Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Manitou (1978)

We all bitch and moan about the state of horror and the death of originality in Hollywood, but looking back on older flicks perhaps they had a bit too much creativity! Take, for example, the zany 1978 film The Manitou, which features, among other things, a midget medicine man, ghostly lizards (well, actually, someone dressed in a lizard costume), Tony Curtis dressed as a psychic, a levitating granny, Native American demons that look like a giant eye and lots of colorful, bright lasers!

The film starts with Karen (Susan Strasberg) visiting her doctor after discovering a fast-growing tumor on her neck. The doctors aren’t sure what to make of it, but it definitely looks like a fetus, so they schedule her for surgery. Concerned that the doctors aren’t telling her everything, Karen contacts her old flame Harry (Tony Curtis) for help. Harry is a psychic who scams little old ladies out of their money, one of the reasons why Karen left him. Nonetheless, Harry agrees to stand by her as she goes through the surgery…only it doesn’t go as planned. The doctors are unable to remove the growth because their scalpels are turned against them. Karen is moved to another room and monitored and Harry contacts some his psychic friends to hold a séance and find out if an evil spirit is behind Karen’s affliction. It turns out the evil spirit is none other than Misquamacas, a 400-year-old medicine man who plans on raising hell as soon as he’s reborn.

Harry visits an old professor (Burgess Meredith), who wrote something in a book about reincarnated medicine men, and he suggests that Harry hunt down his own medicine man to “fight fire with fire”. Harry tracks down John Singing Rock (Michael Ansara), who agrees to help him fight the evil medicine man.
When Misquamacas finally “hatches” from Karen, the real showdown begins…can Singing Rock and Harry save Karen and the world before it’s too late?

The Manitou is one crazy, over-the-top flick! The first half of the film starts off pretty solidly (who doesn’t love to watch Tony Curtis prance around pretending to be a psychic or watch a little old granny become possessed, speak in a Native American language and levitate before being tossed down a flight of stairs?) but the last half of the film, where the midget-sized medicine man is born, just devolves into pure schlock. I seriously question how any of the actors could take their roles so seriously when there were rogue lasers and ghostly lizards to deal with. How many takes did it take for them to act with a straight face?

The director behind the film, William Girdler (who also co-wrote the film), is behind such schlocky fare like Grizzly and Day of the Animals, but The Manitou is beyond bizarre. It takes a special kind of horror fan to really appreciate this odd and “out there” horror flick, but purveyors of the peculiar will no doubt enjoy The Manitou for its sheer strangeness.

Buy it on Amazon!

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