By Art Cosgrove
Life gets weird when you grow up on the big screen. It can be even weirder when you grow up in the imaginations of a cult of fans who have created their own myths around you.
That’s all OK for artist, actor, filmmaker, writer and podcaster Jackey Neyman Jones. She likes to keep things weird.
Born in El Paso, Texas, to Tom Neyman — an artist, actor and dreamer — Jones traveled an odd childhood path at age 6 when she was conscripted to act in a film that also would star her father. The film was “Manos: the Hands of Fate,” and Jones played little Debbie, an unsuspecting child on vacation with her parents. Her father, Tom, played “the Master,” one of the most enduring characters of B-movie lore.
After the film was completed, featuring additional acting by Jones’ actual pet dog and costume design by her mom, it instantly — almost literally — disappeared into the vapor of public domain anonymity. After only one screening, it disappeared for over 25 years until a 1993 episode of the cult television classic (recently revived by Netflix, no less) “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (MST3K) mocked it so relentlessly that the film became a sensation.
“It has pretty much held the title of worst movie ever made since 1993,” says Jones.
The film’s charm lies in its mix of bizarre cult horror with odd directorial and editing choices. It’s almost like they knew in 1966 that the film would be best enjoyed with an audio track of people making fun of it.
“Turns out there was quite a bit of ‘Manos’ mythology floating around because nobody knew anything, so they just made it up,” says Jones about its 1990s resurgence.
Since then, a cottage industry of “Manos”-related games, fan fiction, films, toys and pretty much anything else brandable, has sprung up. There are “Manos” games for iOS and Android, board games, an all-puppet remake, at least two unauthorized sequels and enough merchandise to power a convention.
“People were really interested because the real story is way more interesting than what they were making up,” says Jones. So she wrote a book about it, released in 2016 to coincide with the original film’s 50th anniversary, called “Growing Up With ‘Manos the Hands of Fate.’ ”
Going to conventions, screenings of “Manos” and making appearances to sign her book, Jones came across all manner of fans of the Master. Mostly, people share a love of B movies and the MST3K brand of humor and nostalgia.
“I’m an artist, always have been, and I’m self-employed, so the ‘Mystery Science Theater’ community suits me perfectly,” says Jones of the legions of fans, filmmakers and cult-film lovers who have flocked to see her at events and become partners in her artistic escapades. “We get each other.”
After settling in Falls City and falling in love with Oregon, Jones continued her art career, painting and pursuing acting opportunities. She also cultivated a longtime love of cannabis, becoming a grower along with nearly everyone else in her small town.
“I’ve just seen so much healing, and if I had a whole other life, that’s what I’d do,” says Jones about her fondness for cannabis. She likens it to growing grapes for wine, another industry in which she’s dabbled in the past.
“Along the way, I’ve met the most interesting people and invited them into my projects and been invited into theirs,” says Jones.
One of those road-born collaborations was meeting “Manos” fans Tonija Atomic, Rachel Jackson and Joe Sherlock, filmmakers from Seattle-Tacoma and Corvallis areas. Together, they mounted a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a sequel.
“Manos Returns” was filmed in Falls City and Dallas, Ore., and brought together former stars of the original, their children and, most importantly, both Jones and her father, Tom, in what would be his last performance before dying in November 2016. The film made its world premiere in May at the Crypticon horror convention in Seattle.
“Most important to me was my dad, the Master, and getting him the opportunity to feel the love from the fans,” says Jones of getting her father to reprise his role in the sequel, “and he had a blast. He just loved it.”
Jones has a full schedule appearing at conventions and film festivals. She also hosts a podcast, “Jackey’s Hand of Horror,” which airs every two weeks and is co-hosted by Jackson and Atomic. “Manos: the Debbie Chronicles,” from Pulsar Entertainment, is an upcoming comic-book series she co-created that follows the continuing adventures of her character.
It may sound like a hectic schedule, but for Jones, the weird, wild world of fun and horror is a family tradition.