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Home | Film Reviews | Film Review: The Manitou (1978)

Film Review: The Manitou (1978)

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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.


Oh yeah…Now we’re talking movie greatness acolytes! What’s that you say? You’ve never even heard of this movie before? If you’re one of the few that are actually admitting to that then consider yourself drummed out of my army of acolytes that is currently positioning itself to conquer the Earth. You will suffer along with the rest of the cattle and find yourself ground under my gore soaked heel. “The Manitou” is the Black Saint’s favorite movie of all time and it is required viewing for anyone who wants to experience true Hollywood cinematic dementia at it’s most potent!

The psychic in question is named Harry Erskine and is played by the one & only Tony “Yonduh lies duh palace of my fadda, da caliph” Curtis (Look it up). His girlfriend with the unsightly lump on the back of her neck is named Karen Tandy and is played by Susan Strasberg, daughter of legendary acting teacher Lee Strasberg. Ok, so one out of two ain’t too bad a start is it? The nasty lump that’s growing on Karen? Well that just happens to be the reincarnation of an ancient Indian medicine man that goes by the name of Misquamacus, and man oh Manitou…he is pissed off!

You see, Misquamacus has decided that it’s time for him to reintroduce himself to the world & claim his stake in it. Of course since he’s an EVIL ancient Indian medicine man he’s not gonna p*ssy foot around and reincarnate himself in Karen’s tummy & come off like he’s a human fetus or something like that. Only dumb evil ancient medicine men would try that stunt, not Misquamacus. He decides that nobody is really gonna notice a lump the size of a large watermelon growing on a woman’s neck, she can wear a scarf around it…who’s gonna notice? Well Karen notices straight away and once she goes to the hospital to have it looked at so do the attending physicians who seem to think it resembles….A FETUS! But that’s impossible isn’t it? Of course it is but a few x-rays will kill any doubt they have regarding to what’s growing (& MOVING) on the back of poor Karen’s neck.

Meanwhile, psychic Harry Erskine is fleecing gullible old women out of their retirement funds on a weekly basis. He gives tarot readings & never gives a bad reading to anyone, he does want repeat business so everybody gets a positive reading. he even gives them “Mystic Mottos” to recite to themselves in between readings. Here’s one of them: “Guard well the pips and the fruit shall grow without let”, I still write that down on cards and give them away as Christmas gifts sometimes. Harry is concerned over Karen’s plight but he’s pretty sure that she’ll be OK, so sure that he drops her off at the hospital and drives away to fleece some more old crones. And you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Harry dancing after dismissing his last sucker for the day. Bad disco music, tight polyester slacks, swaying hips…I’m getting hot and bothered just thinking about it!

But there is a problem at the hospital. The x-rays hurt the still gestating Misquamacus so he uses Karen to tell the doctors that they’re bugging him but they don’t listen and all hell breaks loose once they decide to try and excise the lump with a scalpel. PANA WICHIE SALATOU is the cry that Karen utters as the surgeon with the scalpel suddenly turns the scalpel on himself and has to be restrained from cutting himself to ribbons with it. But there’s one good thing to report, the radiation from the x-rays have had an adverse & unexpected effect on Misquamacus. They’ve served to shrink him to the size of a midget! Oh yeah people, now he is really one pissed off midget ancient evil Indian medicine man. When he finally makes his debut he sorta just slides off of Karen’s back and plops onto the floor of the hospital room. But he soon gets on his knees & takes a nap, he’s gathering his strength and trying to decide where to shop for midget evil ancient Indian medicine man attire that’s suitable for world domination. Decisions…decisions…

Once Harry gets wind of all of this he begins to investigate and try to figure out a course of action. This involves visiting some old psychic friends and having a seance in which Misquamacus reveals himself to the gathering & consulting with a jabbering professor who knows all about ancient evil Indian medicine men. But eventually Harry finds himself on an Indian reservation trying to enlist the help of John Singing Rock (Michael Ansara) who agrees to help Harry in return for a sizable donation to a fund for the education of young Indians & some tobacco for his pipe.

