Monday, February 14, 2011

It's Notta Too-mah!

I’m not going to lie: about 84% of the reason why I’m writing about The Manitou is so that I could use my favorite Ahnold line ever in the title for this post. 10% comes from the fact that the titular baddie of this film is petite, hence fitting with February’s Vertically Challenged Villainry. Finally, the remaining 6% comes from the following synopsis:

When Karen (Susan Strasberg) tries to have a tumor removed, she discovers it's actually the deformed fetus of an ancient Native American shaman ready to be reincarnated. Soon, the evil spirit bursts forth, and Karen turns to a sham psychic (Tony Curtis) and a contemporary medicine man (Michael Ansara) for a showdown with the murderous creature. Stella Stevens, Burgess Meredith and Jon Cedar co-star in this campy chiller.

Deformed Native American shaman fetuses AND Burgess Meredith? Life, you are a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Quick Plot: Pretty much what I just said. Susan Strasberg plays Karen, a normal by most means woman who just HAPPENS to discover a fetus growing on the back of her neck. The doctors aren’t much help (though at least they avoid being administrators) so she runs back into the arms of her bogus (but well-dressed) psychic ex-boyfriend, played by Tony Curtis. His name is Harry, which is easy to remember because he has his very own tagline: Harry’s the name and Tarot’s the game. Rock. On.

As Karen’s little surprise grows bigger and her talents expand to speaking a tribal language, it becomes universally accepted that she’s actually some form of surrogate mother to a manitou, i.e., the reincarnation of a Native American medicine man. This is a rare ailment probably taught in the final semester of med school, where wily young folks are too hung over while coasting through senioritis and don't have the time to say 'what the f-"

So what does one do upon discovering that one will be birthing an ancient spirit on the back of one’s neck? Abortion is apparently off the table, as an attempted surgical removal turns the doctor’s scalpel into a weapon of self-destruction. Research seems limiting (“after that, it just goes into rain dances,” bemoans a frustrated study buddy). Harry starts shopping around Native Americans, settling on John Singing Rock to perform an exorcism of sorts (because, you know, it’s the 1970s and all genre films were legally required to include one). All he asks for in return is $100,000 donated to the Indian Education Association. Plus tobacco. I probably would have tried to throw in some popcorn balls or movie passes, but that’s why I’m not a seer.

I don’t know how far I should go in recapping the magic of The Manitou. If you like Star Wars, you will eventually rejoice at the sight of space lasers. If you like The Exorcist, you will drool at seeing a kind-of exorcism. There are also boobs and fake snow. A giant hologram that makes every episode of Sightings look positively horrifying. Spontaneous combustion. Lines like “I’m just a South Dakota Indian with a bag of tricks.”
Oh, and one of February’s most exciting Vertically Challenged Villains ever, a little person Native American who spends more time in the gym than Ahhhnold during his pre-Kindergarten Cop days. 

Need I say more?
High/Low Points
Much like the equally laughable The Devil Within Her, The Manitou’s strength and weakness comes primarily from just how seriously it insists on taking itself. The fact that poor Tony Curtis can deliver his lines with so much earnestness is simply hilarious
Lessons Learned
Say it with me: whatever you do, don’t be an administrator
The best way to rekindle romance is to be impregnated in the back by a Native American medicine man

Duh, like, every machine has its own manitou!
I don’t know that the following is any form of a lesson, but The Manitou seems so gosh darn intent on telling it over the end credits that I feel as though I MUST include the epiologue:
Fact: Tokyo, Japan, 1969: A 15-year-old boy developed what is doctors thought was a tumor in his chest. The larger it grew, the more uncharacteristic it appeared. Eventually, it proved to be a human fetus.

The Manitou is one of those 1970s relics that simply can’t be explained. It must be experienced. It has virtually everything you’ve ever wanted to see onscreen, plus an inconsistent sore and floating elderly possessed woman. I can’t for the life of my cats understand why anybody that breathes would NOT want to watch this film. You do breathe, right?


  1. I saw this many years ago - not as good as the book but still lots of fun. It was also the first time I ever saw Tony Curtis in anything.

  2. I'm quite curious to read the book. The story is so ridiculous, but I can see it working on the page whereas on's hysterical.

  3. Apparently the author, Graham Masterton, wrote several Manitou books, with such titles as MANITOU BLOOD, REVENGE OF THE MANITOU, and DON'T MESS WITH MY MANITOU-TOU. (Okay, I made one of those up.) He also wrote several sex books with variations on the title "How to Drive Your Woman Wild in Bed"--I imagine one of his techniques involves making love to the back of the neck.

    Wait, would that be "Date Nape"?

    Anyway, I love THE MANITOU. There's really not another movie like it, and the fact that it includes a doddering and legitimately lost Merideth along with a never-overacted-more Curtis is just icing. I love it when big name actors go slumming, esp. when they do so unapologetically, as Curtis does here. Fun stuff, and that's even before we consider the lasers!

    Great review as usual!

  4. Date Nape is a Lifetime original movie just waiting to happen. It's an issue so many college freshmen deal with and feel so very ashamed for experiencing. Good on Graham Masterton to show them they are not alone.

    Curtis just gives it all here, and that's a beautiful thing. I see myself tuning on that disco relax-at-home sequence many a time in the future when I experience the blues. It's just glorious.

    And then there are LASERS!

  5. Yes, the novel really works, unapologetically going for ridiculously pulpy horror and succeeding. I liked Curtis at the end, something like "Mixmaster, who do you think you are?!"

  6. Teehee. I'm totally adding it to my library queue (and of course, envisioning Curtis inside the pages the entire time).