It all started with a bet, at least according to legend. An insurance salesman in the mid-1960s, Harold P. Warren, wagered Stirling Silliphant that he could make a popular horror movie for less than $20,000.
Today, of course, that would be easy to do with just an iPhone and a MacBook. But in the 1960s, many of these tools were found only with major Hollywood studios, and so Silliphant took that bet.
A year later, Warren had produced what is sometimes known as the “worst movie of all time,” and Silliphant would go on to win an Oscar for writing In the Heat of the Night. Yet, it’s Manos: The Hands of Fate many fans still talk about today – thanks to its reintroduction to audiences in a 1993 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 – and has enjoyed cult status ever since.
Despite the many myths surrounding the production – like many cast members dying mysteriously or by suicide soon after its limited release – those involved more than 50 years ago still talk about the film today. Including Jackey Neyman Jones.
She played the little girl Debbie in the production, while her father – Tom Neyman – was the bad guy, known as “The Master.” Jones was actually the only human in the film to be paid anything – she got a bicycle with training wheels. And her family’s dog earned a 50-pound bag of food.
For years before the film resurfaced in the 1990s, Jones’ told GeekNation her experience on Manos was nothing more than just a story she would share with friends about some crazy movie her family was a part of.
MST3K, she said, allowed her to reconnect with something she really enjoyed doing as a young child.
“If it was not for them, Manos would have disappeared forever. After the premiere, everybody scattered. Nobody talked about it. Me, as a little kid, it was the best time of my childhood, so I preserved the memories.
“But nobody talked about, no one ever saw the film again. I grew up telling stories to my friends about the funny move that I was in.”
All of that changed when the producers of MST3K, which ran on Comedy Central and Syfy for many of its 11 seasons, came across the movie and felt it would be perfect for its comedians to riff.
And it was.
The Manos episode is still considered a fan favorite, even today, and an entire community has grown from the Manos experience.
It’s a community Jones said she’s proud to be a part of. Like her parents, she would become an artist, and actually raised her family through her creations. The moment Manos entered the mainstream in the 1990s, so did the legends and myths. Because she was there, and because her father loved to share stories about it, Jones worked hard to set the record straight.
“The Internet was just taking off in 1993, and that was way before there was Facebook or any social media. But I started becoming aware of these conversations around this film, so I started chiming in. People started realizing who I was, and it began all these wonderful conversations.
“Through that and through all these wonderful people, it’s incredible the things I’ve been a part of, and the people I’ve been able to meet.”
In fact, she’s going to have a chance next month to finally meet Joel Hodgson, the creator of MST3K, and the lead actor with comedians Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy who first poked fun of the movie 24 years ago this weekend.
But it doesn’t mean they haven’t talked before all this – Hodgson also wrote the forward to Jones’ 2016 memoir, Growing Up With Manos: The Hands of Fate: How I Was the Child Star of the Worst Movie Ever Made, and Lived to Tell the Story.
Jones has never shied away from her participation in the project. In fact, she was part of a creative team that produced a sequel, Manos Returns, that featured not only her return, but also her father as The Master, and Diane Adelson has her mother. It was helmed by indie director Tonjia Atomic, and much like the 1966 film, was made on a shoestring budget.
Taking part in the project created new memories for Jones, especially with the chance to work with her father on a Manos project once again. Sadly, however, her father died last November after completing his work on the project.
And now Jones finds herself part of a new battle she never expected to be in. Joe Warren, the son of the film’s late director, recently filed an application with the U.S. government to trademark the Manos: The Hands of Fate name, and Jones and other fans are fighting against the move.
Manos, Jones said, is only relevant today because it’s been public domain, and not owned by anyone. Warren, however, tells GeekNation it’s not about money, but instead about his father’s legacy and the “protection of his work in the community.”
“From Day One, people have taken liberties on his work, and my responsibilities are to protect him in any way I can. After all, he’s my dad.”
GeekNation explores more about what could be a legal showdown over Manos: The Hands of Fate right here.
Story was updated to clarify the cable channels Mystery Science Theater 3000 appeared on.
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