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The Manitou


Sometimes bad films are so bad, they transcend into great comedies. 1978's THE MANITOU is prime example #1. I remember seeing this at a drive-in theatre, double billed with some other schlock of the day. I laughed even then, but I think the laughs were much bigger this week.

Consider this set up:

Tony Curtis sports some very tight silk shirts and Jordache jeans as psychic Harry Erskine. dancing around his San Francisco apartment, drinking scotch while he listens to his massive Teac reel-to-reel. (Memories anyone?)

You haven't seen someone bilk their little old lady clients like this since Zero Mostel shtupped his aging stable of matriarchs for money in "The Producers"

Harry's former lover Karen (Susan Strasberg) reaches out to him to confide that she has a growing lump on her neck that appears to be a rapidly growing fetus. They talk, they make love and I'm thinking the lump can't be THAT big or it might have come up sometime during that session, but.....

The next day, the lump is the size of a baseball, but when Dr. Hughes (John Cedar) tries to cut into it, something takes over his hands and he slices the scalpel deep into the top of his other hand. He's wrestled out of the operating room. In one of the lesser leaps of logic of the film, he's seen in his office a few hours later, as if nothing's happened and without so much as a bandage on his hand. Apparently, he's still able to be on the job.

As you can imagine, when they decide to use a laser next time, things go from bad to worse.

Director William Girdler had found huge box office success in 1976 with his Jaws on Paws schlock fest "Grizzly" and you have to admire his go-for-broke style here as he blends "The Exorcist" with some crazy mystic space nonsense and gets no scares, but huge unintentional laughs.

Harry goes to visit a psychic friend Amelia (Stella Stevens) and has a decent seance, where they learn of an ancient Indian demon Misquamacus, who appears to be gestating in Karen's neck.

This leads to a visit with a doctor of such things, played by Burgess Meredith in one of his very last film roles. Meredith's so good, that it appears he's the only one that thought this was a serious film. You actually feel bad for him being buried in this. In a strange gaffe, he tells them to all sit down after they already are and no one acknowledges it. Yet another Ed Wood moment for Girdler.

The last half features these terrific moments:

Michael Ansara, a 1970's TV series veteran as John Singing Rock, an Indian (no Native Americans in 1978) medicine man who teams up with Curtis to battle the demon.

At one point they call on the spirits of man made objects to battle the Manitou and Curtis wards it off with the spirit of a typewriter. (I'm not kidding)

One of Curtis's little old ladies floats down the hallway outside of his apartment and throws herself down a stairway. Even funnier when you clearly see a 6' tall stunt person in an old lady outfit flying through every piece of wood on the way down.

The huge climax features the hospital room transported into space, with them channeling the energy from the hospital computers against the demon. Oh yeah, all that energy is channeled through the topless figure of Karen, shooting blue energy bolts out her fingertips like some strip club Emperor Palpatine.

Characters keep talking about a full sized, 400 year old medicine man being born out of Karen's neck, but when he does emerge, he's clearly a dwarf and never gets any bigger. It's not a slight, but a fact that a 3' tall demon is far less intimidating than a 6' tall demon, even when he's played by Felix Silla, whose been in plenty of classic movies, from the original "Planet of the Apes" to "Batman Returns". The dude has chops, but he's given nothing to do but stand completely still at the end of the hospital bed.

The film was a hit against its $3M budget and Girdler was on his way to bigger budgets when his helicopter crashed scouting his next film. For fans of 70's trashy movies, that's a tragedy, cause the man knew how to put on a show.

THE MANITOU is absolute garbage, with one jump scare and 1000 unintentional laughs, but I had fun watching it try to one up itself on its meandering rode to the trash heap. It gets a C- just for trying so hard, and making me laugh so much.

In one of the press releases for the film, Girdler and Cedar bragged that they had written the screenplay in only three days, classic example of garbage in, garbage out....

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