The Manitou


1h 44m 1978
The Manitou

Brief Synopsis

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.

Film Details

Also Known As
Manitou
MPAA Rating
Genre
Horror
Release Date
1978
Production Company
CFI Hollywood; Van Der Veer Photo Effects
Distribution Company
Nelson Entertainment

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 44m
Sound
Dolby
Color
Color
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

When Karen is admitted to a San Francisco hospital because she has a tumor growing on her neck, the doctors come to believe that there is a fetus inside it. The growth is in fact an old, Indian shaman who is reincarnating himself through Karen, and when he begins to see himself under attack from the x-rays being used to examine him and stunt his growth, gruesome things start happening. The shaman is also out to avenge North American's indigenous people who were killed off by the invading white men. Once the identity of the Manitou is understood, another native American shaman is called in to control him, but is no match for his power.

Crew

Michael Adams

Stunts

Glenn E. Anderson

Sound Recording Mixer

Bub Asman

Editor

Norm Baron

Assistant Director

Bob Bender

Assistant Director

Philip Boole

Dolby Consultant

Fred J Brown

Sound Effects

Michele Sharp Brown

Sound Effects

Judie Burkett

Location Coordinator

Thomas R Burman

Makeup

Thomas R Burman

Special Makeup Effects

Diane Carter

Stunts

Jon Cedar

Screenwriter

Jon Cedar

Associate Producer

Gilles A Deturenne

Associate Producer

Gilles A Deturenne

Production Manager

Michael R Faeth

Costumes

William Girdler

Producer

William Girdler

Screenwriter

Melvin G Gordy

Executive Producer

Charles Grenzbach

Special Effects Rerecording Mixer

Gene Grigg

Special Effects

Bill Hansard

Supervisor

Jay M Harding

Special Effects Rerecording Mixer

Walter Scott Herndon

Production Designer

Tom Hoerber

Makeup

Larry Holt

Stunts

Michel Hugo

Director Of Photography

Cheryal Kearney

Set Decorator

Nikita Knatz

Other

Agnes Lyon

Costumes

Graham Masterson

Source Material (From Novel)

Joe Mckinney

Makeup Supervisor

Graham Meech-burkestone

Makeup

John Moio

Stunts

Thomas Pope

Screenwriter

Hank Rifkin

Executive Consultant

Dar Robinson

Stunts

George Robotham

Stunts

Gene Ruggiero

Editor Supervisor

Gina Scheerer

Production Coordinator

Lalo Schifrin

Music

Alain Silver

Assistant Director

Tim Smythe

Special Effects

Dale Tate

Optical Effects Supervisor

Dick Tyler Sr.

Special Effects Rerecording Mixer

Frank Van Der Veer

Optical Effects Supervisor

Chuck Waters

Stunts

Jesse Wayne

Stunts

Ted White

Stunts

Alan Wyatt

Stunts

Film Details

Also Known As
Manitou
MPAA Rating
Genre
Horror
Release Date
1978
Production Company
CFI Hollywood; Van Der Veer Photo Effects
Distribution Company
Nelson Entertainment

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 44m
Sound
Dolby
Color
Color
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

The Manitou


In the mid-1970s, paperback racks around the world were filled with paranormal shockers featuring average middle-class families dealing with intrusions of the uncanny into their humdrum lives. The most famous of these were the unholy trio of Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby, William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist, and Thomas Tryon's The Other, all of which were adapted into critically-praised films. Never ones to miss a trend, studio heads began snapping up book rights left and right to find the next hot property throughout the remainder of the decade, leading to adaptations of such chillers as Robert Marasco's Burnt Offerings and Fred Mustard Stewart's The Mephisto Waltz.

One of the strangest bestsellers of this period was The Manitou, a 1976 novel by British writer Graham Masterton, the former editor of the U.K. edition of Penthouse and occasional sex manual scribe. The book's success inspired four more novel-length sequels (such as Revenge of the Manitou and Blind Panic) while its protagonist, quirky spiritualist Harry Erskine, also branched off into other adventures like The Djinn.

