November 06, 2005

Finally out on DVD - THE MANITOU (1978) R2 DVD review

Region 2 UK DVD (released by Momentum Pictures)

Until last month this was on my NOT OUT ON DVD list.
It's been a long time coming, and needed a new home video release to befit it's 2.35 widescreen status. This PAL region 2 DVD still looks cramped to me (with an aspect ratio more like 1 to 2.0, than 2.35) especially the opening credit sequence with the first shot of the 3 x-rays side-by-side. But the framing problems soon disappear as the film gets going.

The stereo audio sounds very subtle, not separated at all, but doesn't sound out of the ordinary for a film of the seventies. The state of most cinemas' sound systems in the 1970's, you were lucky to make out dialogue clearly at all! Not keen on the cover artwork of the DVD either, it could be an image from a dozen other movies. Griping aside, this is a very decent release of a film we're lucky to have on DVD at all!

THE MANITOU came out in cinemas in 1978, riding on the reputation of Graham Masterton's best-selling novel, which was seriously and creatively gory (I was disappointed that we didn't get the cops-in-the-lift sequence in the film)! Something is growing inside a tumour on a young woman's back, it seems to be a foetus, it can defend itself and is starting to control her...
I was expecting another film like THE OMEN, what I got was less serious but more fun! It starts off mimicking possession thrills from THE EXORCIST, then manages to pitch in a special effects climax more inspired by the first STAR WARS (released the previous year). It prefigures the comedy horror, and indeed the native-American theme, of Spielberg's horror-blockbuster POLTERGEIST that came out 4 years later.
Tony Curtis in particular livens up the proceedings by improvising some of his dialogue and adding light comedy touches to alternate with his serious scenes. I particularly like the way he keeps calling the evil spirit Misquamacus, the 'Mix-master'! It's interesting to note that in the same year, Curtis' daughter would become a horror film staple in John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN...

he film has been accused of being camp, but I don't think the film ever makes unintentional fun of itself. I do wonder though how Susan Strasberg used 'the method' to get to grips with the scenes of Manitou combat.
I'd recommend THE MANITOU to fans of 1970's horror and disaster movies too. Don't expect too much blood, just one weird plot.

This was the last movie from director William Girdler. His name on a film meant you were going to be entertained, albeit on a budget. If you like THE MANITOU, then please seek out his DAY OF THE ANIMALS (hikers discover that the thinning ozone layer has turned every animal against mankind) and GRIZZLY (a JAWS rip-off with a bear instead of a shark). Both films are on DVD, but only in fullscreen versions. DAY OF THE ANIMALS should really be seen 1.85 and GRIZZLY should definitely be seen 2.35. In fact GRIZZLY should just be seen - it's a bad taste classic.

In the 1970's, disaster movies meant that no-one, however likable, was spared from spectacular death scenes - children, pets and old people included. We also get an animal attack on a helicopter before JAWS 2 hit the screens!
A link to an excellent website about William Girdler's many films, including his early Blaxploitation movies, can be found here. He sadly died in a helicopter crash scouting for locations, aged 30.

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