31 (Revived) Days of Horror: The Manitou

I can think of no better way of explaining why The Manitou (1978) has been on my “I must see this movie” list other than quoting the plot summary:

A psychic’s girlfriend finds out that a lump on her back is a growing reincarnation of a 400-year-old demonic Native American spirit.

That’s not a plot you’re going to run into twice in one lifetime, my friends. And the movie delivers everything that summary promises and far, far more.

Harry Erskine (played by Tony Curtis of all people) get a call from out of the blue from his old flame, Karen. When the two reunite, Karen reveals she’s about to undergo surgery to remove a swiftly-growing tumor on her shoulder and neck, one that’s perplexing her doctors. One specialist goes so far as saying if he didn’t know better, he’d think it was a fetus. And fetus it is, the physical manifestation of the spirit of Misquamacus, an ancient medicine man who’s been down this road before. This time, however, if Misquamacus gets his way, not only will Karen die in the process, but the world may very well be destroyed. Harry seeks help in the form of a Native American shaman named John Singing Rock (played by a very un-Native Michael Ansara) and the two join forces with some reluctant modern physicians to save the world.

The Manitou is a strange, strange film, but utterly enjoyable for being so. If you told me there was a movie that climaxes with Felix Silla (best known by my generation as playing Twiki in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century) naked and covered with blood being shot at with lasers while Lucifer looks on, I’d have called you a filthy liar. Yet, here we are.

It’s an additional pleasure to see Tony Curtis in this movie. I love it when big actors of yore end up slumming in horror films, be it Curtis in this or Gregory Peck in The Omen. Between that and the sheer wackiness of the film (based on the novel by Graham Matheson), The Manitou earns a happily-awarded 4 skulls out of 5. This isn’t high cinema, but it certainly is unforgettable.

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