The key word of that paragraph, of course, is "schlock". Schlock certainly isn't to everyone's tastes, and it's not usually...well, good. If there's one thing you can say about Girdler's cinematic output, however, it's that he brought us schlock con gusto. You might not actually enjoy The Manitou, say, but chances are you've never seen anything quite like it and you probably never will again. To that notion you might say "Well thank fucking Christ for that", while I myself say "Oh, William Girdler, how I miss you and your work".
Poor Karen Tandy (Susan Strasberg) wakes up one day to find some sort of lump on her back- a tumor or something that not only grows at a ridiculously fast rate, but also "kind of moves sometimes". Can I get an "Eww!" up in here?
Her ex-boyfriend Harry (Tony Curtis) is a sham psychic who spends his days bilking gullible, needy old ladies out of their dough by giving Tarot readings whilst decked out in a fake moustache and a fancy zodiac-laden robe. Harry is drawn into Karen's drama when a client, Mrs Herz (Lurene Tuttle)...uh, when Mrs Herz starts chanting the same nonsense Karen has been chanting at night and then...Mrs Herz screams, floats down a hallway, and throws herself headlong down a flight of stairs. As you can imagine, the scene is fucking awesome.
Seriously, I was clapping like a simpleton for, like, ten minutes.
Doctors determine that Karen's tumor isn't a tumor at all- it's actually a fetus. It's a fetus, growing on her back. Now, I've got nothing against motherhood whatsoever- I mean, if my mother wasn't into motherhood then...you know...chances are I wouldn't be here. If you want to have a baby, go for it. Me? I'm not at all interested in having a baby grow where it's supposed to grow, never mind growing on my fucking back. I would have been shrieking "Get it off me!" every second of every day until the thing was gone gone gone.
Karen is pretty much on my wavelength; the problem is, every time the doctors attempt to remove the thing, the fetus-tumor-lump wreaks havoc in the operating room. A surgeon cuts himself with the scalpel, a surgical laser starts zapping all over the place...it seems that the fetus-tumor-lump is on Karen's back to stay.
Harry seeks advice and aid in all manner of places in his quest to de-lumpify his lady love. He and his sham psychic colleague Amelia (Stella Stevens, all gypsy-fied in what is, essentially, black face lite) hold a seance at Karen's Aunt's house in an attempt to figure out what's going on. Despite a crazy light show and a weirdo-melty dude rising from the table, the gang doesn't learn much. Meanwhile, I learn that I can come up with a good number of Elizabeth Taylor jokes to make at Ann Sothern's expense, so all is not lost.
The Scooby Gang then hits up Dr Snow (Burgess Meredith), a cranky professor of something or other who, in one of his books, once mentioned a Native American medicine man being birthed out of a tumor on someone's arm or some shit. Seriously, by this point logic is your enemy; don't fight it- just go with it.
Dr Snow suggests that The Scooby Gang get their own Native American to do battle with the medicine man that's going to burst out of Karen any minute now, so Harry enlists the aid of John Singing Rock (Michael Ansara), who reluctantly agrees to do said battle.
At that point, I made a joke about John Singing Rock not being called John Singing Rock anymore because he's too old...now, he's called John Singing Adult Contemporary. I don't know if it's a good joke or not, but you can feel free to steal it when you show The Manitou to all your friends.
So. John Singing Rock and Harry head to the hospital to save Karen and the world, the medicine man busts a move out of Karen's back...and that's when things get weird. What, you thought it was already weird? You ain't seen nothin' yet, honey.
The last 20 minutes of The Manitou really need to be seen to be believed- any attempt at explanation is sure to fall miserably short, but let's say it's somewhat akin to sitting in a 1970's era Spencer's Gifts which turns into a kaliedoscope before your very eyes and then the kaliedoscope explodes. There's a dude in a lizard suit, the worst fake ice you'll ever hope to see, a jacked-up medicine man midget, decapitations, typewriters with souls, and a naked Susan Strasberg sitting on a floating bed shooting lasers at a big eye. Sometimes, my friends, all is right with the world.
It's pure madness, I tells ya. The Manitou makes no sense from the get-go, but then, somehow, by the time it's over it ends up making even less sense. I suppose you could glean some kind of science vs religion argument out of the whole thing, but really, what's the point? Again, just go with it.
And really, if elderly people floating down hallways and naked women shooting lasers at jacked-up midgets aren't reason enough to make you want to cram The Manitou down your pants, then it's obvious that you have no soul.
Oh, William Girdler, how I miss you and your work.
Film Club Coolies, y'all!
Look Back in Anger
Anchorwoman in Peril!
Meg Wood's Boyfriends in the News
Aphorisms and Ectoplasm