FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Feb 25, 2008

Film Club: The Manitou

Oh, William Girdler, how I miss you and your work. Grizzly, Day of the Animals, Abby (or I as like to call it, The Blaxxorcist), Three on a Meathook, The a mere 6 years you delivered a lifetime's worth of horror schlock. What would you have given the world had your life not been cut tragically short in a helicopter crash? I can only dream!

The key word of that paragraph, of course, is "schlock". Schlock certainly isn't to everyone's tastes, and it's not usually...well, good. If there's one thing you can say about Girdler's cinematic output, however, it's that he brought us schlock con gusto. You might not actually enjoy The Manitou, say, but chances are you've never seen anything quite like it and you probably never will again. To that notion you might say "Well thank fucking Christ for that", while I myself say "Oh, William Girdler, how I miss you and your work".

Poor Karen Tandy (Susan Strasberg) wakes up one day to find some sort of lump on her back- a tumor or something that not only grows at a ridiculously fast rate, but also "kind of moves sometimes". Can I get an "Eww!" up in here?

Her ex-boyfriend Harry (Tony Curtis) is a sham psychic who spends his days bilking gullible, needy old ladies out of their dough by giving Tarot readings whilst decked out in a fake moustache and a fancy zodiac-laden robe. Harry is drawn into Karen's drama when a client, Mrs Herz (Lurene Tuttle)...uh, when Mrs Herz starts chanting the same nonsense Karen has been chanting at night and then...Mrs Herz screams, floats down a hallway, and throws herself headlong down a flight of stairs. As you can imagine, the scene is fucking awesome.

Seriously, I was clapping like a simpleton for, like, ten minutes.

Doctors determine that Karen's tumor isn't a tumor at all- it's actually a fetus. It's a fetus, growing on her back. Now, I've got nothing against motherhood whatsoever- I mean, if my mother wasn't into motherhood know...chances are I wouldn't be here. If you want to have a baby, go for it. Me? I'm not at all interested in having a baby grow where it's supposed to grow, never mind growing on my fucking back. I would have been shrieking "Get it off me!" every second of every day until the thing was gone gone gone.

Karen is pretty much on my wavelength; the problem is, every time the doctors attempt to remove the thing, the fetus-tumor-lump wreaks havoc in the operating room. A surgeon cuts himself with the scalpel, a surgical laser starts zapping all over the seems that the fetus-tumor-lump is on Karen's back to stay.

Harry seeks advice and aid in all manner of places in his quest to de-lumpify his lady love. He and his sham psychic colleague Amelia (Stella Stevens, all gypsy-fied in what is, essentially, black face lite) hold a seance at Karen's Aunt's house in an attempt to figure out what's going on. Despite a crazy light show and a weirdo-melty dude rising from the table, the gang doesn't learn much. Meanwhile, I learn that I can come up with a good number of Elizabeth Taylor jokes to make at Ann Sothern's expense, so all is not lost.

The Scooby Gang then hits up Dr Snow (Burgess Meredith), a cranky professor of something or other who, in one of his books, once mentioned a Native American medicine man being birthed out of a tumor on someone's arm or some shit. Seriously, by this point logic is your enemy; don't fight it- just go with it.

Dr Snow suggests that The Scooby Gang get their own Native American to do battle with the medicine man that's going to burst out of Karen any minute now, so Harry enlists the aid of John Singing Rock (Michael Ansara), who reluctantly agrees to do said battle.

At that point, I made a joke about John Singing Rock not being called John Singing Rock anymore because he's too, he's called John Singing Adult Contemporary. I don't know if it's a good joke or not, but you can feel free to steal it when you show The Manitou to all your friends.

So. John Singing Rock and Harry head to the hospital to save Karen and the world, the medicine man busts a move out of Karen's back...and that's when things get weird. What, you thought it was already weird? You ain't seen nothin' yet, honey.

The last 20 minutes of The Manitou really need to be seen to be believed- any attempt at explanation is sure to fall miserably short, but let's say it's somewhat akin to sitting in a 1970's era Spencer's Gifts which turns into a kaliedoscope before your very eyes and then the kaliedoscope explodes. There's a dude in a lizard suit, the worst fake ice you'll ever hope to see, a jacked-up medicine man midget, decapitations, typewriters with souls, and a naked Susan Strasberg sitting on a floating bed shooting lasers at a big eye. Sometimes, my friends, all is right with the world.

It's pure madness, I tells ya. The Manitou makes no sense from the get-go, but then, somehow, by the time it's over it ends up making even less sense. I suppose you could glean some kind of science vs religion argument out of the whole thing, but really, what's the point? Again, just go with it.

