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The Manitou


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.

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.

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.

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 …

… 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!

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.
Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis): Well, how… how do you stop it?
John Singing Rock: You don’t. You don’t halt it. You don’t slow it down. Each manitou has its own momentum. All you can do is divert the spell and send it back from whence it came. But, that would take lots of power to force a manitou to make a 180-degree turn. And, so powerful a medicine man, you might have to wait until he leaves the woman’s body.
Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis): [horrified] That would kill her!
John Singing Rock: It would kill her body. But her spirit would live in the medicine man.
Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis): [disgustedly] ‘Spirit would live’! Great!
John Singing Rock: There’s only one thing I know that might stop him.
Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis): What’s that?
John Singing Rock: Evoke the powers of other spirits.
Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis): Well, how… how would I do that?
John Singing Rock: [sarcastically] Well, Mountain is good. Try Wind. That’s one of my favorites. Tell them John Singing Rock sent you.
Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis): [angrily] Why won’t you help me?
John Singing Rock: [turning serious] Mr. Erskine, you see this valley? From where we stand, there’s over a half-million acres of land. Some of the richest farmland in the world. Two hundred years ago, my ancestors owned all of this land. Now it’s under title to the Missouri Holding Company. I don’t want your pleas for help, Mr. White Man! I don’t need your money!

Dr. McEvoy: That was one hell of an earthquake!
John Singing Rock: That was no earthquake… It’s the Great Old One.
Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis): Who the hell is he?
John Singing Rock: Devil, Lucifer, Satan, Prince of Darkness, does it really matter?

John Singing Rock: Gichi Manitou? Harry, you don’t call Gichi Manitou. He…
Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis): Oh, yeah, well he’s going to get a person to person call from me… collect!

John Singing Rock: [praying over his medicine circle] Gitche Manitou, hear me. Hear me and protect me.
Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis): [as Karen Tandy opens her eyes] John, look!
John Singing Rock: Who are you? Where do you come from?
Misquamacus: [speaking through Karen Tandy] I am mightier than you. Your medicine is of no consequence.
Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis): What is your name?
Misquamacus: My name… Misquamacus. Leave the whites, little brother from the plains. Do not help them… or die.
Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis): John, what’s the matter? What… what is it?
John Singing Rock: It’s Misquamacus. The greatest medicine man of all. He turned rivers, made storms. Mountains rose at his command. No spirit ignored him. No demon denied him.
Dr. Jack Hughes: My God!
John Singing Rock: Your God won’t help you. Nothing in your Christian world will help. Not prayers, not holy water. Not the weight of a thousand of your churches.
Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis): What about that circle of sand?
John Singing Rock: He’s sure to break it. I only hope it holds him long enough for me to fight him.
Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis): Oh, great. You’re gonna play King Of The Mountain with that mixmaster! What about Karen?
John Singing Rock: Harry… if I win, she lives. If I lose, believe me… she’ll feel less pain than any of us.

Dr. Jack Hughes: Don’t be an administrator!

Dr. McEvoy: [after seeing the manitou] It’s not possible.
John Singing Rock: Possible? Is that your SCIENCE talking, DOCTOR?

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