Movies You Love to Hate #2: The Manitou (1978)
Director: William Girdler
Cast: Tony Curtis, Susan Strasberg, Michael Ansara, Stella Stevens, Burgess Meredith, Jon Cedar, Ann Sothern
The 1978 horror movie The Manitou ends with a title card that reads: "Fact: Tokyo, Japan 1969. A fifteen-year-old boy developed what 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." It's not uncommon for a horror movie to claim that it's inspired by real events. You see that with a lot of modern horror films. Yet when The Manitou makes such a claim, it's impossible not to laugh, because the plot here is even less convincing than the one used in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.
Tony Curtis stars as Harry Erskine, a San Francisco based phony psychic who learns that his ex-girlfriend Karen (Susan Strasberg) has recently discovered a tumor on the back of her neck. When doctors examine the lump, they discover that it contains a human fetus. The doctors try to surgically remove it, but that doesn't work. Then, they try using radiation, but that just seems to make it mad. "We've created a monster," one of the doctors intones for reasons that aren't entirely clear, seeing as how the hospital staff played no part in the creation of the tumor-fetus (or did I miss something?)
Harry decides to take matters into his own hands, first by consulting with a real psychic, then by visiting an old guy (Burgess Meredith) who's an expert on Indian lore, and then by visiting an Indian medicine man from South Dakota named John Singing-Rock (Michael Ansara). He tells us that this is no ordinary tumor-fetus. It's the reincarnated spirit (or Manitou) of a 400 year old Indian shaman! The movie never explains how it got into Karen's neck womb, or why she has a womb in her neck, but not to worry. For a decent amount of tobacco, John Singing-Rock agrees to try and fight the creature, first by making a dirt circle around Karen's hospital bed, and then by banging two sticks together.
The climax of the movie takes place on the hospital floor Karen's on, and boy, is it a doozy. The Indian shaman comes out of Karen's neck (somehow, she survives), kills a hospital worker and brings him back from the dead, freezes an entire hospital floor, summons the spirit of a demonic lizard, and creates the illusion that Karen's room is floating deep into interstellar space. We then learn that everything on Earth has its own Manitou, even man-made objects like computers. Harry comes up with the idea of turning on all the hospital's high powered computers and using their Manitou to fight the evil creature. This leads to a scene where Karen, who is topless for some reason, fights the monster by shooting electricity from her fingertips. Movies were made for moments like that.
It goes without saying that The Manitou is a bad movie. A very, very, very bad movie. The acting is bad. The writing is bad. The special-effects are bad. Everything about it is bad. And yet, the movie is so bad, that it's positively side-splitting. Seen as a comedy, The Manitou is something to treasure. The scenes where possessed people scream "PANA WITCHY SALA-TOO!" are hilarious, as is the scene where an arthritic old woman screams the aforementioned line, does a little dance, and floats out of an apartment. The best scene, however, comes when Harry visits Karen's doctor, and the two men have the following dialogue exchange:
Henry: "I feel that somebody, something, s-someone is transmitting signals to her, and these signals are causing Karen's condition."
Doctor: "Well, don't look at me!"
There is something quite special about watching movies like this. It offers a message of hope for those who've been neck-pregnated by the Manitou of an evil Indian shaman: Turn on all your computers, find a woman who'll take off her clothes, and then make her shoot electricity from her fingertips. Apparently, it's much more effective than hiring a priest, since Mr. Singing-Rock tells us that "not even your Christian God can save her." Maybe so, but you can at least thank Him for making the people who made the Indian spirit-fighting hospital computers.
Final Grade: 3 and a half turds out of 4
no stars if looked at seriously.
Note: Some movies are so bad that not only are they entertaining to watch, but also to write about. I started this whole Movies You Love To Hate category four years ago with Battlefield Earth (a movie I loved for all the wrong reasons), and I would love to write about more entertainingly bad movies like this. Offer some suggestions in the comments below of some other great, so-bad-it's-hilarious films. I would love to watch them and write about them.