Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Manitou

I had been a little nervous about getting this film. The only other movie by director William Girdler that I had seen before was Grizzly, and saying it sucked would be rather kind. Fortunately for me, this was a vast improvement over that earlier film.

I guess part of the overall increase in quality could have been guessed just from the plots of the two films. If nothing else, a film about an Indian medicine man sending his essence 400 years into the future so that he can be reborn into the present day by way of growing as a fetus off the back of a girl’s neck is certainly a good deal more ambitious than a film about a giant grizzly bear eating people. As could be expected from such a synopsis, Girdler just tries with all his might to pack this movie full of the kind of stuff you always love to see (well, okay, that * I* always love to see, at least). When the growth on the poor woman’s neck is first discovered to be growing, an attempt is made to surgically remove it, only to have the operating surgeon’s body taken over and him forced to slice into his own wrist with the scalpel. A follow-up attempt, this one involving lasers (no sharks were harmed in the making of this film), turns out even worse. The film also finds time to throw in a séance, a levitating woman, and a climax that I won’t spoil, but which is every bit as over the top and delightful as the climax to Altered States was. Okay, I can’t resist spoiling it a little bit. At one point the entire hospital shakes with what appears to be an earthquake, only to have a medicine man they brought in to counter the 400 year old medicine man growing out of their friend say that the quake was actually the arrival of Satan. And no, that’s not the most over the top part by any means.

The acting has also been heavily improved from Grizzly, most notably in his big star coup of Tony Curtis. Curtis plays the lead here, as his career had pretty much been over for some time by this point, and he does a fully capable job. If it’s not quite up to the level of his classic roles in films like Sweet Smell of Success or Some Like It Hot, well, I’m certainly not going to hold it against him.

This is one of those films where you just need to sit back and let it all wash over you in a torrent. It’s completely ridiculous, but you sometimes need that in a film just to keep you honest. Let’s be honest with ourselves here: the holiday season is coming up, and that means that we’re all going to be bombarded with really weighty, Serious Issue films until February sometime when we’ll go into our annual filmic wasteland. If between now and then you start feeling a bit bogged down by the self-importance of all the movies you see, a viewing of this will make everything feel all right again.

Rating: *** ½

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