Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Book to Film - THE MANITOU (1978)

I can't explain why I have such a strange fascination with the 1978 film THE MANITOU. I can't claim it's a very good movie or that it has a very impressive story or is packed with creepy atmosphere or is well cast. OK- that last complaint isn't completely true. The only bit of casting that really seems off is TonyCurtis as phony psychic and all around good guy Harry Erskine. Erskine is supposed to be in his early thirties and at the time Curtis was actually in his late fifties so when the dialog between him and co-star Susan Strasberg strays too close to romantic territory the story seems a little odd. Luckily the story is so crazy there isn't much time for that kind of thing.

For years I have wanted to read the source novel of the same title by Graham Masterson but only got around to it this October. I was pleased with the book and found it (my first Masterson novel) to be a fun, freaky horror tale. Adding to my enjoyment was the fact that the film stuck really close to the novel. Indeed, I was surprised by how close to the book the film had stayed. There are a few changes -location, specific events, etc.- but the movie is about 80% straight from the page. This is a rarity and I must say that in this case it was a refreshing thing to discover, as my familiarity with the adaptation made the book an even more visual read. The movie takes entire sections of the book and slaps them right up onto the screen- even when that might not have been the best choice to have made.

The plot of the film is simple, up to a point -  Karen (Susan Strasberg) is suffering from a reoccurring nightmare and consults psychic Harry (Curtis). She believes her trouble is related to a tumor growing on her neck and enters a private hospital to have it removed. After a series of X-rays the doctors begin to think the tumor is a living creature - possible a vestigial fetus growing inside the swelling. Harry becomes concerned and researches Karen's dream which points to a Native American legend about a medicine man. The operation to remove the fetus/tumor fails when it seems that the growth has interlocked its nervous system with Karen's and then strange things start happening around the hospital. It appears that the tumorous growth is an Indian medicine man named Misquamacus who is reincarnating himself! The time travelling magic user feels under attack as a result of the X-rays used by the doctors to ascertain its nature and the radiation is starting to stunt and deform the thing's development. Misquamacus is returning to exact his revenge on white men who invaded North America and exterminated its native peoples. Harry locates another Native American shaman named Singing Rock (Michael Ansara) who is hired to help fight the reincarnating medicine man, but the kind of spirits he can summon for battle may be too weak to match his opponent's abilities.

Now- if that synopsis sounds crazed you know what you are in for and I wash  my hands of responsibility if you still watch the film. Understand that I like the movie but I don't expect you to be anything more than bemused. The ending is completely insane and shows that the book's monster heavy ending needed to be re-imagined for the screen - but not in this way. On the other hand, I can easily recommend the Masterson novel as a good read and well worth your time if you enjoy horror fiction and I think so highly of it that I look forward to tracking down the sequel! I wonder if Misquamacus actually returns or its another pissed off medicine man.

One day I need to write a bit about the film's director William Girdler. He had in interesting career. 

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