Widely considered one of the worst films, Harold P. Warren’s Manos: The Hands of Fate might have remained buried were it not for Mystery Science Theater 3000 using it in 1993. Since then it has become a cult film, largely thanks to one of its memorable characters, Torgo. Played by John Reynolds, Torgo is always walking uncomfortably, speaking nervously and being awkward and pervy around women — especially Margaret (Diane Mahree). He also serves a polygamous cult leader called The Master (Tom Neyman).

The Cult and Torgo

We don’t quite know what the cult is about, except that it serves the deity Manos, and Torgo has been hypnotized into following it. The question is, who is Torgo? He is enigmatic and always a little bit off. Honestly, I can relate to Torgo to some degree. I don’t share every aspect of his Torgo-ness, but I think we all have some of that from time to time. When the happy family first encounters him, he seems conflicted about everything he says and does. At the same time, it’s likely not just nervousness, or a traceable physical/mental problem grounding him. There’s a sense that life circumstances would have him in trouble, even were it not for The Master’s curse. He is, in effect, a tragic character, destined to never be fully understood or appreciated. In fact, The Master proves willing to sacrifice him like he’s nothing.

Yes, Torgo will always lack something, which is partly what makes him captivating. Though this film is often considered terrible, Torgo is by no means a dull character. His quaintness is one of the reasons for this film’s cult success. Sure, Manos: The Hands of Fate was actually made on a bet (seriously, look it up), but it’s become something weird people can enjoy, directed by a fertilizer salesman El Paso. You could say it’s the quirk that keeps on giving. In fact, eventually someone will come up with new ideas for Torgo, much like “MST3k” did by having him deliver pizza. There may be experiments similar to pairing The Wizard of Oz with Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. Personally, I think this movie could work well with Nine Inch Nail’s The Downward Spiral.

The Tragedy of John Reynolds

Unfortunately, John Reynolds died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound shortly before the film premiered, and it’s not publicly known why. Was he depressed? Did the production have something to do with it? Did he identify with Torgo a little too much? It may be considered tasteless to speculate on it in depth, so why bother? Suffice it to say Reynolds had a lasting impact on pop culture, as Manos: The Hands of Fate actually did (and still does) make some weirdos happy. While John Reynolds will forever be known for Torgo, there are worse things one can be known for. So here’s to Torgo!

What are your thoughts on Torgo and Manos: The Hands of Fate? Let us know in the comments!

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Wade Wanio is an author.

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