Sunday, April 1, 2012

Feminist Analysis of Manos: The Hands of Fate

Regarded as one of the worst movies ever, of all time, Manos: The Hands of Fate can indeed be analyzed through a feminist lens. Even horrible movies have narrative structures in there somewhere under the crap, after all. It is actually more relevant to feminist analysis than Troll 2, as it involves victimization of women as part of the antagonist's malice. Manos uses the relatively feminist gender dynamics of the typical 1966 American family to contrast with the horrible treatment of women by a Mexican polygamous cult, but it in itself suffers from sexism apparent from a modern perspective.

It starts out with the typical white middle class family, consisting of the husband, Michael; the wife, Margaret; and their young daughter, Debbie. They're on a vacation in Texas, and they get directions from some stupid teenagers who just make out all the time, completely without irony, which sends them to a mysterious house that shouldn't be there. Michael has the great idea that they could stay there the night. They're greeted by Torgo, the Igor stand-in, who says that his master wouldn't approve of them staying. Margaret doesn't want to stay there, but Michael pushes, and Torgo finally allows them inside. They see a creepy picture of "the master" and his dog, which frightens Margaret. Torgo describes how his master is dead but "likes you". It would be unnerving if not for the terrible performances, editing, and soundtrack making this into a comedy.

Over the night, the characters are terrified by one weird event after another, and Torgo tries to sexually assault Margaret. She threatens to tell her husband if he doesn't stop, which works. She presumably then doesn't tell him as she said. This is an example of how she's presented as a sexually vulnerable figure, coveted by men. Her husband is treated as the only real agent there.

Torgo's master is then revived, and it seems he's the leader of this weird polygamous cult. The master gets angry at Torgo for trying something with her, when she's supposed to be his. He has this whole harem of beautiful women for brides, and they talk about something. It's hard to follow given that it's the same words over and over again, but the gist is that they don't want to kill Debbie. They worship Manos, which is this masculine god that 'loves women', and as Debbie would grow to be a woman, they see her as off limits. Manos' love of women is only the possessive sort of "love". In exchange for sacrifice, he empowers the master guy by giving him more and more brides as well as the power to live longer and have his own Igor.

To make a long story short, the master guy wins. Michael is his new servant, and both Margaret and young Debbie become his brides. How scary.

The presence of misogyny is used to create horror. Manos and his worshiper are evil masculine forces who enslave women. In some respects, this shows an enlightened perspective, but it also perpetuates sexism. The victimization of women is done in a way that doesn't give the women compelling identity, and they're pretty much there to have their fates controlled by the men.

There is also a fair amount of xenophobia, just with the idea of polygamy used for horror, and the implication that this cult comes from Mexico. There are references to being near the Mexican border, and "manos" is Spanish for "hands". It's good American Christians vs. the evil Mexican hand-worshipers.

Oh, I don't know. It's a stupid, stupid movie...

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