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Category:    Home > Reviews > Horror > Monster > Supernatural > Native American > The Manitou (1977- 78/Horror)

The Manitou (1977/Horror)


Picture: C+†††† Sound: C+†††† Extras: C-†††† Film: C+



The year before his daughter was put on the map with John Carpenterís Halloween, Tony Curtis found himself in yet another film that wanted to be William Friedkinís The Exorcist.Unfortunately, he was not at his personal best and the film was William Girdlerís The Manitou.However, it is still a most interesting film from a director responsible for two of the 1970s more interesting Horror outings, the Jaws knock-off Grizzly and unintentional howler Day Of The Animals.


Here, Curtis is a corny Tarot card reader with a hooky psychic business that takes advantage of older women charming them out of their money.He also has an old girlfriend he gets together with (Susan Strasberg) who unbeknownst to him has a strange tumorous growth on the back of her neck she neglects to note, thinking it is minor and moving on.


However, it turns out to not only look fetal, but be the return of the title medicine man demon.Note that this has been referenced on South Park with one of their characters, but like many clever intertextually references, you have to know your stuff to get such jokes.Seeing this film will help you on that one.


So how good is this film?Watchable, but not great.A disappointment for Avco Embassy in its time, Tony Curtis was not at his personal best, but even his best performance could not have overcome the with the script, which he adapted from Graham Mastersonís book of the same name with John Cedar and Thomas Pope.It starts as funny and potentially scary, but then becomes a silly mess that abandons humor for very bad visual effects (even for the time) and the monster is never convincing in any way.


Then there is the supporting cast, which includes a brief appearance by Burgess Meredith as an anthropologist, Michael Ansara (doing his best Victory Jory?) as John Singing Rock with the knowledge of the monster only he truly knows, Stella Stevens, Ann Sothern, Jeanette Nolan, Paul Mantee and Lurene Tuttle in an amusing appearance as Mrs. Herz.They actually make this more interesting and save it from outright turkey status.


Yes, it was somewhat ambitious, but did anyone watch this and really think it was thrilling when all was said or done?Did the wacky effects at the end make the producers think they could ride the Star Wars wave?Maybe, but it did not work out and then it took a film like Phantasm to get the studio back on track.In all that, everyone should see it once just to get the jokes then and now.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image was shot in real anamorphic Panavision by cinematographer Michel Hugo, who had shot a classic of the genre with the 1972 telefilm The Night Stalker as well as William Castleís underrated 1975 thriller Bug, both reviewed on this site.He has also successfully shot surrealism with Bob Rafelsonís Head, the 1968 film with The Monkees.However, this transfer has detail limits and the print shows its age, despite some good moments of color by Consolidated Film Industries. Hugoís scope compositions are not bad, but it is not as much his forte as narrow vision and his long history of great TV work (Mission: Impossible, Earth II, The Streets Of San Francisco, Hart To Hart, Dynasty) is inarguable, along with other theatrical releases like Trouble Man.A 35mm print would look better and have some more depth, though the optical printing on those visual effects is not Hugoís fault.


The film proudly announced it was in Dolby System, the old analog Dolby A version, but this DVD is just Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono for whatever reason and the sound shows its age.It does sport an interesting score by the great Lalo Schifrin, but even that cannot saver this film.If it were recorded separately in stereo, this film could be remixed for 5.1 depending on the age of the sound effect and dialogue elements if the originals exist and the like.The only extras include the TV spot and theatrical trailer for the film.


Another problem is that the Native American monster is never totally convincing in its explanation.We donít learn of the connection between tarot cards, medicine men and evil spirits with enough thoroughness to make it work in the narrative.On the Kolchak: The Night Stalker TV series (reviewed elsewhere on this site) that followed the two big TV movies, two episodes (Bad Medicine and The Energy Eater) also attempted Native American horror stories with mixed results.They were still more effective and funny than this film, yet The Manitou has their common sense attitude at times and that is sadly better than most of the remakes, rip-offs and retreads in the genre that have ruined Horror films.The Manitou is a happy mistake by comparison.



-†† Nicholas Sheffo


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