By the time the feature film version came out in 1978, Jaws (1975) had altered the horror landscape so drastically that all-star spook shows were now being seen as outdated. Films like Michael Winner's The Sentinel (1977), a graphic adaptation of the Jeffrey Konvitz book, preceded this one into theaters and was met largely with derision, but The Manitou's oddball combination of body horror and metaphysical sermonizing was unique enough to win over fans, especially younger horror buffs who were allowed to see the PG-rated film without resorting to any box office subterfuge. (That said, the film's grotesque imagery and startling final act nudity would have probably upset some parents aware of what their kids were watching.)

In a message consistent with sympathies of the time, The Manitou explores the idea of modern white man's guilt over the ruthless treatment of Native Americans during the settling of America, an idea which also fueled some of the era's later horror films like Prophecy (1979), Nightwing (1979) and Wolfen (1981). Here the concept is manifested literally as the titular Manitou, a powerful and malefic Indian spirit shaman germinating within the neck of San Francisco resident Karen (Susan Strasberg) as a mysterious tumor. The growth responds negatively to treatment attempts, and Karen asks her boyfriend, Erskine (played here by Tony Curtis), to help her find another solution to her plight. With the aid of Native American medicine man John Singing Rock (Michael Ansara), they must race against the clock to stop a cataclysmic hospital takeover of the Manitou before it destroys all of them in its quest for vengeance.

As with other high-profile supernatural offerings of the time, The Manitou is stacked with familiar faces besides its trio of leads; in fact, at times it could almost pass for an Irwin Allen disaster film thanks to the presence of Stella Stevens (most famous as a doomed former hooker in The Poseidon Adventure, 1972), Burgess Meredith (who had oddly already been in Burnt Offerings and The Sentinel), Hollywood veteran Ann Sothern (finishing a brief dip into exploitation with The Killing Kind [1973] and Crazy Mama [1975]), frequent Red Skelton costar Lurene Tuttle (who stole her one scene in Psycho [1960] as the sheriff's wife), and venerable character actress Jeanette Nolan, a TV stalwart whose distinctive voice is once again used here quite effectively.

While the cast may seem unusual now for a horror film, that's nothing compared to this film's director. William Girdler, a young Kentucky-born filmmaker with eight films under his belt, was brought onto this Avco Embassy production mainly on the basis of Grizzly, his wilderness Jaws imitation that turned out to be one of 1976's most surprising hits. He had followed it with the more ambitious and considerably more eccentric Day of the Animals (1977) the following year, while the rest of his filmography ranged from a Pam Grier action vehicle (Sheba, Baby, 1975), a pair of grisly drive-in shockers (Asylum of Satan [1972] and Three on a Meathook [1973]), and the strange Zodiac-inspired Zebra Killer (1974). By this point the most notorious film under his belt was easily Abby, a 1974 blaxploitation copy of The Exorcist from AIP that wound up being pulled due to legal threats from Warner Bros., but that hardly deterred him from following commercial trends in his later projects.

Despite its literary source, The Manitou is a Girdler project to the core, complete with plenty of idiosyncratic dialogue (mostly given to Curtis) thanks to the script penned by the director along with Thomas Pope and actor Jon Cedar, who also appears in the film as one of the physicians. Girdler's sensibilities certainly shine during the surprising climax, a cross-dimensional showdown in space with the raging Manitou facing off against laser beams and traditional Indian magic. One of the film's strongest components is its atmospheric score by prolific composer Lalo Schifrin, who had previously worked on The Day of the Animals and would spend the rest of that year with much more wholesome fare courtesy of Disney's Return to Witch Mountain and The Cat from Outer Space. Unfortunately, Girdler himself would never see this feature actually arrive on movie screens; tragically, he was killed at the age of 30 in a helicopter crash in the Philippines on January 21, 1978, three months before The Manitou opened posthumously and became his final film. However, the film's popularity has continued unabated in subsequent years as both Girdler cultists (yes, there are quite a few) and fans of bizarre cinema have continued to sing the praises of one of the strangest, most unforgettable supernatural excursions from a decade filled with cinematic excursions into the unknown.

