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The Manitou (1978)
Director: William Girdler

review by Gary McMahon

The first test of any good comedy is whether or not it actually makes you laugh, and this one just about hits the pass mark... oh, hang on, The Manitou is a horror film, isn't it? Sorry. I'll start again. Ahem.

Made in 1978, The Manitou is an adaptation of Graham Masterton's infamous horror novel (which I haven't read) of the same title, and I think it pretty much fails on every level. It isn't scary, for a start. It looks horrible, even taking into consideration the technical limitations of the decade when it was filmed. The acting is uniformly bad - even the dwarf playing the monster phones in his performance and looks bored as hell.

Tony Curtis (in a performance so bad, so misplaced, that it actually made me angry) plays some kind of oddball 'new age' camp, fake psychic lifestyle guru whose girlfriend develops a tumour on her neck, a tumour which is actually the reincarnation of an ancient native American Indian witch doctor. Honest. No fibs. That's the big twist in this movie: that a cancerous growth is the second coming of an evil medicine man, seeking vengeance from beyond. To be fair, it's the sort of thing that probably worked on the page, especially in a well-written pulp horror novel, but the people in charge of the film version clearly had no idea how to translate such an audacious notion to the screen in an effective manner.

I was hoping the film would at least be fun to watch, but it's barely even that. How can you make such a wild storyline so bland, so lacking in entertainment value? It really is beyond me. It works as a broad comedy (as I intimated in my jokey introduction to this review) - coming on like a feature-length episode of Garth Merenghi's Darkplace - but it doesn't hold water at all as a proper horror movie. At no pint is it even remotely scary, and it doesn't even seem to be trying to create any kind of atmosphere.

William Girdler's direction is hopeless, Lalo Schifrin's score in wildly inappropriate (but does provide leading man Curtis with the opportunity to perform an irritating dance), nobody bothered to make the visual, optical and make-up effects even slightly convincing, and the screenplay is a dreadful mishmash of sub-Exorcist quasi-philosophical posturing, embarrassing and inappropriate Mr Magoo type slapstick stunts and contrived mumbo-jumbo.

Despite all the flaws I've mentioned, the single worst thing about The Manitou is the presence of Tony Curtis. The man could not act, he had no charisma to be a leading man, and he was ugly. I just don't get his so-called appeal. I realise that this was the era when fading leading men were recruited to perform in horror films, to boost the audience, but even this is no excuse for having the man involved.

Avoid this 'cult movie' at all costs, unless you receive it as a freebie. Even lovers of absurd 1970s' kitsch mid-budget horror films (i.e. people like me!) will struggle to forgive this one.

The Manitou

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