Creature Feature Saturday: The Manitou (1977)

Question: How can a movie that stars such great talents as Tony Curtis, Burgess Meredith, and Stella Stevens be a bomb? You’d have to work really hard at it and I guess they did because The Manitou is a mess.

It starts off with a good idea. The movie is based on a best selling novel by “The Hunger” author Graham Masterton, and it actually has some really cool plot points. Only trouble is, those great plot points are diluted in a sea of strangeness.

Karen Tandy (Susan Strasberg) has a problem. Seems she’s got this lump growing on the back of her neck and it moves. Yeah, moves. Her doctors (Jon Cedar and Paul Mantee) discover that it’s more fetus than tumor but their attempts to remove the thing don’t fare all that well. Discouraged by the fact that she’s developed mid-term spinal pregnancy, Karen turns to her old friend Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis, Some Like it Hot), a sham fortune teller and his friend Amelia, a retired sham fortune teller (Stella Stevens, The Poseidon Adventure).

Because there aren’t already enough people involved in this mess, they call on the help of the blustery Dr. Snow (Burgess Meredith, Batman) who leads them to (finally!) the one guy who actually knows what’s going on, Indian medicine man, John Singing Rock (Michael Ansara).

Mr. Singing Rock believes that Karen is playing host to a rather cranky 400-year-old Manitou (an Indian spirit) who is looking to wreak havoc on the world. Though it’s never clearly explained, I think the Manitou was cranky and out for revenge because they made him star in this movie.

Much of the strangeness comes from Tony Curtis and the character of Harry. Most of his scenes are played for laughs and while I totally love the mix of comedy in horror films, in this movie it doesn’t work at all. Actually, it’s Curtis who doesn’t work at all. Great actor that he is, he just wanders through this movie. He has no conviction whatsoever and his great desire to save Karen is totally unbelievable.

The second problem is the bizarre mix of supernatural sequences. We have Harry’s Tarot card readings, floating old ladies, a séance (?), and the ability turn inanimate objects against people – none of which have anything to do with Indian lore. And the ending? Oh, just wait until I get there.

Like all good horror movies, there is plenty of blood splatter and innocents getting sent to their death and watching that creature writing and wriggle its way out of Karen’s neck bump sure is creepy. The birth of the Manitou and the few scenes that follow are actually pretty good if you can get past the fact that the evil being looks like a slightly taller version of the Zuni fetish from Trilogy of Terror. Misquamacas is one nasty little bugger and even the spirit of the great Gitche Manitou cannot contain him.

Oh, what will they do?

I’ll tell you what they’ll do. They’ll screw up any chance they had of keeping this movie on track by adding in a horrendous green screen effect of Karen’s hospital bed floating through space while she shoots fireballs out of her hands. No. I’m not kidding.

Seriously. What were they thinking? Apparently, in the UK version of the novel, the Manitou is killed by a venereal disease. I’m sorry, but how much cooler would that have been?!

It is said that all things, even inanimate objects have a manitou. Well, you can easily contain this DVD’s manitou by simply leaving the shrink-wrap intact. No way that sucker’s getting loose.

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