The Manitou Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by William Girdler
Written by William Girdler, Jon Cedar and Thomas Pope (based on the novel by Graham Masterton)
1978, 85 minutes, Rated PG
Released on April 16th, 2019
Tony Curtis as Harry Erskine
Susan Strasberg as Karen Tandy
Stella Stevens as Amelia Crusoe
Michael Ansara as John Singing Rock
Jon Cedar as Dr. Jack Hughes
Ann Sothern as Mrs. Karmann
Burgess Meredith as Dr. Snow
Harry Erskine is a likeable con man who makes his living reading Tarot cards for elderly women and telling them what they want to hear. He’s a louse with a heart, though, and when former flame Karen Tandy reaches out with a medical emergency, he drops everything to console her. Karen has a strange growth on the back of her neck and doctors plan to operate immediately. The tumor appears to be a rapidly developing fetus and medical science is baffled. The surgery doesn’t go as planned and Karen remains in the hospital. Harry enlists the help of some actual mediums who organize a séance where they discover Karen may be an unwitting host to an ancient Native American spirit. Harry travels to South Dakota where he meets John Singing Rock, a modern-day medicine man and asks him to help save his friend. The Indian warns him they are facing powerful dark magic and that time is of the essence before the demon grows in strength. Together they face this monster using old medicine and modern technology in an attempt to defeat him.
With The Manitou, director William Girdler (Grizzly) takes viewers on a bizarre journey that is a genre-bending adventure based on the hit novel by Graham Masterton. The tale blends Native American spirituality with elements of both horror and science-fiction films, building to an ambitious story that is frequently strange and unusual. It is also far-fetched and unintentionally hilarious. This is a silly movie that pulls out all stops to engage audiences. Girdler reaches for the stars and is occasionally successful in his efforts, but he can’t always escape the trappings of the material. Much of the budget went to casting and visual effects and the picture was shot in San Francisco, lending some great locations. There’s a lot going for it, but something goes awry in translation from page to screen and scenes are often absurd and laughable.
Tony Curtis (Some Like it Hot) stars as Harry Erskine, our charming charlatan protagonist working to redeem himself with a noble act. Curtis does his best with the material and plays the role straight but doesn’t emerge completely unscathed. Susan Strasberg (Bloody Birthday) appears as Karen, the woman with a shaman growing on her back. She makes a great first impression and lends credibility to the role that keeps audiences invested. She spends much of the second half in a trance but plays a key part in the big finale. Michael Ansara (It’s Alive) is the second lead as John Singing Rock, the Native America medicine man pressed to save the world. He adds a quiet calm to the proceedings and is the most thoughtful character in the film. Burgess Meredith (Magic) and Stella Stevens (Wacko) turn in supporting performances that are little more than cameo appearances, but their presence is welcome and provides some additional marquee value.
The Manitou is cheesy fun and is rather a guilty pleasure when it comes to ‘70s horror movies. The script moves along swiftly, skipping past some of the logistical questions and just goes for the gold in its final act. Nobody has a problem supporting Harry or John in their quest to rid the world of ancient evil. They just accept the fact that Karen has a little monster growing on her neck. There is a point where Native American spirituality goes out the window while explaining what a Manitou is, namely when we are told that everything, including modern technology, carries its own spirit that can be used against the demon. All of this builds to an unexpectedly big finish inspired by the popularity of Star Wars, laden with special effects and trippy visuals that audiences should find engaging. If you want a mild diversion from your troubles and are feeling nostalgic for the ‘70s, you may want to pick this one up.
Video and Audio:
The film opens with a note from Scream Factory explaining that the original camera negative has been lost and they restored the film’s inter-positive with a 4K scan of surviving elements. The 2.35:1 aspect ratio is occasionally soft, but appears in good condition. Colors are vibrant and black levels are solid and there is plenty of small-object detail in hair and fabrics.
The film’s stereo soundtrack has been restored in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix that is mostly effective. Dialogue levels are occasionally uneven, but this is a result of the original location recording. A DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono recording is also available.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Film historian Troy Howarth provides a fast-moving and engaging audio commentary that is loaded with information and interesting trivia. He goes into detail about the differences between the book and the film and is a big fan of the material. His track is full of energy and makes me want to like the movie more than I do.
Executive producer David Sheldon appears in the segment Producing Girdler (11 minutes) in which he reveals his history working with the late director. He talks about his responsibilities on the film and shares some interesting production stories.
Author Graham Masterton sits down for an all-new untitled interview (28 minutes) that covers his full career as an author and journalist. He shares memories of being a young writer of various sex books and how he eventually came up with the novel The Manitou. How the book became a film that remained a faithful adaptation with a slightly tweaked ending is covered, as are the challenges of writing natural-sounding dialogue. The interview is a bit sluggish, but his stories are interesting and worth a listen.
The original theatrical trailer is paired with a collection of TV spots providing a look at the marketing campaign.
A still gallery plays as a silent slideshow (7 minutes) featuring publicity shots, international poster art, lobby cards and newspaper ads. Images appear in both color and black-and-white.
This page includes affiliate links where Horror DNA may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.