The Film:  The Manitou (1978)

The Principles:  William Girdler (Director).  Tony Curtis, Susan Strasberg, Michael Ansara, Jon Cedar, Burgess Meredith

The Premise:  When Karen Tandy (Susan Strasberg) ends up with a lump on her back that‘s growing excessively fast and looking more and more like a fetus, she enlists the help of her ex-lover (and fake psychic) Harry Erskine (Curtis).  Once a bearded Burgess Meredith informs them that some old Indian medicine man is preparing to be reborn from her back, they, in turn, enlist the help of one of the last remaining Native American medicine men (Ansara).  Shit gets real weird, real fast (as if it wasn’t already!).

Is It Good:  Yes!  The movie is a delightfully fucked up, trippy little jaunt through a whole bunch of heavy shit, but it never lets any of it weigh it down.  The only person who seems to not know how to handle their character is Ansara (and that’s probably because he’s not a Native American, he just plays one on TV), who comes across a bit forced and clichéd.  Tony Curtis is having a fucking BLAST and everybody else orbits around him.

And the production value is impressively high as well.  When you have a screenplay that calls for a giant lizard to appear out of nowhere, an entire floor of a hospital to be frozen solid, a surgical laser that goes haywire and starts shooting up the place of its own volition and a tiny, slimy medicine man to be born from a giant tumor on the back of one Susan Strasberg, well, you can either deliver in spades or fuck up to the highest degree.  There isn’t even a middle ground with a list like that.  And man oh man did Girdler and his crew deliver.

I mentioned “heavy shit” earlier, and honestly, all the special bells and whistles aside, this is where the movie really shines.  I expected a lot of crazy from the synopsis alone, but what I didn’t expect was the rather blatant “science kicks religion’s ass” moral through-line that was damn near arrogant in its insistence.  At the risk of spoiling a 32 year old movie, the Big Finale is basically Tony Curtis telling John Singing Rock, Misquamacus and The Devil himself that their old stuffy magic was no match for technology and machines and electricity and PROGRESS!

Actually – no, it’s not good, it’s fanfuckingtastic.

Is It Worth A Look:  Absolutely and it’s on Instant so you need to get around to it sooner, rather than later.  Though there’s a good chance that if you’re reading this site that you’ve already seen it.  However, if you haven’t, then this quote from the erstwhile Devin Faraci in our Forgotton Monsters of Filmland series should be more than enough to convince you:

“Eventually Misquamacus is born from the boil, except he’s a midget and then he gets defeated by a topless Susan Strasberg shooting laser beams from her hands.”


Random Anecdotes:  Burgess Meredith has a Colonel Sanders beard.  That’s all I got.  Because that’s all I need.

Cinematc Soulmates:  Stuck On You.  Birth.  Bubble Boy.