In the 1966 horror film "Manos" The Hands of Fate, a family in El Paso gets lost looking for their hotel. They stumble across a mysterious shack, where they're greeted by Torgo, the creepy groundskeeper. The family falls into the clutches of the cult of Manos, which consists of Torgo, "The Master," high priest of Manos, and the Master's collection of wives. Escape attempts fail. Cult assimilation is assured.
"Manos" was written, directed, and acted in by a fertilizer salesman and upon its release, was almost universally panned (it currently occupies position #15 on the IMDB's list of 100 worst films ever made). Reasons for this include choppy, nonsensical editing, poor sound dubbing, and a general lack of anything that makes a movie fun to watch. Cult status was assured when Mystery Science Theater 3000 tackled the film, introducing thousands of film nerds to Manos and his followers.
Which brings us to Last Rites Productions. The newest theater company in town chose to stage an abridged version of "Manos" for their inaugural show, using many of the actual elements that characterize the film (incongruous music, bizarre pacing, inexplicable action) to create a campy, fast-paced show that's infinitely more fun than the original.
Whether the performance is spoof or homage is irrelevant; what matters is that the folks at Last Rites know that "Manos" is in the details. From the red-painted handprint on the cover of the program to the sign-carrying "protesters" in front of the theater to the sexy three-piece band that soundtracks the show, the production is "high theater" in the best sense of the term (read: bong hits strongly encouraged). Performance highlights include Brian Koch as the gimpy and deranged Torgo, and Tara Coen as the hilariously incoherent small daughter.
Unlike the film, this goofy, off-kilter stage version of "Manos" doesn't overstay its welcome, ending at exactly the moment when the average attention span ceases to function—and boding well for future Last Rites productions. ALISON HALLETT