Damn, I love a movie that gets straight to the point. Or, in this case, you might call it the “head”... The head of the giant boil on Susan Strasberg’s neck, to be exact. And why am I watching a movie about a giant neckular boil? Blame Final Girl and her Film Club, for which The Manitou is this month’s pick.
As I said, this 1978 supernatural horror film gets down to business right away, as a pair of doctors discuss the peculiar case of Karen Tandy (that’s Strasberg’s character) and, in particular, two shocking statistics: the fact that the aforementioned carbuncle is apparently growing at a rate of 7.3mm an hour and, even more unbelievably, that 40-year-old Susan Strasberg is playing a 28-year-old.
Fancy a peek at Karen’s gruesome goitre? Here it is:
Gross, huh? Although, to put things in perspective, it’s not that much bigger than Ms Strasberg’s enormous mouth. I mean, just look at this:
It looks like the main problem she’s going to have with that boil is making sure she doesn’t accidentally swallow it. Anyway, according to trained medical professionals, Karen’s boil is not actually a boil. Nor is it a tumour, or any other typical kind of growth. Being full of bones and tissue – complete with an alarmingly human shape – what it most closely resembles is a foetus... In medical terms: yuck!
Time for Karen to visit her old flame Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis), a flamboyant fortune-teller who pays the bills by entertaining old ladies in his kitschy/swanky bachelor pad. Karen’s disgusting case of foetus-neck aside, the two have sex. Or, at least, I think they do... Karen stays over and they’re both wearing bathrobes in the morning, and if that’s not evidence of rumpy-pumpy (with a lump-y) I don’t know what is. Anyhow, the main point of this rather-gross-in-all-respects development seems to be to introduce a bit of Indian mysticism into the plot, via the revelation that Karen has started saying mysterious things in her sleep. Things like “pana wichi salitu”, which to my knowledge most good girls don’t whisper on a first date.
Pretty soon, Karen is taken into hospital to have the boil (baby?) surgically removed, but the procedure turns out to be impossible when – pana wichi salitu! – the attending surgeon is compelled to use the scalpel to slash at his own wrist instead!
Meanwhile, one of Harry’s regular clients is levitating around his apartment with cries of – yup – “pana wichi salitu”, before hurling herself downstairs in a sequence that puts even The Exorcist’s famous “spider walk” to shame. Clearly, some form of ancient Indian magic is at work, and something is determined to protect whatever’s growing inside Karen’s boil in order that it might soon be born...
To reveal any more would only spoil what have to be some of the most outrageous developments in horror history, but I think it’s only fair that you’re warned of this:
Not to mention this:
Oh, and of course this:
Yes, The Manitou is shock-full of weird – and just a little bit wonderful – set pieces, many of which begin with a cliché but soon veer off into the bizarre. The results are startling, unpredictable, funny and, at times, even a little creepy.
In equally strange fashion, it seems to me that The Manitou was basically reappropriated by the makers of Poltergeist II and III, and spun out into two films: Poltergeist II takes the Indian magic theme, the monster “birthed” from a character’s body, and otherworldly climax, while part III uses the idea of a modern building “taken over” by demonic forces and transformed into an icy hell.
Here, so much happens that there’s hardly any need for a sequel. Which is a shame because I love how “Manitou 2” rolls off the tongue. (I’d even give it the subtitle Manitou on the Move – is Kristy Swanson available?) Of course, author Graham Masterton, upon whose novel the film is based, did actually write a sequel, Revenge of the Manitou, but that remains unfilmed, presumably because no one has any idea how to top The Manitou.
And who could blame them?