THE MANITOU. AVCO Embassy Pictures, 1978. Tony Curtis, Susan Strasberg, Michael Ansara, Stella Stevens, Jon Cedar, Paul Mantee, Jeanette Nolan, Lurene Tuttle, Ann Sothern, Burgess Meredith. Based on the novel by Graham Masterton. Director: Willlam Girdler.
First off, the good stuff. Hell of a cast. Good performance by Ansara in a rare good guy role on screen, nice turn by Meredith as a barmy anthropologist, Lurene Tuttle as a little old lady fatally possessed by a Native American medicine man. Some lovely shots of San Francisco. Adequate special effects for the time if nothing special. Interesting concept from the novel by Graham Masterton. No one gives a bad performance.
The bad stuff? Almost everything else.
The film opens with Dr. Paul Mantee calling in Surgeon Jon Cedar (who co-wrote the screenplay with director William Girdler) for a patient, Karen Tandy (Susan Strasberg) with a peculiar problem — a tumor on her neck that appears to have the characteristics of a fetus.
Stop laughing, she has a baby on her neck, that’s the plot, the actual plot. The whole movie turns on the fact she has a fetus on her neck, you can’t make this stuff up. They never do explain how or why, and all things considered I didn’t really want to know. Do you want to know how she got a fetus on the back of her neck? I know it was the Sexual Revolution, but still …
Think about it. This is a big budget Hollywood movie with actual known stars, and it is about a woman with a fetus on her neck. Most of their careers were still going strong — before this.
I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when they sold that story to the studio.
“You see there is this woman and she has a tumor, but it’s not really a tumor, it’s a fetus, but here’s the kicker, the fetus is on the back of her neck!”
Poor Karen used to be involved with Tarot reader Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis). With surgery planned the next day she calls up Harry, who is a nice guy despite using his real powers to con little old ladies like Jeanette Nolan and Lurene Tuttle. Karen and Harry used to be a number, and they get together. Harry reads the Tarot trying to reassure her, but that doesn’t help as he can’t ‘force’ a good reading. Of course then he has sex with her, because a bad reading is one thing and he’s a guy, and every woman wants sex the night before surgery on a mysterious tumor on their neck.
Harry is concerned about the surgery. He may be a con, but his powers are real (you haven’t lived until you see Tony in a fake mustache and a black robe with astrological symbols on it. He looks like Criswell escaped from an Ed Wood movie).
Harry doesn’t know the half of it. As Karen is going under the knife his client Lurene Tuttle is possessed by a demon chanting some weird words and then floats down the corridor before her body is thrown down the stairs to her death.
The surgery doesn’t go much better. When surgeon Jon Cedar tries to cut into the tumor he suddenly cuts into his own wrist instead and it takes two men to keep him from crippling himself. Then Strasberg’s vital signs go wild and she nearly dies.
Don’t mess with the tumor.
Curtis gets together with Cedar convinced that the tumor is somehow possessing Strasberg.
Curtis turns to his old friend Stella Stevens (in some sort of weird dark make up that seems designed to turn her into a red haired gypsy but just looks as if she spent too long in the tanning bed) and her husband, together they run an occult shop. She’s out of the business but owes Harry one so she helps him set up a seance with medium Ann Sothern to identify the spirit possessing Strasberg.
And something attacks during the seance, something powerful.
Another bad idea, but then this movie is full of them.
Meanwhile that tumor is the size of what it is, a fetus growing on the back of Strasberg’s neck.
By now they know one thing, the thing is dangerous. When they try to remove it with a laser the machine goes wild and Strasberg directs it with her glance. It seems the light from all the X-Rays have hurt the thing and it speaks through her. Now Cedar is as convinced as Harry they are in over their head. Not only is the thing possessing her and pissed off, it is also likely deformed by the X-rays (remind me not to go to the dentist if I think I have a fetus on my neck).
Curtis and Stevens go to barmy anthropologist Burgess Meredith who identifies the words they heard (“pawitchy salaoo”) as Native American, likely a powerful medicine man who can cause a new body to be grown on a host and leave it to die when it is born. He has done it many times before over the centuries growing more powerful each time.
