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John’s Old School Horror Corner: The Manitou (1978), perhaps the most preposterously awesome thing ever made

November 23, 2013

MY CALL:  This was utterly preposterous awesomeness!  A woman births an evil 400-year old Native American dwarf medicine man from a giant tumor and this movie is taken (somewhat) 100% seriously.  My diagnosis:  100% AWESOME!  MOVIES LIKE Manitou:  Some would say The Exorcist (1973), but I beg to differ.  There’s really nothing like this.  Not even close.

[BRACES YOURSELVES, FOLKS. YOU’RE IN FOR A BIG RANT…]

This movie isn’t puling any punches from this ludicrous boxing match between Manitou and refined cinematic taste.  In the very first scene doctors are discussing a patient’s tumor, which is growing at the absolutely impossible rate of 7.3mm per hour.

Yeah! Scary fast!

This brings me to my first over-thought geek rant…  Just to be clear, assuming a linear growth rate, that means it’s the size of a golf ball in 6 hours, the size of a baseball in 10 hours, and the size of a basketball in about 34 hours.  Where is this tissue coming from?  What is this patient eating!?!  To add to this nonsense, when we meet our patient Karen (Susan Strasberg; Mazes and Monsters), the tumor is the size of a golf ball and she says she’s had it for 3 days.  Now, I’m no mathematician.  But I think these doctors forgot to “carry the 1” or something when they came up with this frightening tumor growth rate.  By their calculations this tumor would be over 500mm in diameter after 3 days.  That’s half a meter!  Her entire body could fit into a tumor of 0.5m diameter.  STEP ONE: fire these doctors, take away their medical licenses and if they fall back on teaching let’s keep them away from the math curriculum.  Despite this academic shortcoming, when one doctor refers to checking “the books on tumors” the other doctor says (and I shit you not) “I wrote them.”

Seeking comfort Karen calls her ex-boyfriend Harry, a psychic hack played by Academy Award nominee Tony Curtis.  How Tony Curtis got here, I have no clue. I’m guessing he just wandered on set and went with it.  To get a second opinion about her tumor, Harry uses his Tarot cards–but it may as well have been a Magic 8-ball.  “Outlook not good.”

Here’s Tony Curtis dancing…just because.

When Karen goes under the knife to have the tumor removed, the “tumor” possesses Karen who then utters some incomprehensible sorcerous hisses which in turn compel the surgeon to try to cut off his own hand with a scalpel.  Oh, but that’s not all.  Next the tumor possesses one of Harry’s psychic-swallowing lonely old lady clients, makes her do a rain dance in his living room, then levitates her and drops her down some stairs.  Why?  No clue.  I guess the tumor just found her to be a threat.  In my opinion old ladies are really only a threat in terms of receiving lousy service tips in restaurants, uncomfortably long stories about the line at the bank, photographs of their grandchildren (or cats, if they don’t have grandchildren), and ugly homemade Christmas sweaters as gifts.

Yes. That is the Manitou’s spirit head at the center of the table.

Oh, but the plot thickens.  The doctor who “wrote the books on tumors” now says the tumor is a fetus.  In an attempt to link the tumor-fetus to the recent possessed mutterings of Karen and the old lady, Harry turns to Amelia, his psychic mentor.  They perform a séance to find answers and it turns out that the tumor-fetus represents a Manitou, the immortal spirit of a 400-year old Native American medicine man.  To learn more they seek the man “who wrote the book” on Manitous, anthropologist Dr. Snow (Burgess Meredith; Rocky I-III, Twilight Zone: The Movie).

So far this movie includes characters who “wrote the books on tumors” and “wrote the book on Manitous” and they are within reasonable driving distance.  Go figure.  Even weirder is that both Tony Curtis and Burgess Meredith are in this zany movie, and not for virtue of a sound script!  Between the two of them I’d guess that a few big favors were cashed in to make this movie happen.

Oh, yeah.  Check out this dude’s hair–and the braids on the side!  Yup…he seems LEGIT!

Anyway, our resident Manitou expert can’t offer much help, just a lot of trivia.  So after trying medicine, psychics and anthropologists, they now turn to a Native American medicine man.  This is one hell of a supportive story arc.  Normally you just briefly go from some initially doubtful source (e.g., the police, an expert in the field, or video surveillance equipment a la Paranormal Activity) to some sort of paranormal/supernatural expert (e.g., Poltergeist, Insidious, The Conjuring) who carries the remainder of the story.  Here, the story is more about finding someone to help than it is about the problem itself.  I just hope that whatever Native American they find “wrote the book” on all things medicine man!

