Lost in Translation 422: Manos – The Talons of Fate (2016)

For a terrible film, Manos: The Hands of Fate left an impact. Thanks to Mystery Science Theater 3000, the movie is now infamous with a cult following because of how terrible it is. Manos defines low budget, being made for US$19 000 in 1966 (about US$174 000 in today’s money). A deeper background of the movie can be found in the discussion about remaking the movie. With the popularity, even just cult popularity, comes adaptations. There have been not one but two novelizations. Lost in Translation has covered the wink-and-nudge adaptation, Manos: The Hands of Fate by Stephen D. Sullivan. Sullivan has also written a serious horror version as well, Manos: The Talons of Fate.

Talons also follows the events in the film. A young family takes a road trip, gets lost outside El Paso, Texas, and stumbles across the cult of Manos, leading to fates worse than death. The intent of the film was suspense and horror; the execution was decidedly not. However, the core is there, waiting for someone capable to bring it out. Talons takes the effort to bring out the suspense and horror. In doing so, the novel makes the effort to let readers into the heads of certain characters.

Horror requires that the victims be sympathetic to the audience. A monster movie will have victims who deserve to be eaten to let the audience cheer for the creature. Horror, the villain should have an aura of menace and fear. Thus, the victims need to have the audience on their side. Mike, Margaret, and Debbie get their backgrounds expanded. Mike is overworked and a workaholic, which is spilling over into his marriage. Margaret is pushing herself to be the ideal housewife, trying to keep her family together while she and Mike drift apart. If they hadn’t taken the road trip, their marriage might end in divorce Debbie is more or less innocent, a tomboy taking after her father more than her mother, and is well aware that her parents fight often.

Likewise, some of Manos’ previous victims get the spotlight. Torgo gets his own chapter, getting into his head and his desires. The eldest wife, Stefana, provides an insight into what the Master and Manos are up to. Stefana provides the history of the Master’s wives, including how she became the eldest, and how she and the older of the wives are starting to chafe in subservience even as the Master starts favouring the younger wives. The cult of Manos is one of destruction and debauchery, spread over centuries and continents.

Unlike Hands, Talons works even if the reader hasn’t watched the original film. The narrator isn’t having a laugh with the reader. The narrative weaves in hints on the power of Manos infiltrating, affecting people near the Master’s lair and even out to his future victims. It’s subtle, and the pull can be resisted, but such is the lure of Manos.

Cult films have an audience not because they’re bad, but because there’s a glimmer of potential beneath the terribleness. Even a movie as infamous as Manos has a potential buried deep. Sullivan brings out the horror that Manos carries in its DNA. Threads are woven through different points of view to explore a depth to the story. The characters exist not because they’re needed to tell the story, but because their own actions have led them to the outskirts of El Paso and to their doom at the hands of Manos. Sullivan is successful in turning Manos: The Hands of Fate into a story that hooks the readers, bringing them into the world of Manos, making Manos: The Talons of Fate better than the original.

This article was originally published at THE REMAKE ZONE.

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