Their only hope is to find a medicine man powerful enough to battle this ancient being, though Meredith would rather let Strasberg die and talk to the medicine man after. You know scientists.
That medicine man proves to be John Rocking Horse (Michael Ansara, and no, I’m not kidding, his name is Rocking Horse I guess John Hobby Horse was taken), who reluctantly agrees to help, but when he gets to San Francisco he discovers the being is the powerful Missmequaha — in short they are up a certain smelly creek without a paddle because Ansara is way overmatched. To make it worse Missmequaha wants revenge on the white man and modern society not to mention Native Americans who have strayed along the white man’s path.
He’s back, he’s bad, he’s mad.
Missmequaha is born despite Ansara’s best effort, but he is weak, his body misformed by the X-Rays. Ansara can’t defeat him, but maybe white man’s magic can, so they call on the manitou, or spirit, of the hospitals computer system, enough power for a small city, and when Ansara can’t channel it Curtis tries. He fails too, but awakens Strasberg who does channel the power sitting up in bed topless shooting rays of light from her hands (don’t knock it, it’s the best part of the film though it reminded me I would rather it was Stella Stevens) and destroys Missmequaha (or Mixmaster as Curtis calls him) in a mediocre special effects scene that probably seemed much cooler when this was made.
Big budget horror films don’t get much stupider or more inane than this one that doesn’t even have the heart to make real use of Native American myth and legend but just uses some names and half understood stories.
I don’t know if it was faithful to the book or not, I never could get past the second chapter of one of Masterton’s high concept (low execution) novels. If this was faithful, God help the readers.
To give the perfect illustration of just how lame this is, it ends with a note that a Japanese boy was actually born with such a fetus on his body and it killed him. Fact, it proclaims, and I suppose we were to leave the theater with a suitable frisson instead of doubling over in laughter as I wanted to as the credits rolled.
Manitou. I was disappointed when it didn’t turn out to be Karl May’s Winnetou’s little brother. A German western would have to be better than this lame movie. But it is bad in the way you can enjoy watching it doing your own Mystery Science Theater 3000 take on it. It’s the kind of movie kids used to throw popcorn at, everything going for it but not a brain brought to bear. Some movies are just painful, this one is good stupid fun.
Rosemary was lucky. At least she didn’t have to carry the devil’s spawn on her forehead.
A fetus on her neck? What were they smoking when they bought that idea?
The idea of what the sequel might have been like doesn’t bear thinking about.
I don’t even want to guess where the next fetus might have been.
So tomorrow morning the whole Newman-Getzler family is going on our annual pilgrimage to (right near) Miami, where countless Jews have descended over the decades. We’ve gone to visit Amanda’s parents for almost two decades now. And we’ve gone from newlywed explorations of the neighborhood to years of annual visits to Jungle Island and Monkey Jungle and Seaquarium, to what we expect this year’s trip to comprise: Many days of reading by the pool, watching our ridiculously grown-up kids sit and squint at their smartphones while binge-watching How I Met Your Mother and 90210 (the new, horrible version). I was thinking about this tonight as I packed, and then my Facebook feed bing-ed and I saw that I had my Year In The Life montage showing up. Yes, I posted it. But here’s my impression of 2014 in little nuggets of (mostly publishing-related—and to that end, mostly Amazon-centric) information.
1) The Amazon-Hachette (and S&S/Macmillan/etc) fight illustrated that while retailers may want to treat books the same way they treat, say, corn flakes, there’s a lot more blowback when the creators of the product are people rather than extruded grain. Does that mean that the Preston group was 100% correct? Well, not necessarily, since it was making the fight personal when it really was, in Godfather terms, Only Business. And now we have détente. I don’t particularly think that the end result will be good for authors in the long run, since I see both publishers and retailers thinking of ways to maintain their margins, and that will inevitably come at the expense of the artists. But at least the books will be available for sale.
