The Worst Movie Ever Made

It wasn't long before the looking around turned into something else. ''It took about six minutes,'' estimates Rosenblum. ''It was very quiet, and then there was one snicker, then a couple, maybe two guffaws, and then just out-and-out laughing their asses off.'' Perhaps the crowd had never witnessed entire scenes out of focus before. Perhaps they had never seen such things as a marking slate or an insect bumping into the camera lens actually make a final cut. Or perhaps they were trying to figure out why every single voice in the movie was dubbed — badly. (Since the camera used for Manos could not capture sound, all the dialogue was recorded in a studio by Warren, his wife, Neyman, and Diane Mahree, as well as two others who did all of the other voices.) Unfortunately, not all of the cast had been made aware of this development. ''Nobody told me that the voices were being dubbed,'' says Jones. ''So here I am all excited, and then I come on the screen and my mouth opens and it's some squeaky lady's voice. I just sat there and cried.''

But Manos' badness went beyond mere technical gaffes. Even simple motions were carried out to unintentionally comedic extremes, like Torgo's impossibly drawn-out attempt to stroke Margaret's hair. The dialogue was ultra-repetitive (''There is no way out of here. It will be dark soon. There is no way out of here''), and yet almost every shot started and finished with an insanely uncomfortable amount of silence. The only truly scary thing in the film was during the final credits, when the words The End were followed by a big question mark, implying the possibility of a sequel. By that time, however, most of the audience — including Rosenblum and Guidry, who snuck out and went straight to a bar — had already left. Coldwell recalls his nephew Eliot Shapleigh (now a Texas state senator) even demanded his money back — although, he adds, ''I don't even remember him paying!''

The morning after the premiere, under the headline ''Hero Massaged to Death,'' The El Paso Herald Post reviewed the film, generously noting that ''perhaps by scrapping the soundtrack and running it with subtitles or dubbing in Esperanto, it could be promoted as a foreign art film of some sort or other.'' After a limited run at the Capri and a few showings at West Texas drive-ins, Manos: The Hands of Fate was dead. Hal Warren had won his bet, but lost his dream of cinematic immortality. And then, a funny thing happened on the way to the graveyard.

More than 25 years later, writers for a Minneapolis-based television show called Mystery Science Theater 3000 were sifting through a box of tapes sent from Comedy Central headquarters in New York City. MST3K specialized in showing really bad movies complete with a running gag commentary courtesy of a comedian (Joel Hodgson) and his two robot pals. But even they weren't prepared for what lay in store for them on the tape marked Manos. ''We started watching it, and had never seen anything like that,'' says Mike Nelson, head writer at the time. ''We kept saying to ourselves, There is no way we can do this movie, it is just too bizarre. But we finally decided, No, we must bring this to the world.'' On Jan. 30, 1993, Manos was not only back from the dead but playing to a nationwide TV audience. A new generation of fans — okay, a first generation of fans — was born.