Karen Tandy enters a San Franisco hospital suffering from a tumor growing in her neck. Her surprised doctors think it's a living creature, a fetus being born inside the tumor. Fortune-teller Harry Erskine dismisses it -- until one of his customers begins speaking in tongues and fatally throws herself down a flight of stairs, and Karen's surgeon attempts to cut off his own hand rather than excise her tumor. Erskine finally seeks help from another fortune teller, Amelia Crusoe, and her husband, to try to learn the cause of these supernatural events. When Karen's tumor gets larger, Dr. Snow speculates that within her tumor lives vengeful 400-year-old Indian spirit. Erskine travels to South Dakota to enlist the aid of Indian medicine man John Singing Rock to force the evil spirit out of Karen and back where it came. The Indian spirit is driven from Karen's tumor, but will it take over others before Singing Rock can send him back? Written by
The post-EXORCIST 70s produced a variety of quirky, old-fashioned horror films with big name stars whose careers were winding down but who were happy to still be working and who added a touch of class to the proceedings. PSYCHIC KILLER with Jim Hutton, TOURIST TRAP with Chuck Connors and SHOCK WAVES with John Carradine and Peter Cushing immediately come to mind. And then there's THE MANITOU. I saw this movie when it first came out in 1978 and thoroughly enjoyed it. There's something for everyone here... black magic, Native American lore, cool 1970s furnishings (check out Tony Curtis' pad -er- apartment), possession, a séance, demonic birth and a STAR TREK like finish. It's like a summing up of the themes of 1970s horror films with a few well placed shocks and one truly memorable sequence. Curtis takes the Bob Hope approach (complete with quips) to his role as a fake mystic who is suddenly confronted with the real thing. Susan Strasberg makes a suitably vulnerable heroine and Syrian born Michael Ansara is quite believable as an Indian medicine man (no Native Americans in 1978) brought in to fight the evil. Stella Stevens, Ann Sothern, and Burgess Meredith add fun to the proceedings and director William Girdler (ABBY, GRIZZLY) doesn't give you time to think long enough on how preposterous it all is. Sadly this film was to have been his ticket to the big time and would have been (it was a box office hit) had he not been killed in a helicopter crash while scouting locations for his next film. Avco Embassy for whom the film was made was sold to Norman Lear in 1982 and this and other Avco Embassy films disappeared into ownership limbo. Thanks to Anchor Bay THE MANITOU and other 70s A/E films like MURDER BY DECREE and WINTER KILLS have made it to DVD in beautiful widescreen transfers. THE MANITOU may be trash but it's really great trash and I'd rather be watching it than any number of present day horror films. Its well crafted approach to its material (no matter how ridiculous) rather than explicit effects from suffering victims makes it a guilty pleasure that I'll be happy to return to.
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