Manitou [1978]

Lurid, ludicrous, and laughable (and those are the good parts), The Manitou is one of those movies that asks more questions that it answers. For instance, were respectable actors like Tony Curtis and Burgess Meredith so in need of a payday that they agreed to take part in this nonsense? Does the film fall into the so-bad-it's-good category, or is this horror story just plain horrid? Viewers will draw their own conclusions, assuming they can get through this 1978 tale about a centuries-old, evil Indian medicine man who returns to wreak all sorts of vengeful havoc on an unsuspecting populace. The setting is San Francisco (a place you'd think would be more tolerant of such alternative lifestyles), where Karen Tandy (Susan Strasberg) seems to have been chosen at random as the host for the manitou's latest regeneration. When she goes to the hospital complaining about a tumor growing on her back (it starts out grapefruit-sized but enlarges at an alarming rate), doctors determine that the thing is in fact a living fetus. But their decision to bombard it with x-rays may not be the wisest course of treatment. When they then fail to cut it out (manitous apparently don't like scalpels), bogus psychic Harry Erskine (Curtis), Karen's love interest and a fellow who spends most of his time duping gullible old ladies, starts investigating alternative methods of extermination, seeking out a fortune teller (Stella Stevens) for a séance that goes very, very wrong, consulting a doddering old professor (Meredith, camping it up), and finally bringing in a contemporary medicine man (Michael Ansara) to try to keep the malevolent Misquamacus at bay. There are a few scary moments and a couple of nice set pieces, but horror fans will find The Manitou extremely tame by new millennium standards; and the climactic battle between good and evil is so silly as to beggar description. "If only we had some authority!" worries the Curtis character when he realizes what they're up against. A good script and better acting, direction, effects work, and all the other elements of a decent movie would have helped, too. --Sam Graham

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