Producer: William Girdler
Director: William Girdler
Screenplay: William Girdler, Jon Cedar, Thomas Pope (screenplay) Graham Masterton (novel)
Cinematography: Michel Hugo
Production Design: Walter Scott Herndon
Music: Lalo Schifrin
Film Editing: Bub Asman
Cast: Tony Curtis (Harry Erskine), Michael Ansara (John Singing Rock), Susan Strasberg (Karen Tandy), Stella Stevens (Amelia Crusoe), Jon Cedar (Dr. Jack Hughes), Ann Sothern (Mrs. Karmann), Burgess Meredith (Dr. Snow).
C-104m.

by Nathaniel Thompson
The Manitou

The Manitou

In the mid-1970s, paperback racks around the world were filled with paranormal shockers featuring average middle-class families dealing with intrusions of the uncanny into their humdrum lives. The most famous of these were the unholy trio of Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby, William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist, and Thomas Tryon's The Other, all of which were adapted into critically-praised films. Never ones to miss a trend, studio heads began snapping up book rights left and right to find the next hot property throughout the remainder of the decade, leading to adaptations of such chillers as Robert Marasco's Burnt Offerings and Fred Mustard Stewart's The Mephisto Waltz. One of the strangest bestsellers of this period was The Manitou, a 1976 novel by British writer Graham Masterton, the former editor of the U.K. edition of Penthouse and occasional sex manual scribe. The book's success inspired four more novel-length sequels (such as Revenge of the Manitou and Blind Panic) while its protagonist, quirky spiritualist Harry Erskine, also branched off into other adventures like The Djinn. By the time the feature film version came out in 1978, Jaws (1975) had altered the horror landscape so drastically that all-star spook shows were now being seen as outdated. Films like Michael Winner's The Sentinel (1977), a graphic adaptation of the Jeffrey Konvitz book, preceded this one into theaters and was met largely with derision, but The Manitou's oddball combination of body horror and metaphysical sermonizing was unique enough to win over fans, especially younger horror buffs who were allowed to see the PG-rated film without resorting to any box office subterfuge. (That said, the film's grotesque imagery and startling final act nudity would have probably upset some parents aware of what their kids were watching.) In a message consistent with sympathies of the time, The Manitou explores the idea of modern white man's guilt over the ruthless treatment of Native Americans during the settling of America, an idea which also fueled some of the era's later horror films like Prophecy (1979), Nightwing (1979) and Wolfen (1981). Here the concept is manifested literally as the titular Manitou, a powerful and malefic Indian spirit shaman germinating within the neck of San Francisco resident Karen (Susan Strasberg) as a mysterious tumor. The growth responds negatively to treatment attempts, and Karen asks her boyfriend, Erskine (played here by Tony Curtis), to help her find another solution to her plight. With the aid of Native American medicine man John Singing Rock (Michael Ansara), they must race against the clock to stop a cataclysmic hospital takeover of the Manitou before it destroys all of them in its quest for vengeance. As with other high-profile supernatural offerings of the time, The Manitou is stacked with familiar faces besides its trio of leads; in fact, at times