And really, if elderly people floating down hallways and naked women shooting lasers at jacked-up midgets aren't reason enough to make you want to cram The Manitou down your pants, then it's obvious that you have no soul.

Oh, William Girdler, how I miss you and your work.

Film Club Coolies, y'all!

Look Back in Anger
Anchorwoman in Peril!
Meg Wood's Boyfriends in the News
Aphorisms and Ectoplasm
Askewed Views
Bloody Mary


Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I didnt have time to catch this flick before the deadline, but holy crap that review is one of the best yet. Ill definitely watch the next FGFC selection, fah sho. (sorry about the deleted comment, ive got too many emails)

Whiner Girl said...

You know what movie I'm waiting for you to write about? Do you remember "Sssssss"? It was about snakes, as if the name weren't a give away. Anyway ... patiently waiting.

Anonymous said...

I saw this in the theatres when it first came out.


Actually, the book that it's based on is no slouch, either. Both are trashy fun.

spazmo said...

Now I feel ashamed of the "singing rock" joke I wedged into my review, heh.

Glad you appreciated this crazy flick; your review is outstanding. Your line "de-lumpify his lady love" is worthy of Keats.

Stacie Ponder said...


I'll drink a case to that! This movie was so rad-ly bizarre, I'm sure my mouth was hanging open virtually the entire time. Mrs Herz FTW!

Whiner girl, you're the second person to mention SSSSSS! to me in the last couple of weeks. I haven't seen it in ages, but obviously it's a mandate from the gods that I revisit it soon.

Spazmo, great minds simply think alike! :)

Bloody Mary said...

I can't believe you wrote about Mrs. Herz falling down the stairs and skipped over the highlight of the scene: the extremely tall and thin stuntman in a black dress and grey wig falling down the stairs! As if it wasn't awesome enough already!

Arbogast said...

Now you're finally ready for The Zebra Killer.

Anonymous said...

You're gonna get a comment from ME!



Yeah, this was too much fun. Another awesome thing about the staircase scene was, she took out the entire railing on the way down with her fucking NECK. William Girdler must have issues with the upper spine. Y'know, I think I've heard that about him, actually.

It's like a satire of anti-feminist sentiment the way it becomes Tony Curtis's journey. Oh, sure, the woman saves the day, but she has to be naked in bed to do it, and I'm offended now that I'm not seeing boobs.

Actingwise, I'd say Burgess Meredith is your go-to guy when you want someone to say "y'see" a lot, and it's interesting how Susan Strasberg can pull off "woman possessed by 300-year-old medicine man" but can't pull off "woman not possessed by 300-year-old medicine man."

Okay, so here's my theory about the lizard: They had a guy in a lizard suit and when they saw the dailies it just looked ridiculous, right? So what they did was, they shot it as a ghost image to cover up the flaws (like sucking, that's a flaw, and also the way you could tell exactly where the headpiece ended), and this is why they didn't just use a real lizard, which would have been less expensive and far more effective.

Oh, and I can tell you with some authority that that's not how surgical lasers work. Or any lasers, for that matter.

Weird thing was, this was on my shelf right between Grizzly and DotA, even though I didn't know it was Girdler. Just ended up there via the usual shuffling. A fascinating tidbit, and you're welcome.

Hey, Ponder, thanks for this feature. More often than not I use these 70s flicks as background when there's nothing else on, just because I love that period vibe--it's nice to have a reason to actually sit down and watch this crap.

Peace out, kids. I gotta go harness a beer can's manitou.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, so once again I’m at the mercy of Blockbuster Online (I really should switch to Netflixs) who apparently only had one copy of this movie and couldn’t bother to send it to me-as is the fate of so many of your picks that I, for some reason, can’t seem to watch in time. I really enjoy Day of the Animals and Grizzly, so hopefully SOMEDAY I’ll get to check this film out. Great review as always.

FatalPierce said...

I was totally going to make a Scrappy-Doo reference in what I wrote, but I totally avoided it so I didn't look all copylike and stuff. But the movie was just plain awesome!

Here is my late link.

Now if you'll excuse me I'm off to fall on my sword or lateness.

Anonymous said...

Damn. Thought maybe if I gave it a day someone else'd leave a comment of comparable longwindedness, but it was not to be.

Sorry for the filibuster. Just be glad I didn't get into the homoerotic overtones of Tony Curtis's relationship with Dances with Evil Dwarves.

Bloody Mary said...

I've waited three risings of the sun before submitting my "notes"...

Leave me a comment if you have seen any of the movies mentioned in my post with any recommendations!

Anonymous said...

The scene that really did it for me is right at the beginning, when Tony Curtis pulls off his moustache and sticks it to the wall.