Harry finds John Singing Rock on a reservation.  From Singing Rock we learn that being a Manitou is a lot like being in Dragonball Z.  This medicine man is in his 4th or 5th reincarnation, becoming more powerful with each incarnation.  By number 8 he’d become so powerful he’d join Gitche Manitou, a God that sounds a lot like the Dragonball Dragon God.  So, evidently, a medicine man lives, dies, becomes a Manitou and gets tougher, then returns to life stronger, dies again, gets tougher again, then returns to life yet stronger yet again… Yup, a lot like Dragonball.  I wonder what kind of power score he maxes out at.

“Yeah, bro. Like I said. 4th or 5th incarnation!”

Well this Manitou has been around the block a few times because Singing Rock says this is the toughest medicine man of all time…which doesn’t make total sense.  Clearly there were tougher ones, otherwise how would you know about the 8th incarnation melding with Gitche Manitou?  I’d assume that folklore was based on at least one dude who did it.  Maybe our Manitou is the toughest who hasn’t hit 8 yet…like the 8th incarnation gang has retired and this one is the toughest one going after the title right now.  Or maybe none have yet.  In either case, this is basically the Dragonball Turtle Hermit of Manitou medicine men.  And no one wants to mess with that!

Now THAT is a Manitou!

Anyway, our Manitou tumor fetus gets big…like hunchback big!  It pulsates as Karen writhes in agony until it pulls itself free like a slimy newborn foal.  Man, does this thing look ugly.  It’s a naked, slimy, bloody dwarf.  It must weigh 80-100 pounds.  And here’s my second “biology lesson” rant… This thing that just crawled out of this woman is big.  It takes about 285-300 calories a day for nine months (that’s 77,000+ calories) to fully develop a human fetus—[That’s right.  Only about 300 calories a day.  So YES, your wife IS taking advantage of her pregnancy and NO an extra 1000 calories a day isn’t necessary to ensure a healthy baby.  Eating for two?  Yes.  But one of them starts out smaller than a pin head and rarely exceeds 10% the size of mom.].  But to make a 100 pound Manitou, Karen had to feed it with something!  It wasn’t 800,000 calories of body fat (i.e., adipose tissue).  Anyway, those triglycerides have only carbon, oxygen and hydrogen—nothing else.  She’d also look a lot more wiry after losing about 200 pounds (~800,000 calories)!  Maybe the director just cut the scenes of Karen eating the entirety of a Chinese Buffet for $6.99.  Now  you might say “shut up, John, it’s just magic!”  But why then does it develop as a fetus inside of a woman!?!

That Manitou is like…REALLY NAKED!

For all the big talk, this Manitou doesn’t seem too terribly tough once he’s “hatched.”  He animates a dead guy into a zombie that is easily dispatched and he summons a lizard demon that does nothing more than knock a doctor unconscious.  The Manitou seemed tougher before he was born.  He was making people cut themselves, possessing people and throwing them down stairs and controlling dangerous surgical lasers.  But then, all of the sudden, the Manitou is quaking the entire building!  Why not just start with that.  Wait…what’s that, Singing Rock?  Well, now it’s summoning the Devil!  Not sure why.  But it is!

So how do they defeat the Manitou?  Well, evidently every machine also has its own Manitou.  Don’t look at me!  That’s what Singing Rock said!  So they decide to use the entirety of the hospital’s machinery.  So Singing Rock asks the machines for help, the machines run hot and get all smoky, they infuse Karen (who is now topless for no reason at all) with Mantiou Dragonball power, and Karen laser blasts that naughty Manitou to Native American Hell–which I imagine is a failing casino on a reservation somewhere in South Dakota.  This long finale feels like an acid trip fueled by deep-seeded mania.

A snowstorm indoors…just because.

Regarding this finale, let me just say… You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a buck naked Susan Strassberg on a floating bed shooting colorful cartoon laser beams from her Jazz Hands at a demonic afterbirth-entrenched midget in an extradimensional outer space setting.  It’s as if the filmmakers wanted to combine the space sequences from Flash Gordon with the demonic possession scenes from The Exorcist and then add a dash of Saturday Night Fever.

