In The Manitou, a young woman named Karen discovers a strange tumor growing on her back. Let’s cut to the chase here: a fetus is growing in a tumor on her back, a fetus that contains the spirit of an ancient Native American shaman, Misquamacus, returning to wreak havoc and do all kinds of evil things. I mean, I guess; I feel like we never quite figure out what our titular shaman even wants to do. But that’s hardly the biggest problem with this movie. Tony Curtis plays a fake psychic who gets drawn into the situation and has to bring a modern day medicine man, played with rare gravitas by Michael Ansara. This movie has some great sequences, in both the “so bad it’s good” and the “actually surprisingly good” categories. In the former, there’s an incredibly bizarre sequence in which one of Curtis’ clients is possessed by the spirit of Misquamacus and the breathtakingly stupid climax which is so hilariously awful, I’m kind of loathe to spoil it, but suffice it to say that once Misquamacus actually arrives on our earthly plain and does battle with a topless Karen, all bets are off and you’ll basically be laughing for a solid five minutes. There’s also a surprisingly creepy séance sequence which includes a really nifty special effect of a figure slowly emerging out of a table-top; it doesn’t just look good for the time period – it actually looks really great and weird even today. I feel like I have oversold the value of this as a campy, entertainingly bad film by talking about the two sequences above, but really most of the time, the movie is just pretty dull. It’s very talky and staid and the really entertaining bits only really start toward the end of the two-hour movie. It’s weird for sure, the premise being one of the weirder ones I’ve seen in a horror movie. It might get better with a nice drinking game, for instance, every time they say the word “Manitou,” which is about every thirty seconds, I think. I would absolutely give some props to Susan Strasberg as Karen who just fully commits to her role. In the climax, she’s undeniably hilarious as she just goes full crazy, screaming orgasmically as she fires laser beams out of her hands. But I don’t think it stands up as either a good cult horror film or as a “so bad it’s good” turkey. There are pleasures here, but, at least for me, not nearly enough. 2 stars.
tl;dr – weird movie about an evil Native American spirit has a couple of hilariously bad scenes, but it’s mostly just dull and moribund. 2 stars.