In Memory of Actor Tom Neyman – “Manos: The Hands of Fate”
“You know, there are certain flaws in this film.” Tom Servo, January 30, 1993.
Tom Neyman has passed away. You may not recognize that name, but chances are, if you’re any kind of cinematic fan whatsoever, you’ve seen his work in one very specific place. Unfortunately, it was a movie directed by a slick talking Texas fertilizer salesman.
I was introduced to Neyman as “The Master” in the 1966 independent cult classic horror film, “Manos: The Hands of Fate” through the artistry and satirical account it was given by “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (available from Shout! Factory) in their January 30, 1993 airing of the obscure and forgotten film. The strange, totally unpredictable movie is unbalanced in every way. The editing is impossibly choppy and difficult to understand, the script doesn’t really account for why, who, how, when and especially what is supposed to be going on. With long pauses in conversation where characters will simply look at each other for what seems like an eternity, before replying with a single sentence or word, the dialogue of both characters is often done in studio by the same person, so it’s as if the characters are talking in the exact voice. The redundant title of the movie (since “manos” and “hands” are fatefully the same thing) is also a cause of confusion, or a cause for greater appreciation, depending on how you view it.
Neyman’s character is a monster, or a zombie, or most likely a vampire deity, or maybe none of the above. He is a robed, pasty character with a servant (Torgo) that was supposed to be half man/half goat, or a saytr, but instead just had the look of a man with giant, uncontrollable thighs and legs, due to the metal rigs that Neyman had built in an effort to make his legs look like cloven hooves. The lost family who stumbles upon the Master’s deep wooded home are, for whatever reason, expecting to stay overnight uninvited and without paying. I’ll stop with the explanation of the storyline, because there isn’t one that will make sense.
Through the years, the incredibly low budget film garnered a following among Generation X and others with cult-like appeal. What started as a collective laughable disgust amassed a somewhat “Rocky Horror Picture Show” appeal that led to a theater production, a documentary short film called “Hotel Torgo” which deserves to be seen by fandom of the movie, fan-fiction, a director’s cut release (but not really), a restoration of the original film, an adapted novel, a release of the original soundtrack, a RiffTrax Live application to the film, a tumblr podcast, an adult coloring book, a sequel, a “Very Manos Christmas Special“and a video game from “FreakZone Games.” Now, the restoration is being made on HD Blu-Ray.
What made Neyman such a figure of fascination was he and his family’s embrace of the film’s cult status and the fanbase in which it gained favor. He was actually one of the first from the film’s cast and crew to see the film on Comedy Central, as it aired on MST3K in 1993. Many would be quick to dismiss the fans as simply mocking the work, but there is a respect for the entertainment quality that was – albeit unintentional – achieved. Neiman’s daughter, Jackey Raye Neyman-Jones, who played the little girl in the film, still has a website dedicated to her experience with the movie and interactions with the fans. You can see it here.
Neyman’s legacy wasn’t ripe with a litany of cinematic accomplishment, nor will he grace the cover of the popular entertainment magazines. He did, however, make an impact that is noteworthy, a huge piece of the puzzle in what was my favorite bad movie. An entertaining and fascinating achievement that not many independent film stars can proclaim. Neyman’s life wasn’t easy. He lost his father, an airline pilot, when he was only 18 months old. He often had tol live with family in other states.
Sadly, there’s no one to take care of the place, now that the Master is away.