Monday, May 7, 2012

The Manitou

Welcome, everybody, to my 200th movie review! I started writing these reviews 16 months ago as a hobby more than anything else, and since then, I've written about every single movie that I've watched for the first time (and even a couple of repeat viewings). Is there no end in sight?

I had originally intended to add some drawings for movie 200, and I even tried to start some, but as it turns out, nothing I can draw can even come close to the utter insanity that is The Manitou. The Manitou, directed by William Girdler, is one of those weird, post-Exorcist 1970's horror movies, that tried to add some level of believability to their movie by rooting it in both medical science and some sort of mythology. Remember that scene in The Exorcist where they took the little girl to get a cat scan? That they would try to explain her behavior medically before resorting to the Catholic stuff made the movie feel so much more real.

In the case of The Manitou, the attempt to ground the story in reality just comes across as silly. It is the story of Karen, a woman in San Francisco who visits a specialist because of a tumor growing on the back of her neck. The doctors are baffled by it as well. When Karen goes under to have the tumor removed, the tumor starts to fight back, possessing the surgeon to cut his own hand with his scalpel rather than it.

While in town, she runs into an old friend/lover, a charlatan fortune teller played by Tony Curtis, and they become reacquainted. Strange occurrences cause him to suspect all is not well with Karen. She mutters ominous foreign words in her sleep.

So, what is it about this tumor, you ask? Well, I'm going to spoil it for you, because it's pretty bugnuts. You see, there is a fetus growing inside the tumor on the back of Karen's neck. Weird, huh? I'm not finished, though. It is the fetus of a powerful ancient Native American shaman, using Karen's body as a host to reincarnate himself and enact vengeance upon the white man. Good night, everybody!

Still there? Well, there's plenty more to say. I feel like I can ruin things in this movie and still have confidence that you will want to watch it in order to see the scene where a dwarf wearing Native American monster makeup climbs out of the tumor on the woman's back. Or the insane final showdown in the Astral Plane or something where Karen shoots lasers out of her hands to fight the Shaman.

The crazy thing about The Manitou is, as utterly ridiculous as it is, it's kind of watchable. I think this is owed to the fact that the story is told very earnestly. The people who made this never seemed to realize the absurdity of the premise, and that in and of itself helps lend a level of enjoyability to it.

As hilarious as all that weird tumor stuff is, my favorite scene is the one where Tony Curtis is doing his fortune telling scam on an old woman. He wears a robe with magical looking symbols on it and a fake mustache (???) to make himself seem more mystical. Then the old lady gets possessed by the shaman who starts flipping out and throws the old lady down the stairs. Boy, that sounds hilarious, doesn't it? I guess you just have to see it for yourself.

I also liked the supporting cast, which includes Tony Curtis' character's friends, one of whom looks like a member of The Doobie Brothers or something. And there's also a cameo by the great Burgess Meredith as an expert on Native American mythology. He also forms a friendship with a real Native American shaman, who agrees to help him defeat the evil one inside Karen's tumor in exchange for a donation to a charity and some tobacco for himself (he was almost out).

The Manitou is a truly strange relic of the 1970's. Though I can't recommend it as a good film, I thought it was still a fun movie, and worth watching, just to say I've now seen a little man climb out of a neck tumor. It probably would have been even more fun to watch with a group of like-minded and possibly inebriated friends, but this time around, I was on my own and sober, and I still had an oddly good time.

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