it could almost pass for an Irwin Allen disaster film thanks to the presence of Stella Stevens (most famous as a doomed former hooker in The Poseidon Adventure, 1972), Burgess Meredith (who had oddly already been in Burnt Offerings and The Sentinel), Hollywood veteran Ann Sothern (finishing a brief dip into exploitation with The Killing Kind [1973] and Crazy Mama [1975]), frequent Red Skelton costar Lurene Tuttle (who stole her one scene in Psycho [1960] as the sheriff's wife), and venerable character actress Jeanette Nolan, a TV stalwart whose distinctive voice is once again used here quite effectively. While the cast may seem unusual now for a horror film, that's nothing compared to this film's director. William Girdler, a young Kentucky-born filmmaker with eight films under his belt, was brought onto this Avco Embassy production mainly on the basis of Grizzly, his wilderness Jaws imitation that turned out to be one of 1976's most surprising hits. He had followed it with the more ambitious and considerably more eccentric Day of the Animals (1977) the following year, while the rest of his filmography ranged from a Pam Grier action vehicle (Sheba, Baby, 1975), a pair of grisly drive-in shockers (Asylum of Satan [1972] and Three on a Meathook [1973]), and the strange Zodiac-inspired Zebra Killer (1974). By this point the most notorious film under his belt was easily Abby, a 1974 blaxploitation copy of The Exorcist from AIP that wound up being pulled due to legal threats from Warner Bros., but that hardly deterred him from following commercial trends in his later projects. Despite its literary source, The Manitou is a Girdler project to the core, complete with plenty of idiosyncratic dialogue (mostly given to Curtis) thanks to the script penned by the director along with Thomas Pope and actor Jon Cedar, who also appears in the film as one of the physicians. Girdler's sensibilities certainly shine during the surprising climax, a cross-dimensional showdown in space with the raging Manitou facing off against laser beams and traditional Indian magic. One of the film's strongest components is its atmospheric score by prolific composer Lalo Schifrin, who had previously worked on The Day of the Animals and would spend the rest of that year with much more wholesome fare courtesy of Disney's Return to Witch Mountain and The Cat from Outer Space. Unfortunately, Girdler himself would never see this feature actually arrive on movie screens; tragically, he was killed at the age of 30 in a helicopter crash in the Philippines on January 21, 1978, three months before The Manitou opened posthumously and became his final film. However, the film's popularity has continued unabated in subsequent years as both Girdler cultists (yes, there are quite a few) and fans of bizarre cinema have continued to sing the praises of one of the strangest, most unforgettable supernatural excursions from a decade filled with cinematic excursions into the unknown. Producer: William Girdler Director: William Girdler Screenplay: William Girdler, Jon Cedar, Thomas Pope (screenplay) Graham Masterton (novel) Cinematography: Michel Hugo Production Design: Walter Scott Herndon Music: Lalo Schifrin Film Editing: Bub Asman Cast: Tony Curtis (Harry Erskine), Michael Ansara (John Singing Rock), Susan Strasberg (Karen Tandy), Stella Stevens (Amelia Crusoe), Jon Cedar (Dr. Jack Hughes), Ann Sothern (Mrs. Karmann), Burgess Meredith (Dr. Snow). C-104m. by Nathaniel Thompson

