Movie Review

The Manitou (1978)

2.5/5

If you want to see an old woman floating through the air before she violently breaks every bone in her body while tumbling down a staircase while distraught Tony Curtis, dressed like a wizard, watches, then The Manitou is the film for you.

The film tells a simple story, a tale as old as time, really. A woman gets a tumor on her neck, the tumor turns out to be a fetus, the fetus turns out to be an ancient Native American medicine man reincarnating himself. The woman has a boyfriend who is a scam artist who pretends to be psychic to get money from rich old ladies (like the floating one from the first paragraph). He figures something spooky is afoot and gets help from a real psychic, who is either really tanned or wearing brownface. I think it’s the latter.

The Manitou (1978)
The Manitou (1978)

Thankfully, the Expert was also a trope in 70s paranormal films, and Tony can visit an anthropologist (played by Burgess Meredith) who literally wrote a book about the legend of an ancient Native American medicine man who regenerates himself via tumors. He tells Tony that he needs a current age Native American medicine man to help him out, and Tony finds a current age Native American medicine man to help him out.

Meanwhile, current age American medicine men are trying to surgically remove the tumor, but the tumor fights back so their efforts are useless. Now, one might assume that the medicine man would put his regenerating fetus in a uterus instead of a neck. Surely that would be less conspicuous. Eggs on us, though, because that wouldn’t work because the medicine fetus grows at an exponential rate and out of the tumor comes a dwarf caricature of a Native American and its lizard spirit.

Now, the premise of the film is so insanely implausible that the film makers decided that they needed to end the film with a text that reads something like: “FACT! A boy in Japan got a tumor that was a fetus.” Like that would make us think that this was somehow something that could happen. Of course, there are teratomas and weird cancers out there so who knows. Maybe Stephen King’s The Dark Half and James Wan’s Malignant are based on the same Japanese boy.

There is fun to be had here. The film was made in 1978, so the “we need to be serious to make this horror work” vibe from The Exorcist is in full effect. Tony Curtis and everyone else plays it straight and it’s so fucking ridiculous that it becomes quite entertaining.  

The Manitou (1978)
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