2) While the Amazon folks may have been the Dark Lords of retail, their (genre fiction) publishing divisions were rock stars, and were by a wide margin the most effective marketers and promoters of their books in the industry this year. They understand how to create a long tail of sales, and how to use both older books to promote frontlist, and new books to breathe life into backlist. Of course, many people would say that they are able to do so because they are, you know, part of Amazon, and that’s a possible anti-trust issue. And, well, it may be. But this whole situation is complicated, and you know they will use whatever leverage they have to succeed
3) That being said, the NON-genre-fiction divisions of Amazon publishing were…less impressive, and shed staff as the year went on. Many of my agent colleagues agree with the assessment that, while Amazon is awesome at promoting books with a specific audience, it is less effective when the market isn’t as apparent, when discoverabilitiy of a book is a bit more organic.
4) That discoverability, in this new age of digital marketing, is still the Holy Grail. We can’t sell books effectively by tweeting or posting on Facebook or Tumbler—there’s simply too much chatter. That’s the challenge we’re seeing, and it’s getting us to very interesting returns to old-school book marketing—co-op dollars spent to get books placed on front tables or landing pages on websites. And who has the money to do that? Traditional publishers. Not independent authors (mostly), and not hybrid (Whatever)-Slash-Publishers (mostly). We may be seeing the worm turning back. Fascinating stuff.
5) 2014 also showed me how great it is to work in a real office, with my colleagues surrounding me, with the comfortable collegiality of popping into co-workers’ offices to collaborate on submissions lists or even to commiserate on a particularly painful pass. I spent 2013 in a kind of exile on 80th Street, working through the idea that “hey, you can do this job from anywhere.” But ultimately we humans are social creatures, and we need consistent interaction in order to be effective and—I think, anyway—happy.
6) Finally, the combination of shoulder surgery, my daughter’s bat mitzvah, the increasing grey I see in my hair every time I change my Facebook profile (or look in the mirror in the morning J), and the fact that I’m about to go to my 25th college reunion remind me that…I’m just hitting my prime. Now I need to pack for winter break in Miami. Happy New Year!
Sleeping Dogs by Ed Gorman
On the outside, Senator Warren Nichols’s reelection campaign appears to be proceeding smoothly. But behind closed doors, chaos reigns. The senator’s rabble-rousing opponent is gaining in the polls, and rumors of Nichols’s womanizing threaten to end his political career forever. When his chief of staff quits and then commits suicide, turmoil threatens the Nichols camp. Only Dev Conrad can haul the senator back from the brink.
A battle-hardened political consultant with a military background, Conrad finds the Nichols campaign in even worse shape than he imagined. A sleazy political operative has gotten his hands on a compromising tape of the senator, and he wants $1 million to keep it under wraps. When the blackmailer turns up murdered, Conrad must find the tape to keep his senator out of jail.
ED here: Sleeping Dogs is of course the title of Dick Lochte's brilliant novel. Chemo-brain or old age or both made me forget
that. I apologize, Dick.
We've just added six new Thomas Littlejohn mysteries from George Bellairs!
- Jim Thompson, Wild Town (via vintagecrimeblacklizard)
Earlier this year, LB chatted with Russel McLean about books, movies and more.
The book is an amiable pulp pastiche, if nothing more. Nolan writes well and the era is created pretty convincingly, but somehow I never really believe these guys really are Hammett, Chandler and Gardner. Perhaps Hammett, narrating his own story, comes closest. It comes off clear though that Nolan knows his stuff and knows how to keep the story moving. The plot sure moves along fast.
I'm now reading Brian Evenson's horror novel The Open Curtain. Seems pretty intriguing so far.
I've been a bad blogger for some time now (and I do know that it's bad blogging to blog about how bad you're at blogging), but I'll try to remedy that in the near future. I've had too little time on my hands, which shows here at Pulpetti. I'm not sure, though, whether I'll be able to squeeze in more hours or even minutes, since we'll be having our second child in the end of January (my third, I feel a bit old). There's not knowing how much the baby will keep me busy. (I can't believe this is the first time I've said this at Pulpetti, but that shows how much I've been able to think about blogging.)
Merry Christmas to all!