently edited out of the DVD release.) He was already making a sequel (the project went off the rails in 2011 or something like that), so I went in the other direction and decided to make the prequel. Which, in my opinion, is a very Manos thing to do.
366: How did you get Jackie Neyman on board and what was it like working with her?
Roy: I met Jackey first through her presence on the Internet. You can’t Google Manos without Jackey’s name and links popping up. I was testing interest for Rise of Torgo in Facebook fan groups and Jackey responded to one of my posts by saying “Only if I can be in it.” I jumped on her comment, contacted her and asked if she’d be a part of it. She was quite gracious and accepted.
I didn’t get to work with her per se. Jackey lives in Oregon and I’m in Texas, and I have zero-budget, so flying to her, or her to me was not going to happen. Instead, Rick Zunck, a friend of her’s, set up a green screen, shot Jackey doing her lines (Jackey will star as the titular God ‘Manos’ in Roy’s film) and sent me the files.
366: Was there any attempt to get Tom Neyman on board to reprise his role as the Master? Do you know how he feels about the Manos phenomenon?
Roy: You bet. Once I got Jackey on board I asked her if Tom would be interested in a cameo. She presented the idea but he politely declined. I have never been able to contact Tom directly so I can’t comment on his attitude toward Manos, I can only assume he’s cool with it because he’s in Jackey’s Manos Returns.
366: Did you develop your own Kickstarter for Rise of Torgo?
Roy: I didn’t do a Kickstarter for Rise of Torgo for a couple of reasons. In doing some research I saw that there were at least three failed attempts at a remake or sequel (another remake rose and fell during my production phase) so I wanted to keep this project under wraps until I actually had a film to present. I didn’t want to be the guy that started then failed to finish his Manos film.
And, since I have the necessary film gear, and have manned every post (writer, director, cinematographer, producer, editor, post color/FX), financially all I’ve had to provide was costumes, craft services, gas money, and build two sets. Also, like Harold Warren, I was able to convince everyone to work for deferred payments once, and if, Rise of Torgo makes any money.
Hal Warren’s expenses largely came from using/developing film, but I shot digital or essentially for free.
366: What has the post-production process been like for you?
Roy: Post has been a real education. After three failed attempts at hiring someone for color correction I decided to do it myself. Why not? I’ve done everything else in making this film and it fit “Hal’s Rules,” so I dug up a copy of After Effects 3 and sat down to learn it. In doing so I kept learning new tricks to fix issues in the footage and found myself in a concentric hell where I would learn a new facet, say masking, and would have to revisit my already completed work to fix other issues, and in fixing those issues I’d learn a new skill, like tracking, and would have to re-revisit my work and so on. Only recently I’ve reached the plateau of knowledge necessary for Rise of Torgo so things are finally moving forward now.
I would like to mention that Brian Hoff’s Art House Sound has taken on the chore of doing the sound design. I shot without sound, so the actor’s lines had to be ADR’d. I was able to get Bryan Jennings, the son of William Bryan Jennings who played the Sheriff in Manos, to do the voice over of the Sheriff in Rise of Torgo. Like Jackey, he recorded his lines locally—as in Boise, Idaho—and emailed the files to me.
366: What can fans expect from your prequel?
Roy: First I’d like to say I made this movie JUST to make the movie. There was no strategic thinking in the planning of this project. I wanted to make my first feature, something I could afford, something doable and something I would be able to finish AND something I liked.
I made Rise of Torgo following what I call “Hal’s Rules”: very few takes, no shots over 30 seconds, shoot without sound and pay no one up front. There’s no way to copy what Hal Warren did, so I set out to make a film that is a sibling to the original, similar yet different. So, what fans can expect is a quirky, Manosy film with characters and dialogue similar to the original.
There are two versions of the film, the theatrical and director’s cuts. The Theatrical cut will be more what someone would expect in a film and runs around 90 minutes. The Director’s cut is a more hardcore version dripping with Manosy goodness coming in at a hefty 118 minutes. Manos!
366: Are you prepared to release any spoilers?
Roy: I can tell you the debate over whether or not Torgo has hooves is put to rest.
366: When do you plan to release your film and how will you handle distribution?
Roy: I plan to release the film in November to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Manos‘ original release. Currently distribution will be through the Rise of Torgo website and outlets like Amazon that allow users to sell their own product.
366: Finally David, thank you for speaking with 366 Weird Movies about your film.
Roy: I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to conduct this interview. Manos!
For more information about Manos: The Rise of Torgo check out the links below: