Sunday, February 13, 2011


Here's a treat that I originally posted back in spring 2008.

THE MANITOU (1978), based on the novel by Graham Masterton, is your basic 1970s medical drama with horror elements, sort of like MARCUS WELBY, M.D. meets THE NIGHT GALLERY. It 's also cinematic tour of the entire San Francisco Bay Area! It concerns a pretty, single cable car-riding city gal named Karen (played by Susan Strasberg, daughter of acting guru Lee) who discovers a strange unexplainable growth on her upper back. After 3 days, her doctors decide it's a quickly growing tumor and decide to operate.

Luckily Karen had a muumuu-wearing phoney fortune teller friend named Harry (played by Tony Curtis who was clearly channelling Paul Lynde because he's playing the gayest banger-of-Susan-Strasberg ever), who after several attempts at giving her a "good" tarot card-reading decides that this growth may be worrisome. Later, an elderly client of Harry's becomes possessed and begins to mumble in strange languages after he deals her the "death" card - and then the old woman levitates and floats down the hallway, killing herself by falling down a flight of stairs, taking the entire wooden railing with her, section by section. This is the best scene in the film.

Meanwhile, at the Sisters of Jerusalem Hospital, Dr. Hughes attempts to remove her growth - but the surgery is called short when something forces him to cut his own hand with a scalpel. When Harry goes to visit Dr. Hughes in his futuristic office (he has a NASA-sized computer...and a red "bat-phone"!), he discovers that her growth might actually be a fetus(!) growing on the back of her neck. How did it get there? I guess maybe all that oral sex she's been having could be to blame?

Harry then decides to seek help from another psychic, so he travels down to Fisherman's Wharf to meet Amelia Crusoe (played by the usually slutty Stella Stevens - apparently in some sort of Gypsy makeup, and bordering on blackface) and her fat, bearded husband. They invite a fat, VERY fat Ann Sothern over for a séance and things only get weirder, as chandeliers start to twirl and a creepy rubber head rises out of a the center of table - and it all ends with a bolt of lightning!

Back at the hospital, Karen`s tumor continues to grow at an alarming rate, causing Harry and company to trek even further North, over the Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito - where cantankerous Dr. Snow (Burgess Meredith, aka The Penguin) resides. Snow takes the crew into his dusty attic to show them his spiderweb collection. Here The Penguin tells Harry that he thinks Karen's problem is that she has a 400 year old Native American medicine man growing on her back - and he wants revenge!!! Better get Commishoner Gordon on that bat-phone, Dr. Hughes.

Next, Harry travels all the way to South Dakota - wearing what looks like bare-ass jeans - to find John Singing Rock (played by Barbara Eden's ex-husband Michael Ansara), one of the last remaining indian medicine men, who as it turns out, has the power to send the Indian Spirit back to where he came. But will the tumor man take over Karen completely before Rock can send him back to demon land?

So Harry and Rock head back to the Bay Area where Rock sizes up the situation. He unwraps his bag of tricks and decides to induce birth. Before you know it, Karen goes into labor, soon giving back birth to a naked brown-skinned dwarf with an Alanis Morrissette face and a buff gym body (played Felix Silla from BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY) named Misquamacas or Miss Kwamacas.

The demon dwarf manages to kill an intern and break the mystic protective circle around the bed that Rock has made, and scares everybody by turning into a ridiculous-looking double exposed lizard. Then he goes all Mister Freeze and manages to create a wicked Winter Wonderland inside the hospital - even freezing the recptionist/nurse solid. So solid, that her pretty little head just snaps off. Miss Kwamacas then brings the dead orderly back to life to use as a weapon - to battle his lookalike!

In a big finale that has to be seen to be believed -Karen's hospital room then is transported into space! Karen sits up in bed wearing a giant Dottie West wig, topless (you can practically hear her dad Lee turning over in his grave!) and blasting lightning bolts and shooting electricity from her fingertips. For like 8 minutes. While Harry and the Rock duck and cover from the blasts. Over and over again. For the aforementioned 8 minutes.

Somehow the combination of Dr. Hughes and the Rock decide that Miss Kwamacas can only be defeated by turning on every computer in the hospital at the same time - causing a power surge and freeing Karen from his grasp. And it works! But not before Dr. Hughes explodes. Yes, he explodes. Much like your brain if you try to figure out this plot - which it turns out is based, not only on a novel, but also on a true story. Huh???

From the same director of ABBY, William Girdler, who tragically died after completing this film. Imagine the great films he would have made!!! THE MANITOU gets a 7 outta 10 on the "Huh?" scale.


Darren S. said...

i love your write up about The Manitou - I accidentally saw it as a double feature with close encounters as a small child and it TOTALLY scarred me. I had really intense and terrifying nightmares for months - of course i saw it again recently on cable and jesus what a hot mess. but in the best way.

Ookie said...

There was a short film based on a Robert Bloch story called The Mannikin (not Manitou) about a woman who develops a tumor on her back which soon hatches into a demon. Sounds surprisingly like The Manitou. Our high school science teacher made us watch it, but never explained why.