Dir. Tonjia Atomic (2018)
The sequel to the infamous cult classic has some new faces along with some old as a brand new band of vacationers are subjected to the Cult of Manos.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
With several of the original film’s cast returning, Manos Returns follows the story of a new set of travelers who find themselves stranded at the Valley Lodge. Torgo, who has somehow returned from his non-bloody fate in the original, refuses to allow these visitors to seek refuge, but they badger him into accepting them as guests anyway. Surprisingly, The Master is still alive and evil all these years later, which goes to prove what I’ve said all these years: sex with a harem of women who only fight with themselves is the key to longevity.
The film itself is a critique of bad movies, sometimes even literally, as we see in one of the opening scenes where our main characters are arguing whether sequels of bad movies should count as worse films. It’s also a love letter to the original film, one that enjoys Manos: The Hands of Fate unironically and for what it was intended to be. There are just as many seemingly random scenes as in the original, and the odd cuts and dreamlike cinematography are clearly referent as well. It becomes clear that it often takes an indie filmmaker to truly appreciate an indie film, especially one that lacks that appreciation and understanding from the general public.
After a minute and a half of the film’s runtime, it has more action and excitement during the entire original film. To call it better than Manos is hardly a compliment, but its meant as one nonetheless. There’s some serious love for the original in this film, but it’s also a standalone effort that is worth a watch on its own merits. I hesitate to recommend it for fans of the original because it’s a wildly more competent film than Manos, but it has so many callbacks and references to the OG that it will be a treat for those who appreciate its predecessor. It also works for general indie horror fans as well, simply because of the skill and general competence that went into making the film as an individual film.
It also has the world’s largest back-scratcher.
Comedy that is actually funny is hard to come by in indie films, largely because its so difficult to write. It’s one thing to come up with a joke that’s funny to you, but it’s much more difficult to write jokes for other people to find funny. What this film understands about both the art of comedy as well as the difficulty of writing a sequel to a film that is notorious for its terribleness is that you have to create a film that is both reverent and parody. Rather than simply write a film that makes fun of the original, Manos Returns seeks to write jokes within the universe that the original created. It does so incredibly well, blending a bizarre unnecessary sequel into a fun, if at times slow, variety show of what-the-fuckedness.
All of the praise aside, I don’t know that you could strictly call Manos Returns a good film. It’s certainly well-made, with frequent laughs and endless homage to the original. There is a certain point, however, where the film does suffer from the same limitations that the original created: a laughably thin plot, subpar acting, and slow periods where little of importance seems to happen. Unlike the original, most of this film’s limitations are purposeful, a tribute to the awful reputation of the initial, almost prehistoric-feeling film. There’s even a section of the film where bugs fly in front of the camera, a faithful note of approval to a film that has avoided approval from everyone else. We also see get some great, updated special effects that the original film desperately needed to cut through the incompetence.
Are those the hands of fate? Is that what we’ve been looking for all this time?
Simply by making a coherent film with a linear plot, Returns is better than the original in every way. The sequel avoids the “so-bad-it’s-good” pitfall of bad movie sequels by being a caricature, utilizing both irony and satire rather than ridicule. As odd as it seems to say, this film is to Manos as Scream is to slashers. It is equal parts lampoon and billet-doux, a movie that is as full of heart as it is soul and style. It’s one that I would highly recommend to fans of the original film, even if you must watch it ironically. I promise you, there’s more to this film than satire: there’s some real character behind the bones that this film lovingly salvages from the original.
Who the movie is for: Indie film lovers, Fans of the original Manos, Jackey Neyman Jones
Bottom line: Strictly for fans of the original and those who appreciate ironic terribleness, Manos Returns is a heartfelt tribute to one of the worst films ever made. It also advances the story quite a bit, delivering a film with more excitement and humor than the original (though that’s not hard to do, in fairness.) Tonjia Atomic is a force to be reckoned with as an indie filmmaker, and Manos fans will not be disappointed with her loving sequel. Check it out, even if you hated the original, because there are some truly great scenes in this one. At the very least, you’ll get a laugh.