Upon its original release, William Girdler’s adaptation of Graham Masterston’s hugely popular novel “The Manitou” was a pretty big success in both critical & commercial terms. However, this is one of those ‘70s films (not unlike “The Amityville Horror”, I’d dare say) that has not aged too well. Whilst at the time the effects were good enough to mask the utter ridiculousness of the premise, today their creakiness shows the surrounding naffness into horribly sharp relief, making the film hard to enjoy on any serious level.
That gloriously ridiculous plot involves Karen (Susan Strasberg) suddenly developing a tumour on her neck, which grows at an astonishing rate. After a couple of days, the incredulous doctors start to suspect that it is actually a foetus. But what of, & how did it get there? Is it an incredibly powerful 400-year old Indian Medicine Man trying to be reborn into our times? Also hanging around is Tony Curtis as a fake medium who shows an old woman the “death” card, only to have her start chanting in a strange language & literally floating off down the corridor, & who later manages to temporarily confound the Medicine Man’s awesome powers by, err, chucking a typewriter at him. The climax, as if you didn’t see it coming, sees Strasberg sitting topless on a bed floating in space, blasting laser firebolts of love out of her hands at an encircling midget & the trippy lightshow behind him – which is of course Satan himself.
As you may have guessed, whilst “The Manitou” is nowadays very hard to take seriously, as a cheesy b-movie guilty pleasure romp it’s great fun, albeit not quite in the same league as say, Hooper’s “Lifeforce”. In addition, the resolute po-faced seriousness with which the film approaches even its silliest elements delivers moments of inadvertent comedy genius. The effects range from the pretty decent to the cringe making, with the giant lizard ranking as probably the weakest moment in this regard. The cast mostly look vaguely embarrassed by the ridiculous dialogue they’re saddled with, & Curtis seems to be spending the whole time wondering quite what happened to his career. Burgess Meredith pops up for a brief appearance & at least manages to be pretty amusing, although the best turn is probably Michael Ansara as the modern-day Medicine Man who is brought in to try & combat the evil foe.
Whilst “The Manitou” is ultimately a difficult film to openly recommend, as it’s by no means a great–or even good–movie, for me it managed to at least deliver on the entertainment front. Provided you know what kind of silly cheesy fare you’re getting into, the film does provide some amusing gore highlights, moments of sublime ridiculousness, an (albeit brief) bout of gratuitous nudity, & a shoulder-growing-foetus-size bag of unintentional comedy. And sometimes that’s all you need.
The new UK DVD from Momentum is R2/PAL format, & boasts a good, strong-looking anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer, & clear audio that makes the most of the well-liked orchestral score by Lalo Schifrin. Sadly, no extras.