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The Manitou

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Tony Curtis in The Manitou
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The Manitou (1978) starring Tony Curtis, Michael Ansara, Susan  Strasberg, Burgess Meredith, Stella Stevens

The Manitou is, quite frankly, one of the cheesiest monster movies of all time — one of those that’s so bad, you watch it with friends to make fun of it.

Tony Curtis in The Manitou

The basic plot is as follows: a fake psychic (Tony Curtis) who makes a living by doing tarot card readings for elderly women, is contacted by a former girlfriend (Susan Strasberg) who has a tumor growing on her neck — a tumor that is actually a small fetus. The fetus turns out to be an evil medicine man, who reincarnates himself likes this multiple times, growing more powerful each time. This time, however, the doctors at the hospitals use an x-ray machine to look at the tumor, mutating the creature, and making it even angrier.

Looking for help

Stella Stevens as a gypsy, performing a seance

Tony Curtis tries to find out what’s going on with the help of an old gypsy, friend, a “genuine” psychic (Stella Stevens) — and after an attempt at a seance goes wrong, Tony Curtis has to look elsewhere for help. Tony Curtis consults with an expert on the occult (Burgess Meredith, one of the highlights of the film) who suggests that he fights fire with fire with another Indian medicine man.

Michael Ansara in The Manitou

The medicine man that he finally gets to agree (Michael Ansara who gives a good performance, despite  not being a Native American — back in the 1970’s the word “Indian” was still used — but he’s not that either) has a large chip on his shoulder, and tries to help — but he’s hopelessly outclassed. If only there was another source of power the heroes could tap to counteract the evil medicine man …

Technology manitou?

Final confrontation in The Manitou

… which turns out to be the hospital’s computers. Since everything has a spirit/manitou (computers, people, rocks, the lint in your bellybutton, etc.) the heroes decide to use the technology manitou against the reborn, mutated, angry Shaman (Felix Silla) — in a special effects ending that looks like a cross between the 1960’s Star Trek and early MTV, if the love child of those two used hallucinogens. Seriously.


Movie quotes from The Manitou, starring Tony Curtis, Michael Ansara, Sarah Strasberg, Burgess Meredith, Stella Stevens

Dr. Snow (Burgess Meredith): What you have to understand is that the magic of ancient Indian tribes was very, very powerful. They were, in fact, one of the great magical societies of modern times, of pure ethnic occult art. And, er, they were,
[wiping bookcase]
Dr. Snow (Burgess Meredith): Ugh, this is a mess! They were, er, undiluted with European conceptions and preconceptions. The whole concept of the Indians, the whole concept of life and death and inner space was rolled up in the Indians demon, the equivalent demon. That demon would be possessed of monstrous, monstrous power!
MacArthur: Then what you’re saying, doc, is we’re out of luck?

Dr. Snow (Burgess Meredith): Just assume for a moment, sir, that this woman – she’s a young woman?
Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis): Yeah, a young woman.
Dr. Snow (Burgess Meredith): Just assume that she has a problem, now now assume also this problem has to do with Indian magic. Well, my God, son, you do have one hell of a problem!

Don’t squeeze the Shaman

John Singing Rock: Normally I wait three risings of the sun before I take on a job.

John Singing Rock: Are you the fellow looking to find himself a medicine man?
Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis): That’s right. I’m Harry Erskine. Word sure gets around, doesn’t it?
John Singing Rock: Hard not to. You’ve been to five different medicine men already.
Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis): That’s right.
John Singing Rock: What does a white man want with Indian magic?
Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis): There’s a 400-year-old medicine man that’s being reincarnated on the back of a woman that I know.
John Singing Rock: How well do you know this woman?
Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis): Quite well.
John Singing Rock: Well, that should help. Love is one of the strongest medicines there is.

Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis): [nervously] Can you help me?
John Singing Rock: Mr. Erskine, have you ever heard of Gitche Manitou?
[Harry Erskine shakes his head ‘no’]
John Singing Rock: Well, Gitche Manitou is the Great Spirit among Indians. A bit like your Jesus or Jehovah. And what you’re dealing with is the manitou, or spirit, of a great medicine man. Possibly in his fourth or fifth reincarnation.
Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis): [frightened] Is that bad?
John Singing Rock: For you, yes. Each time a manitou lives, he gains in strength. By the eighth reincarnation, he can join Gitche Manitou as a permenant spirit. Until then, the more lives lived, the more powerful.

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