A 400-year-old shaman manifests as a neck tumor in The Manitou

A 400-year-old shaman manifests as a neck tumor in The Manitou

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The Last Exorcism Part II has us thinking about other movies about possession.

The Manitou (1978) 
Just how crazy could a movie about a 400-year-old Native American shaman who manifests as a fetus-tumor on a woman’s neck be? The answer: Every bit as crazy as it sounds, and then some. For starters, The Manitou features Tony Curtis as a wizard-robe-donning phony psychic freaked about encountering real supernatural phenomena (shades of The Last Exorcist), Burgess Meredith as a wispy-bearded anthropologist who confuses far more than he illuminates, and Michael Ansara as “John Singing Rock,” a medicine man who offers cryptic lines like, “Normally, I wait three risings of the sun before I take a job.” The build-up to this camp-horror spectacular takes its sweet time, as Susan Strasberg (daughter of famous acting teacher Lee) perplexes doctors with the fetus-tumor that’s growing on her neck at the rate of 7mm per hour and compelling her to incant the phrase “Pana-witchy-salatoo” (“My death foretells my return”). 

Once the growth fully takes control of her body and mind, however, The Manitou blows right on by 1977’s Exorcist II: The Heretic on the highway to Crazytown. Two operations and a séance lead to grievous injury and hysteria, Curtis’ tarot-card readings keep turning up the “Death” card, and Strasberg garbles threats while wearing sexy, revealing hospital gowns. But it doesn’t really hit full froth until the ancient shaman manifests as Misquamacus, a stumpy, rigid, muck-covered ghoul who combats his attackers in a spacey no-man’s land that appears to be on loan from a New World sci-fi production. Buried among the countless other Exorcist rip-offs—the director, William Girdler, previously turned out the quickie Jaws clone Grizzly in 1976—The Manitou has since found a legion of fans who appreciate the way it gives its stupefying premise the commitment it deserves.

Availability: Out of print on DVD, but Netflix still has it for as long as its copies hold out. Please treat the ol’ girls kindly.