The Manitou - Tony Curtis in the Bizarre 1978 Supernatural Thriller THE MANITOU on DVD


The Manitou is one of those movies - like Robert Altman's Popeye - where every single creative decision was dead wrong, but where the cumulative effect of all the wrongheaded impulses and misguided errors accrue to something quite watchable. In lower-budget tiers, this sort of thing is called "so bad it's good," which isn't quite the right designation for a production as reasonably accomplished as this. Nonetheless, the psychotronic pleasures on offer here are enjoyed not despite the film's flaws so much as because of them.

Writer-director William Girdler, who perished in a tragic plane crash before the film was released, had a few years of B-movie production under his belt since blazing onto the scene in 1972 with Asylum of Satan. From such grindhouse cheapies he moved on to AIP, where he took over making Pam Grier's blaxploitation thrillers from the venerable Jack Hill. As the 1970s drew to a close, he set his sights on what he hoped would be box office gold: a film version of Graham Masterson's bestselling novel The Manitou. Girdler plunked down $50,000 for the rights, and hacked out a screenplay in just three days.

It showed.

The premise was designed to play to the Exorcist/Omen fans (a cycle fading into the sunset by 1978) and the newly emerging "body horror" trend (which in years to come would yield classics of the genre such as Alien and The Fly). Girdler knew his way around Exorcist rip-offs - his 1974 Abby was so close a clone he got himself sued by Warner Brothers for infringement. This time he had some new hooks - all of which he would grievously misuse. Think Rosemary's Baby, as written by an eight year old with a fascination for-and total ignorance of-computers.

Susan Strasberg plays a woman who seeks medical treatment for a strange tumorous growth on her neck-only to discover it is a supernatural "pregnancy" by which a 400-year old Native American medicine man is reincarnating himself. Well that's one for the textbooks! Frightened by her loss of control over her own body and distrustful of her doctors, she seeks support from a friend - a phony psychic played by Tony Curtis. He in turn enlists the aid of another medicine man, a man with genuine psychic gifts, Michael Ansera, to counter the bad magic with some good. The special effects-addled finale, with trick photography that rivals the best of 1970s Doctor Who, finds Ansera summoning forth the souls of the hospital's computer bank while a rather rubbery naked wizard crawls out of poor Strasberg's shoulder blades-producing no more blood than the average paper cut.

Not everything can be blamed on the script. Girdler saw all this as serious cinema. He compared it to "The Exorcist meets Star Wars," and likened his direction to that of Alfred Hitchcock. Composer Lalo Shifrin drapes the film with brooding atmospheric music, appropriate for a sincere psychological thriller. Michael Ansera plays his part with the utmost gravitas, as does most-but not all-of the supporting cast. Someone failed to give that memo to Tony Curtis, however, who channels the spirit of Bob Hope with his constant barrage of irreverent quips. There is no amount of suspense or ominous mood that Girdler can build up that Curtis can't undo with one lash of his mouth. Curtis appears to have been given to ad-libbing, and his many mocking Curtisisms add a kooky level of comedy to an already dangerously risible setup.

Some of the cast - especially Burgess Meredith - followed Curtis' lead and played their scenes for laughs. The odd juxtaposition of solemn scares and farcical gags produces a strange off-kilter tone quite unlike any other film. Curtis all but destroyed his screen career with this, but in a way it was almost worth it. It never really works, but it's never boring.

It's as if the movie is at war with itself. Much of it is too silly for words-but once in a while it pulls off some fabulous moments. There is a séance scene which is so good, so out of step with the rest of this crazed enterprise, that the Department of Cinema Welfare should have stepped in and removed that scene to the foster care of another, better movie.

Anchor Bay's DVD presents the film in a clean, colorful anamorphically enhanced transfer that does a great service to the film's compositions, even if the subpar effects work is betrayed by DVD's high resolution. The film is accompanied by a collection of original trailers for other bargain bin video shockers of similar appeal-a barebones release that is more than sufficient; anything more would be indulgent.

For more information about The Manitou, visit Anchor Bay. To order The Manitou, go to TCM Shopping.

by David Kalat

The Manitou - Tony Curtis in the Bizarre 1978 Supernatural Thriller THE MANITOU on DVD

