Directed by: William Girdler
Run time: 103 minutes
The Lowdown: BVB talks a lot about companies like Shout! Factory mining the archives of cinema from the 1970’s to the early 1990’s and extracting rare and obscure titles for a high-definition upgrade.
It’s a trend that produces as many hits as misses, but boy howdy, when a hit arrives you can’t help but feel a warm appreciation all over.
Such is the case with The Manitou, a truly obscure oddity from 1978 starring Tony Curtis – yes, that Some Like It Hot Tony Curtis – as Harry, whose swindles clients by pretending to be a mystic tarot card reader named Erskine. The catch, of course, is that Harry secretly believes in the supernatural.
It is honestly one of the most bizarre casting decisions I’ve seen in quite some time, yet it works.
The Manitou opens with a woman named Karen (Susan Strasberg) discovering a sudden growth on the back of her neck. When she visits a doctor, the growth moves, just beneath her skin, shifting in a way that is reminiscent of someone turning over in bed.
Naturally, Karen knows Harry. They used to be lovers. Karen is concerned about the imminent surgery to remove the growth, and she asks Harry to read her cards. He immediately becomes distressed at what he sees. Then Karen starts chanting an incantation in her sleep.
The next day, all hell breaks loose when Karen goes under for the operation. The growth protects itself by causing the surgeon to slice his own wrist instead of cutting into the back of Karen’s neck.
Meanwhile, Harry as Erskine is finding himself tormented by spirits. During a client reading, the same incantation that Karen uttered once again is spoken.
What’s refreshing, and not surprising, given the period that the film was released, is that The Manitou plays Karen’s predicament completely straight. No one questions that something supernatural and sinister is happening, not even when Harry figures out that the growth may be the reincarnation of a 400-year-old entity known as Gitche Manitou, the Native American equivalent of our God from The Bible.
Even worse, according to legend, once Gitche Manitou regenerates eight times, he actually transcends and becomes a god.
The Manitou is briskly paced and steeped in atmosphere. But, once the big climatic showdown comes, the film morphs into a psychedelic acid trip punctuated by portals to other dimensions and bizarre space imagery.
It’s a hoot, despite the era's technical limitations for special effects.
The Manitou is the kind of horror film that I wish someone today would remake, instead of constantly returning to the same wellspring of popular films that have been done and redone to death.
Until that happens, however, you need to check this one out in its original, midnight madness glory.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Sure.
Nudity – No.
Gore – No.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Ancient Native American gods.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Superstition (Shout! Factory, 85 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): This wonderful, oft-overlooked 1982 horror gem is packed with gory deaths and a nice backstory that dates back to the witch trials of the 1600s.
Justice League vs. The Fatal Five (Warner Bros., 77 minutes, PG-13, 4K Ultra-HD): Once again, DC Comics proves that when it comes to animated superhero tales, the company totally owns Marvel. That must explain why it feels like there’s a new animated feature being released each month (even when that’s not the case). Sadly, but not surprisingly, Justice League vs. The Fatal Five is far superior to DC’s 2017 big-screen Justice League bomb. That has been the case with several of the recent animated features centered on Aquaman, Batman, the Teen Titans and even Justice League Dark.
The Kid Who Would Be King (Fox, 120 minutes, PG, Blu-Ray): British filmmaker Joe Cornish burst onto the scene in 2011 with the incredible Attack the Block, an urban alien invasion flick that introduced U.S. audiences to John Boyega (Star Wars) and Jodie Whittaker (Doctor Who).
Cornish, who also wrote the screenplays for The Adventures of Tintin and Marvel’s Ant-Man, is back with his second feature, The Kid Who Would Be King, which is the umpteenth adaptation of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
I’m happy to report that The Kid Who… is far superior to recent takes on the same story, such as Guy Ritchie’s bombastic King Arthur: Legend of the Sword or 2004’s forgotten King Arthur, in part because Cornish tells the tale through a pint-sized protagonist, Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), which allows him to incorporate a sense of child-like wonder into the well-trodden and oft-repeated elements that movie-goers now know by heart.
Look, here’s the deal – there will never be a better screen version of this story than Excalibur, but if you’ve got to watch another reimagining of how Arthur claimed his birthright and united noble forces to stand against evil, The Kid Who… is fast-paced, entertaining and very funny.
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