St John Karp

Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

“The Manitou” (1978)

The Manitou title card.

I think it’s fair to say that neither of us knew what we were getting into tonight. Parker picked a 1978 horror film called The Manitou, and because I subjected him to Harry Potter with guns last week, I agreed to this one without even watching the trailer. And I’m glad I did, because the trailer would have given away just how bonkers batshit crazy this movie gets. Buuuut I’m getting ahead of myself…

Karen, who has a suspcious lump growing on her neck.
Karen, our flavorless victim of the week.

Don’t get too used to that face, she’s barely in this movie, but she does have something going on under that wig. She’s come to the hospital with a giant lump growing on her neck. The doctors take some x-rays and find out it’s a fetus. All right, neck-babies! Not a bad start to the film, even if these are the most 70s doctors I’ve ever seen. And the musical choices are questionable at best.

Me: That music!

Parker: I feel like a lady with an afro is about to get out of a car with a gun.

Harry reads his girlfriend's tarot.

Harry, played by Tony Curtis in what he probably thought was going to be the Rosemary’s Baby of his career, reads Karen’s tarot. Of course it’s ominous right from the get-go, she’s got a bloody neck-baby. One of the cards is the Devil or something I guess, because Parker seizes on it.

Parker: The Devil usually means addiction.

Me: Yeah she’s addicted, she’s addicted to growing babies out of her neck. What do we think about Tony Curtis being in this? Was he down on his luck or what?

Parker: I don’t know who that is.

Me: Haven’t you seen Some Like It Hot? He’s one of the musicians, the one who spends a lot of time smooching Marilyn Monroe.

Parker: I guess a lot of actors were making questionable movies, like Bette Davis.

Me: I bet you wish you were making movies back then. You could have picked up all these washed-up big-name actors for a song.

An old lady floats down a hallway.

Despite us riffing on the tarot stuff, this bit of the movie is genuinely creepy. Harry is a cut-rate mystic and his next client is this old lady. He reads her tarot and the next thing you know she’s twitching and dancing and flying around the room screaming “Pana witchy salatoo!” At this point I’m starting to think this is an underrated classic.

Harry's friend has a face like a leather sofa.

Whoop, here’s Harry’s friend, the one who’s going to have a book that explains the exact demon we’re dealing with. Probably with pictures — bonus points if it’s in Latin and she just happens to be fluent. I don’t know why they bother with this same routine in every horror movie, it’s so obvious by now. Also, can we talk about what’s happened to her face? I think she goes to Donald Trump’s cosmetologist.

They find out that they’re dealing with the reincarnation of a Native American medicine man, who is now growing on Karen’s neck and will explode out of her shortly. She is not expected to survive the experience of giving birth to a fully grown man through her neck. No duh.

“You’ve heard of fighting fire with fire?”

Me: What are they going to do, grow a fetus on the fetus? And then another fetus on the fetus on the fetus! It’s just fetuses all the way down.

John Singing Rock

So of course they go find themselves a modern Native American medicine man, John Singing Rock.

Me: Is that a wig?

Parker: Ugh, I hope he’s a real Native American and not a white guy with a tan and a wig.

Me: I just looked him up. Guess where he’s from.

Parker: Oh no. I don’t want to know this. Is it Connecticut?

Me: Lebanon! He’s Lebanese. Apparently made a bit of a career out of playing Native Americans, too.

Misquamacus, the medicine man.

“It’s Misquamacus, the greatest medicine man of all.”

Of course it’s the greatest medicine man of all, it always bloody is. It’s never the intern ghost or the apprentice ghoul, it’s always the main one. Just once I want to see a movie where everyone is incompetent and boring. That’s exactly how it’d be in real life. Misquamacus would come back and follow his dream of becoming a chartered accountant or something. And not even The Most Powerful Chartered Accountant in The World, just like a really mediocre one. Why does everyone want to destroy the world? Doesn’t anyone want a steady job?

A nurse's head comes flying through a window.

By now the movie has started to get really weird up in it. Karen gives birth to Misquamacus, who is a rather buff Little Person wearing a lot of make-up. Misquamacus and Singing Rock have a showdown, which Misquamacus wins because, if it’s not already clear, he’s like the main baddy who has untold powers and can fart on whole galaxies with the power of his mind. This nurse gets caught in the crossfire and her frozen head snaps off and gets blasted through a window.

Tony Curtis in space. Best not to ask.

They go through a door to confront Misquamacus and suddenly they’re in space! Actual SPACE. What even is this movie?

Karen shooting space rays at Misquamacus.
Karen shooting more space rays at Misquamacus.

Turns out Misquamacus can’t deal with modern machinery, so all the white people come to the rescue by turning on the hospital’s expensive equipment. Karen goes all Barbarella on Misquamacus and starts shooting space rays out of her hands because why not. Misquamacus explodes, because that’s what I’d do if I were an overgrown magical space fetus who’d been hit by a dead lady’s boob lasers.

The Skinny

Misquamacus

“Your God won’t help you.”

He certainly won’t. This movie started so strong, but went downhill so fast once Misquamacus actually shows up on the scene. Before that it was genuinely scary and atmospheric, and had some fantastic work from the cast. After that, it’s so stupid and silly. Great for the camp value, but not much else. Casting a Lebanese guy as a Native American is bad enough, but then the highly dubious take on Native American mythology and the whole “white magic will save us” thing is really problematic. They make it hard to enjoy The Manitou, even on its own terms.