Director – Tonjia Atomic, Screenplay – Tonjia Atomic, Rachel Jackson & Joe Sherlock, Producers – Tonjia Atomic, Rachel Jackson, Jackey Neyman Jones & Joe Sherlock, Photography – Joe Sherlock, Music – Bob Smith, Visual Effects – Eric Arsnow, Makeup Effects – Jackey Neyman Jones & Robert Olin, Production Design – Jackey Neyman Jones. Production Company – Debbie’s Manos/Roux-ga-Roux Producitions/Skullface Astronaut/Vox Fabuli.
Danielle Daggerty (Clara), Steven Shields (Torgo), Nuria Aguilar (Pat), Christina Pezzo (Nicki), Christopher Barnes (Jay), Diane Mahree Nystad (Maggie), Jackie Neyman Jones (Debbie), Tom Neyman (The Master), Bryan Jennings (Sheriff Jennings), Darlene Darwin (Deputy Georgia), Rachel Jackson (Lenore), Tonjia Atomic, Bryn Kristi, Stephanie Lunceford, Nina Nightshade & Emily Watson (Brides)
Four friends are on a road trip to help Clara over a break-up with an abusive boyfriend. They become lost and then end up at a strange house. There they meet the handyman Torgo who says the place belongs to The Master and Debbie. However, their car will not start. Clara feels unwell and the four press Torgo to stay despite him urging them to go away. They are then prey to vision of The Master’s brides and encounter others who are trapped in the house.
Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) is a legendary Bad Movie. It languished in obscurity for many years before it appeared on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988-96) and then found its way onto the IMDB’s Worst 100 films list, which made it an object of fascination by the bad movie cult. The film was made in Texas by fertiliser salesman Harold Warren who, along with his cast and crew, had no prior filmmaking experience.
42 years later, we had this sequel to Manos. One of the principal driving forces behind the sequel is Jackey Neyman Jones, the daughter of Tom Neyman who played the role of The Master in the original. Then seven years old, she played the part of Debbie, the daughter of the couple who stray into the house. For Manos Returns, Jackey produces, conducts the makeup effects and the production design, as well as reprises the role of the now aged Debbie. She also raised a $24,000 Kickstarter campaign to make the film. The film also reunites several of the original cast, including a now 80 year-old Tom Nyeman as The Master, who filmed his part shortly before his death in 2016, and Diane Mahree Nystad who played the mother in the original. Bryan Jennings who plays the sheriff here is also the son of William Bryant Jennings who had a small role as a cop in the original.
The new version is placed in the hands of Tonjia Atomic, a Seattle-based director who has made films like Walking to Linas (2012), Plain Devil (2014) and the horror film Claudia Qui (2012), plus segments of the anthologies A Night to Remember Vol 1 (2013) and Hobo with a Trash Can (2015). Tonjia can also be spotted on screen as one of the brides.
Manos Returns puts you off from the opening scenes. We encounter the four characters on a roadtrip where their dialogue banters back and forth about sequels to bad movies during which Sharknado (2013) and its sequels are mentioned. Unfortunately, this seems uncomfortably close a territory for Manos Returns to enter into as it is precisely that – a sequel to what is considered one of the worst films of all time. The line falls flat as it feels like a film trying to be cutely meta and wink to the audience before we have even begun.
The other off-putting thing is when the group arrive at the house and stand around observing this film’s version of Torgo and making bitchy comments about his sartorial style, being a backwoods hick and then equally reminding themselves not to make fun of crippled people. They sound like for all the world a group of drag queens making affectedly bitchy and catty comments about passersby. This seems something entirely modern and a far cry from the tone of the original Manos. Even when they are moving through the house encountering the various brides and happenings, the group still stand still for several minutes and make more bitchy comments or compare the situation to other movies.
Even after the group enter the house, Tonija Atomic seems to have no real idea of what she is doing or no script with any coherent dramatic structure before her. There are the brides lurking around. We see various people in the rooms of the house where they seem to be trapped repeating actions over and over, although it is never clear who they are either. The Master (Tom Neyan) makes a few appearances in a mirror but does not return to life this time. Torgo at least appears more sympathetic but seems to be unchanged since we last saw him but unable to leave the house. For reasons also not clear, the original house in the desert has been abandoned for an anonymous farmhouse in the woods.
The first Manos, tedious and all as it was, at least had some dramatic drive to its plot – it was built up to the rising of The Master. This has nothing except a series of happenings where occasionally the brides turn up to act menacing, The film does culminate in a sacrificial ceremony where Christina Pezzo is torn apart by the brides but what purpose this serves is not made clear. In a cliche not-over-yet twist, Danielle Daggerty makes an escape and is rescued by a sheriff and deputy only to find in the fadeout that they are cultists too.