If you’re watching “The Manitou” and hoping for gut-wrenching body horror, you’re out of luck. “Hope is for saints and fools.”
A malevolent spirit lives inside the neck tumor of a quack psychic’s girlfriend. Let’s dig into 1978’s THE MANITOU, directed by William Girdler!
As I See It
This body horror/creature feature has hints of Cronenberg that rhyme with a shoehorn.
Based on a novel by prolific horror author Graham Masterton, it was book one of eight in his Harry Erskine series, which spanned 1976 to 2015.
The story uses the spirit of an ancient “witch doctor” who adheres to the neck of a woman in the form of a fast-growing tumor that resembles a fetus. Her boyfriend (Tony Curtis) is a psychic swindler and does his best to find a cure for Karen and her stowaway, who is causing all types of violent havoc and has her speaking in tongues.
I wouldn’t say I disliked the film.
Tony Curtis is likable, even if his character is a bit sloppy and ridiculous. Susan Strasberg gives her best.
The finale is atrocious, a real bore. They end it all with some text which is meant to leave shivers in our spines, stating the film is based on a true story out of Tokyo, Japan, about a fifteen-year-old boy who was stricken with a similar condition.
Tony Curtis (Harry) had mainstream acting success but did have a few low-rent genre flicks among his later credits. His most famous credit may be as half of the parental unit of THE scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis along with Psycho’s Janet Leigh.
Burgess Meredith (Dr. Snow) doesn’t come on screen until about forty-five minutes in, but who can forget his iconic role as boxing trainer Mickey in Rocky-Rocky IV.
Susan Strasberg (Karen Tandy) was featured in another Dig with phenomenal cover art: Bloody Birthday.
Of Gratuitous Nature
Harry is shown as a scam artist, which doesn’t bode well to endear us to what is supposed to be the hero of the film. They sort of ditch that part of his persona once things pick up.
Susan Strasberg gives a full effort. There’s a thick line between infliction and instinct, and she seemed to fully understand how she had to play the role of the victim.
Ripe for a Remake
The problem with stepping into the body horror subgenre is if you don’t swing for the fences, you have no chance of even sniffing the shoes of Cronenberg. They might have used vomit bags as promotional materials in some regions, but this film didn’t have an ounce of the visceral, grotesque distortions of a Cronenberg film.
No malignant progeny to report.
Where to Watch
In 2019 Scream Factory released a Blu-Ray with a brand new 4k scan as well as a new interview with author Graham Masterton. You can stream it on AMC+ and Shudder.