The US bicentennial celebrations in 1976 seemed to awaken a few thoughts about the Native American indigenous people, and inspired the use of that specific culture as the background for William Gridler’s horror film. Establishing his eccentric bona fides early with Tony Curtis as a disco-dancing fake spiritualist, Gridler sets up one strange scene after another to deliver a battered package of horror goods.
Adapted from Graham Masterton’s novel, The Manitou is set in San Francisco, and re-hashes a number of scenes familiar from The Omen and The Exorcist, but the Native American concepts are interesting enough to create a unique flavour. Harry Erskine (Curtis) is a con-man, but develops some kind of faith when his girlfriend Karen Tandy (Susan Strasberg) develops a huge lump/hump/thing on the back of her neck. Medical science steps back in amazement when scans reveal a centuries old Indian medicine man growing inside, and attempts to use scalpels and lazers to remove the unwanted growth lead to predictably nasty demises. Even Erskine’s paying customers take to levitating and flinging themselves down his stairs, and things jump up a notch when The Manitou finally arrives and moves the game to another dimension. All Curtis can do is chuck an electric typewriter at the strange entity, known as Misquamacus, a word that Curtis’s Brooklyn drawl regularly mis-pronounces as Mixmaster.
Being stuck in traffic behind a large yellow agricultural machine labelled Manitou reminded me to take another look at this opus; you might come to scoff, but the film is held together not by Curtis and his eccentric light-comedy stylings, but by Michael Ansara as the shamanic guide John Singing Rock. Chiding Erskine for the damage that has been done to his people over history, this Native American character not only talks the talk when it comes to the occult, he walks the walk. Even when Karen’s hospital turns into an ice-cave, her hospital room becomes a portal to another dimension, and Karen herself starts firing lightning bolts from her fingertips, John Singing Rock keeps his head and keeps things on track to deliver a satisfying fire-ball flinging finale.
The Manitou is fondly remembered by those who saw it in ’78, and the camp value has only increased over the years. The trailer below covers most of the salient points; Burgess Meredith has a ‘special appearance’ as an occult expert, but really, there’s no space for another eccentric turn in a film chock full of them, with resonant ideas ravaged from Native American traditions then poorly integrated into the silliest of Hollywood idea soups. And yet, over the decades, there’s something about the Manitou which has stuck with me, a Manitou for All Seasons perhaps. This film is hard to find, but a glimpse of the trailer below should tell you all you need to know about this rich, gamey cinematic one-off.
Bahaha! “A manitou for all seasons”. Good one!
This film looks like a Grand Dame of camp horror. The trailer was a treat in itself!
All the key points are in the trailer, but the film unfolds them with some majesty…
I saw this when I was in grade school on Showtime back in the late 70s. The old lady floating down the hall scene scared the living shit out of me. Yet, I was a little horror movie nerd and loved it despite that. I guess I was a weird kid because I kind of liked the rush from being scared by a movie. Real life scares were a different story.
Yes, the old flaoty woman was a good moment, and seems to have echoes in Haunting of Hill House. Nice to hear I’m not the only one who got a thrill from this movie!
“What does a white man want with Indian magic?” 🤠
There is a real-life tumor that actually grows a face and teeth, etc; it might need some ironing . . . fraggle are you up for the job? Mr. Bookstooge won’t touch it. I thought parts of this looked funny, in an entertainment sense. The star room at the end of the trailer is what makes this film work ( yes, I haven’t watched the movie yet and I already know 🤣 )
I think you’re thinking of dermoid cysts which grow teeth and hair but have to be removed as they can become nasty with infection, (done a few back in my operating theatre days) so ironing them not really a great solution, too messy.
I am so proud to have a discussion about ironing cysts on my blog, and salute you all.
Ha ha, my specially crafted flute sits on the bench today and the irony . . . well, irons.
An oddity at the time – even by Tony Curtis standards – but the Native American angle was fascinating at the time and interest in that area has grown with time. I might even be tempted to check it out again.
Even odder than The Erotic Adventures of Casanova, more vintage Curtis
Horror=Nope for this guy. Not even funny horror.
And “things” growing on peoples’ necks is gross enough in text that I can’t imagine actually looking at it.
What if Michael Caine burst out? Would that change things?
Now you’ve put me in a Sword of Damocles situation.
I guess it would depend on how good the snacks were at the place I was watching it. So, got any good snacks at your place? That Psychic Grandma hasn’t absconded with I mean.
Just in the supermarket right now, what do you need?
Thin crust pepperoni pizza. With extra cheese. And some egg nog.
That’s what I got for you! Haggis topping?
No thankyou. No Delta Force operators to bribe today. It’s their day off.
This is a horror? The trailer is funny as …. so maybe a comedy-horror? Either way, nope.
If you don’t want a disco comedy about a centuries old medicine man bursting out of a neck, what do you want? What are you holding out for that’s better than this?
I’m holding out for a hero ’till the end of the night,he’s gotta be strong, and he’s gotta be fast and he’s gotta be fresh from the fight.
ahhh, a fellow Shrek aficionado!
Yes, and Michael Caine as King Harold, can’t go wrong can we?
Ahh, if only Cain had been King. Then all would be all right in Far Far Away…
Well he was always Cain, but not necessary able…. (I’ll get me coat…😊)
I’m guessing there is a clever word play there? It went straight over my head.
And while I didn’t mind Cleese as the King, I don’t like Cleese, so just knowing it was him made it less good.
Caine would have been the right choice.
and I just got it. Cain and Able. sigh.
So a Bonnie Tyler song? Or Jim Steinman?
He co-wrote and produced it, she sang it – done for the Footloose movie originally, ah them wer’t days.
Good song. Was the theme for Cover Up, old tv show on the Bbc back in the 80’s. Like Tyler, like Steinman, yup from me…
Interesting how Native American horror seemed to become a bit of a horror fad at this time. Wolfen, The Prophecy, and Nightwing all came out around the same time as this. But none of these movies were big hits and that angle never became established.
I’m working on a review of Audrey Rose, from 77 and dealing with re-incarnation and Hindu-ism. .My theory is that horror films were turned into a number of different belief systems, as a way of dealing with what was something of a spiritual crisis at the time. This one seems to have done quite a bit more business than I’d thought….
Looking forward to that. Sounds like an interesting take!
With Christmas cancelled, I figured this was the right time….