The Manitou

Starring: Tony Curtis, Michael Ansara and Burgess Meredith
Momentum Pictures

RRP: 12.99
Certificate: 15
Available 24 October 2005

Karen Tandy is admitted to hospital with a growth on her upper back. It continues to swell at an alarming rate. An attempt to operate is aborted when Karen suddenly opens her eyes and mutters a strange phrase, compelling the surgeon to cut into his own wrist. Harry Erskine, an old flame of Karen's, is a charlatan clairvoyant who preys on wealthy old ladies. One such client, after hearing a reading, utters the same phrase before throwing herself to her death down the stairs. Experts at the hospital finally have to concede that the lump is a foetus. Harry discovers that the phrase is Red Indian in origin, and that the now huge lump is the seventh birth of the spirit (or manitou) of Misquamacus, an extremely powerful medicine man who originally lived 300 years ago. He seeks out medicine man John Singing Rock to fight its control over Karen and those around her, but Misquamacus emerges into the modern world and the pair are forced to use extreme and unusual measures to save all their lives...

As a parallel to avoiding the score of an important football match you have taped for later viewing, I have studiously side-stepped every opportunity to watch this film in the past. Graham Masterton, who wrote the original best-selling novel is, in my humble opinion, the greatest and most inventive horror fiction writer of all time. So, you understand my problem; a film, no matter how good, is never going to match the combined impact of a strong storyline and an active imagination. I've lasted from the seventies but now, as in that well-remembered episode of The Likely Lads, I've fallen at the last hurdle (all praise the great Editor!).

It was never going to meet up to my expectations, but The Manitou is neither dire or outstanding, instead fitting comfortably somewhere in-between. The opening scenes of Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis) in his apartment at home are not so much quirky as bordering on slapstick and don't fit the style at all. He later turns serious (as befits the seriousness of the situation) but, unnaturally never quite becomes angry at the hurdles put in his path. I hate overacting; however, Susan Strasberg as Karen Tandy is an acting lesson in playing down the role. None of the cast looked particularly scared. I don't know about any of you, but if a head rose from out of a table, or a man was stripped of his skin before my eyes, I'd probably be suffering palpitations.

It's quite a serious omission to forget (or worse, ignore) the reason for the rebirth of Misquamacus. In the book he returns intending to wreak revenge on the white man, who all but wiped out his Red Indian nation. The novel very nearly made the ancient medicine man a sympathetic character by having him intend to kill the same number of white men as his own dead race.

Also on the downside, the music is reminiscent of any 1970s TV show of the time, a mind-numbing jazzy background which intensifies with loud screeches when anything frightening is supposed to be happening. You have to keep in mind here that there was little in the way of special effects at that time, so it's worth mentioning the nice make-up effects used for Misquamacus, and the camera tricks (mainly superimposing and lighting effects) which attempt to show the forces in conflict.

Not a bad film for its time, I suppose, but I would rather recommend you track down some Graham Masterton horror books. Among the many you will find three sequels to The Manitou: Revenge of The Manitou, Burial, and the recent release Manitou Blood.

Ty Power

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