Once they arrive at the hospital and John realizes that it’s Misquamacus that he’s gonna scuffle with, he pretty much craps himself because he ain’t nowhere near bad enough to mess with this ancient evil midget medicine man. Misquamacus moved mountains and parted the seas…but he was a normal sized ancient evil Indian medicine man back then, he needs a few days to get his strength up now and this is the only chance that John & Harry have to defeat him. But will they have enough time? And what the heck does “Pana Wichie Salatou” mean anyway?

It doesn’t matter. “The Manitou” is the most fun you’ll have watching a movie this week! It has been described as “Deliriously Ludicrous”, “Preposterous”, “Ridiculous” & far too many other words that end in “ous” for me to look up, I’m no damned thesaurus! And it is all of those things but it’s so much fun, so entertaining that you just won’t care after the first 15 minutes. Based on the Graham Masterson novel of the same name, “The Manitou” is a hoot from beginning to end. Oddly enough I own the book and while it’s a great read it sure isn’t as much fun as the movie is despite the movie hemming fairly close to the novel thematically. Of course, there isn’t as much character development in the movie as in the book…but who cares? This movie kicks ass in every other way possible!

Director William Girdler had already made a name for himself in the years leading up to this, his magnum opus. He directed some of the best “B” movies of the decade, films like “Grizzly”, “Day Of The Animals”, “Abby”, “Sheba Baby” & “Asylum Of Satan” among others. He proved himself to be something of a expert in gathering a nice group of “B” movie mainstays to perform in his films and always managed to jump on the bandwagon of whatever genre was big at the time & making a great movie out of it. “The Manitou” was his biggest film budget wise ($3 million dollars) & he had a stellar cast that included not only the aforementioned Curtis, Strasberg & Ansara but Stella Stevens, Ann Sothern, Jeanette Nolan & the one and only Burgess Meredith doing his “Quirky Professor” bit to perfection. It was a big hit but sadly Girdler passed away soon afterwards in a helicopter accident while scouting locations for his next project which was to be called “The Elementals”. The mind reels at the thought of what he was gonna pull out of his hat with that one but we’ll never know.

I have gone on record saying that this movie is my favorite movie of all time…period. It has something that transcends mere cinema, it’s not just a film..it’s more of an experience. Your mind will reel when you see a man turned inside out! The Lizard god! A entire hospital floor encased in ice (Nurses and all)! The Ancient One and the final battle that might be taking place in outer space (Not too sure where the f*ck they are actually)! And it features a topless Strasberg blasting Misquamacus with electricity as she opens her mouth wide! While Curtis & Ansara are watching from a doorway suspended in this outer dimension (Say what you will but the makers of “Men In Black” flat out stole the dominant image of the first film from “The Manitou” and they know it)! What the f*ck is going on in this movie? It is nothing short of amazing and I defy anyone to watch it and not admit that they had fun afterwards, it’s just not possible.


How does it all end? Watch “The Manitou” and see for yourselves wise guys. It’s streaming on Netflix as I type these words so you have no excuse, unless of course you don’t have Netflix…then you’re on your own. But you haven’t really watched a movie until you’ve sat through “The Manitou” One thousand shrouds for this, the greatest film ever made (In my humble opinion of course)! It is required viewing for any and everyone who loves movies, they just don’t make them like this anymore. So see it now else you hear these ominous words coming out of your grandma’s mouth…PANA WICHIE SALATOU!!

Nuff’ said!!

Bonus Features

  • NEW 4K Scan Of The Original Film Elements
  • NEW Restored Stereo Soundtrack
  • NEW Interview With Author Graham Masterson
  • NEW Producing Girdler – An Interview With Executive Producer David Sheldon
  • NEW Audio Commentary With Film Historian Troy Howarth
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Original TV Spots
  • Still Gallery

The Manitou (1978) is now available on bluray per Shout Factory

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