Monday, October 22, 2007

Girdler your Loins: The Manitou is Here

To paraphrase the tag line of a more ballyhooed movie that came out around the same time: You will believe a slimy Indian Shaman dwarf can erupt from the neck of Lee Strasberg's screaming daughter and threaten the universe.

In the first of many demonstrations of Horrorpalooza's mighty power this month, Anchor Bay has dutifully responded to my exhortation during Horrorpalooza '06 and put William Girdler's 1978 shocker The Manitou out on DVD. And hot diggity damn dog, is this cause for joy.

Here's the Cliffs Notes set-up (in case you're feeling too lazy to go back in the archives and re-read my previous entry): Woman (Susan Strasberg) develops tumor on her neck. Doctors X-ray tumor and discover fetus inside. Doctors try to remove tumor: Fetus makes doctor slice open arm. Fetus is reincarnation of Indian Spirit named Misquamacus. Misquamacus means business. Bogus Medium Ex-Boyfriend (Tony Curtis) enlists medicine man (a very bad-assed Michael Ansara) to fight Misquamacus and save woman. Serious crap goes down.

The Manitou starts out with the earnest timbre of a lot of mainstream major studio horror flicks of the era, as Curtis gradually unravels the mystery behind Strasberg's tumor buddy with the help of his medium mentor (Stella Stevens, immersed in the fourth-worst spray-on tan ever captured on film) and a cultural anthropologist (Burgess Meredith, playing the kind of obnoxious old man who takes a million years in the supermarket checkout line fumbling for his checkbook while everyone behind him tears their collective hair out).

Then Curtis and Ansara go all Batman and Robin, and the movie goes completely nuts. Misquamacus rips out of Strasburg's neck, throws most of the cast around, turns an entire floor of the hospital into a freezer (one frozen nurse has her noggin graphically knocked off during a Misquamacus temper tantrum), enlists a lizard demon to chew on a doctor's hand, rips the flesh from an orderly's body, and brings the poor skinless goof back to life to throttle more of the help.
It's every bit as daffy--and entertaining--as it sounds, and serves as a strangely fitting epitaph for its director, William Girdler. A level-headed Kentucky native, Girdler was sort of a low-rent mirror image of Steven Spielberg, a technically savvy boy wonder who made action flicks, blaxploitation epics, Jaws knock-offs, and horror movies with ramshackle verve. Girdler's career was cut tragically short just after completing The Manitou, when he died in a helecopter crash scouting locations for his next movie: He was only 31 (the excellent tribute site William Girdler.com covers his life and career in exhaustive and loving detail).

Girdler was no artiste, but the potential was there. And if he fell short of Spielberg's historical importance, well, Steven Spielberg never had the cajones to close one of his movies with a topless method actress shooting light beams from her fingers in a duel to the death with a demonic Indian midget.




1 comment:

Vince said...

Steven Spielberg never had the cajones to close one of his movies with a topless method actress shooting light beams from her fingers in a duel to the death with a demonic Indian midget.

Clearly you haven't seen the director's cut of Always.