“Its like an ugly dog, you gotta love it.” Hotel Torgo is an amazing short documentary on what some consider to be the worst film ever made (always a contentious issue), Manos! The Hands of Fate (cue reverberated booming voice). Manos, directed and produced by a fertilizer salesman in Texas in the ’60s, tries to tell the story of a family on a road trip in Texas who soon become trapped at a lodge by a polygamous satanic cult. That’s basically it. The film easily storms into terrible territory as the director really had no idea what he was doing (but nonetheless had some maniacal director moments on the set to assure everyone he really was an auteur). Hotel Torgo attempts to explore this film, how and why in God’s name it was made in the first place and the subsequent reception of it years later into cult status. The film even finds a Manos historian, Richard Brandt, to detail the production and background of the film. Of Manos, Brandt says “some had claimed to have seen it, … but it was just a low-budget picture that had disappeared.”
Adding to the mystery behind the film was the death or disappearances of nearly all the cast and crew–save one: Bernie Rosenblum. Bernie, a gruff man with a smokers’ voice, goes on to share some hilarious and disastrous stories about the production of the film. And while the tales of maniacal director Hal Warren’s incompetence, or the disastrous production itself are fun, Bernie steals the doc through sheer, overwhelming personality.
Bernie, who had adopted more than 19 jobs for the production, has an incredible ability to always drive the story to some sexual incident on the set as if he’s surprised he’s even telling it. In one scene, in particular, he repeats a detailed description of how the female cult members had attacked him while he was shooting and started “grabbing my balls, grabbing my dick, so I said ‘what are you doing to my balls?!'” The stories are told with a questionable sincerity, but nonetheless endearing.
The film was rediscovered as it were through an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and has since found its way into cult status in universities and underground screenings all over. The film documents one such screening at the University of Texas El Paso, reuniting for the first time Bernie with the film and an audience. Bernie, both excited and confused at the newfound reception of the film, goes along for the ride and soaks up every moment of attention he can get. Simultaneously a character study on Bernie and an investigation into why films like this attract such attention, Hotel Torgo is a great documentary on one of the worst films ever made. (James King).
Dir. James LaFleur, Marco Pazzano, Aaron Allard