Is it just me? Or does this Manitou look like he’d talk like Rocky?

Look, despite all my rants I know this is just a horror movie.  And we could find a lot of other flaws to dissect and pick at.  I’m just having my fun.  And this movie was just that; LOADS Of FUN!

So watch and enjoy the evil Mini-Me medicine man tumor baby’s transcendence and defeat.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. November 23, 2013 9:57 am

    Looks like an awesome ending!

    • johnleavengood permalink
      November 24, 2013 7:02 pm

      Do yourself a favor. Find this, watch this, LOVE this preposterous nonsense.

  2. David permalink
    March 21, 2014 1:52 pm

    Unsure how a shlock medium, who specializes in fleecing old ladies who float down stairways, played by Tony Curtis has a mentor that is an actual psychic with real skills…but the writers felt that this was a leap of faith that the viewers would accept. The only victim in this movie seems to be the clueless, reincarnated dwarf who wrongly chose to be reborn on the back of an out of work actress (or she would be soon after the poor reviews were posted). The dwarf seems clueless of how to remain unseen and survive his eigth incarnation long enough to make it to something that resembles a sequel where he can face the combined Manitou of Tron, Galaga, and Space Invaders. The gratuitous nudity, eerie green glow of the seance, and the non-defrosted icebox effects were wasted when this whole story could have been shot with a much lower budget on an actual Indian Reservation using no-name actors (who would not have to apologize for their lack of talent) using a Blair Witch Project style of shooting. The end result would have had a greater impact on the market and perhaps less collateral damage to the Hollywood actors’ future careers.

    • johnleavengood permalink
      March 21, 2014 9:56 pm

      HAHAHA! The combined Manitou of Tron, Galaga and Space Invaders would be impervious even to the apparently irresistible power of topless intergalactic laser blasts…and Galaga need not apologize for ANYTHING, whereas Tony Curtis was likely haunted by this role for decades! A brilliant supposition indeed, David.

  3. Victor De Leon permalink
    February 24, 2015 5:54 pm

    Gotta forward this review to my boy, The Black Saint over at HorrorNews.Net. He is completely bonkers over this film. He loves it to no end. Great post! I love catching this flick at least once a year around October. The movie is so off the wall and insanely goofy. Love the pics you found. Awesome work!

    • John Leavengood permalink
      February 25, 2015 9:45 am

      Thanks, Vic. This was both a pleasure to watch and to write. Pure horror insanity.

  4. February 24, 2015 6:29 pm

    My good buddy Vic forwarded this 2 me, and I gotta say that despite all that I know about this flick, I never thought 2 calculate Misquemacus’ rate of growth! I think this is the greatest film ever made (seriously), & I love reading new takes on it like yours. U understand that if nothing else, The Manitou is just a helluva fun way to kill 90 minutes or so. A lot of people write it off as silliness (actually they’re not wrong), but it’s so much more than that – it’s entertainment without comparison! One hasn’t really lived until they see Tony Curtis dancing in far too tight slacks as he listens to what sounds like outtakes from Lalo Schifrin’s ENTER THE DRAGON score. Thanks 4 keeping my favorite evil 400 yr. old Indian medicine man alive!

    BTW, here’s the link to our Decades Of Horror podcast extolling the virtues of this, the greatest film ever produced! Hope u enjoy listening!
    http://www.decadesofhorror/the-manitou-1978-episode-9-decades-of-horror-1970s/

    • John Leavengood permalink
      February 25, 2015 9:49 am

      Keep your 400 yr. old Indian medicine man alive, I will!!!

      In fact, commenter “David” [above] is a co-worker whom I proselytized to this film’s fanfare thus ushering Misquemacus into his 8th incarnation joining Gitche Manitou! LOL

Trackbacks

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  3. John’s Horror Corner: Altered States (1980), an intellectual mix of body horror, intense psychological horror and a wacky ending. | Movies, Films & Flix
  4. John’s Horror Corner: Def By Temptation (1990), an entertaining B-movie about a demonic temptress. | Movies, Films & Flix
  5. John’s Horror Corner: The Brood (1979), Cronenberg’s approach to metaphysics, evil children and modern psychology. | Movies, Films & Flix

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