The Manitou is one of those movies - like Robert Altman's Popeye - where every single creative decision was dead wrong, but where the cumulative effect of all the wrongheaded impulses and misguided errors accrue to something quite watchable. In lower-budget tiers, this sort of thing is called "so bad it's good," which isn't quite the right designation for a production as reasonably accomplished as this. Nonetheless, the psychotronic pleasures on offer here are enjoyed not despite the film's flaws so much as because of them. Writer-director William Girdler, who perished in a tragic plane crash before the film was released, had a few years of B-movie production under his belt since blazing onto the scene in 1972 with Asylum of Satan. From such grindhouse cheapies he moved on to AIP, where he took over making Pam Grier's blaxploitation thrillers from the venerable Jack Hill. As the 1970s drew to a close, he set his sights on what he hoped would be box office gold: a film version of Graham Masterson's bestselling novel The Manitou. Girdler plunked down $50,000 for the rights, and hacked out a screenplay in just three days. It showed. The premise was designed to play to the Exorcist/Omen fans (a cycle fading into the sunset by 1978) and the newly emerging "body horror" trend (which in years to come would yield classics of the genre such as Alien and The Fly). Girdler knew his way around Exorcist rip-offs - his 1974 Abby was so close a clone he got himself sued by Warner Brothers for infringement. This time he had some new hooks - all of which he would grievously misuse. Think Rosemary's Baby, as written by an eight year old with a fascination for-and total ignorance of-computers. Susan Strasberg plays a woman who seeks medical treatment for a strange tumorous growth on her neck-only to discover it is a supernatural "pregnancy" by which a 400-year old Native American medicine man is reincarnating himself. Well that's one for the textbooks! Frightened by her loss of control over her own body and distrustful of her doctors, she seeks support from a friend - a phony psychic played by Tony Curtis. He in turn enlists the aid of another medicine man, a man with genuine psychic gifts, Michael Ansera, to counter the bad magic with some good. The special effects-addled finale, with trick photography that rivals the best of 1970s Doctor Who, finds Ansera summoning forth the souls of the hospital's computer bank while a rather rubbery naked wizard crawls out of poor Strasberg's shoulder blades-producing no more blood than the average paper cut. Not everything can be blamed on the script. Girdler saw all this as serious cinema. He compared it to "The Exorcist meets Star Wars," and likened his direction to that of Alfred Hitchcock. Composer Lalo Shifrin drapes the film with brooding atmospheric music, appropriate for a sincere psychological thriller. Michael Ansera plays his part with the utmost gravitas, as does most-but not all-of the supporting cast. Someone failed to give that memo to Tony Curtis, however, who channels the spirit of Bob Hope with his constant barrage of irreverent quips. There is no amount of suspense or ominous mood that Girdler can build up that Curtis can't undo with one lash of his mouth. Curtis appears to have been given to ad-libbing, and his many mocking Curtisisms add a kooky level of comedy to an already dangerously risible setup. Some of the cast - especially Burgess Meredith - followed Curtis' lead and played their scenes for laughs. The odd juxtaposition of solemn scares and farcical gags produces a strange off-kilter tone quite unlike any other film. Curtis all but destroyed his screen career with this, but in a way it was almost worth it. It never really works, but it's never boring. It's as if the movie is at war with itself. Much of it is too silly for words-but once in a while it pulls off some fabulous moments. There is a séance scene which is so good, so out of step with the rest of this crazed enterprise, that the Department of Cinema Welfare should have stepped in and removed that scene to the foster care of another, better movie. Anchor Bay's DVD presents the film in a clean, colorful anamorphically enhanced transfer that does a great service to the film's compositions, even if the subpar effects work is betrayed by DVD's high resolution. The film is accompanied by a collection of original trailers for other bargain bin video shockers of similar appeal-a barebones release that is more than sufficient; anything more would be indulgent. For more information about The Manitou, visit Anchor Bay. To order The Manitou, go to TCM Shopping. by David Kalat

Quotes

Normally I wait three risings of the sun before I take on a job.
- John Singing Rock
Just assume for a moment, sir, that this woman -- she's a young woman?
- Dr. Snow
Yeah, a young woman.
- Harry Erskine
Just assume that she has a problem, now now assume also this problem has to do with Indian magic. Well, my God, son, you do have one hell of a problem!
- Dr. Snow
That was one hell of an earthquake!
- Dr. McEvoy
That was no earthquake... It's the Great Old One.
- John Singing Rock
Who the hell is he?
- Harry Erskine
Devil, Lucifer, Satan, Prince of Darkness, does it really matter?
- John Singing Rock

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Spring March 1978

Released in USA on video.

Released in United States Spring March 1978