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The Manitou (Blu-ray Review)

Scream Factory has a pair of cult classic horror films from the era of the later 70s/early 1980s coming through the line on April 16th. One of which is The Manitou, which is based off of the novel of the same name from author Graham Masterton. The film boasts a pretty notable cast, including the likes of Tony Curtis, Susan Strasberg and Burgess Meredith. Its also notable for being the final film from Producer and Director William Girdler, who was killed in a helicopter accident prior to the release of the film. Scream Factory is bringing the film out with a new 4K scan of the original film elements and features some new features including a commentary track and a pair of interviews. You’ll be able to pre-order this one (And as always, help out the site just a little), by using the Amazon link following the review. It will be released alongside Superstition, both of which are debuts (In the US at least), on April 16th.

Film 

What surgeons thought to be a tumor growing on the neck of patient Karen Tandy (Susan Strasberg) is actually a fetus growing at an abnormally accelerated rate. But when Karen reaches out to former lover and phony psychic Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis), she discovers that she is possessed by the reincarnation of a 400-year-old Native American demon. Now with the help of a modern-day medicine man (Michael Ansara), Erskine must survive this ancient evil’s rampage of shocking violence and forever destroy the enraged beast known as… The Manitou.

The Manitou is camp to the truest sense of the of the word. Its actually competently made in most of the technical aspects, the performers buy into and sell the material and it carries a heightened ambition that it just can’t pull off. The film is a wild and weird riot to sit through with many oddities and silly situations. The funny thing of it all is that it actually boasts a pretty notable cast for both now and then, which add to the zaniness of it all. Overall, the fact that this film doesn’t work is ever a bit of its favor. In fact, I think it would pair with a film that came out around this time called The Visitor. While not as “what the hell is going on here?” as that, this feels like its the smarter older sibling to that one.

I don’t want to giveaway too much for the uninitiated, as I was one of them before this viewing, but damn is this a bit of crazy fun. It would be totally worth it to have watched this in a larger and rowdier group. As a matter of fact, I’d definitely hope that if there is a another Netflix season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, that this be one of the films they cover in it. This would be a big hit and instant classic if they gave it a shot, surely!

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Layers: BD-5o

Clarity/Detail: The Manitou comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory with a 4K scan of an inter-positive (The only remaining film element for the film, the negative is lost). The crispness and clarity of the film are dependent on the condition of the print. For a lot of the film, its quite impressive, but it does have some moments of flicker and weaker contrast. There are moments with much heavier grain than others throughout, but its never really bothersome, just a part of the character from the print. For the most part, its pretty insane that a film this bad could get a genuine golden treatment as its received on this release.

Depth:  Depth of field comes across quite well here overall when the image is at its best. There is the appearance of good spacing between foreground and background with smooth/natural character and camera movements.

Black Levels: Blacks are pretty deep with close to a natural appearance in areas with good saturation. Grain gets heavier in the deeper shadowy areas as well as the foggier ones. No crushing present.

Color Reproduction: Colors are quite strong and bold here. Reds, especially blood when its splattered on a wall is quite poppy, as well as good attention done to oranges and blues.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish. Facial features and textures like moles, make-up, wrinkles and more can come through quite cleanly and impressively in most shots.

Noise/Artifacts: Nothing digital is problematic, mainly just the look of the print at times.

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Stereo DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: The Manitou has a nicely restored stereo track intact here. It shows no sound of age, but its a bit light on the deeper tones within the film be it effects or score that you’d want to hit a bit more. However, this mix itself is very well balanced and definitely delivers in the terror it wants to. Overall, its The Manitou and it sounds fine.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp with some solid deeper tones represented.

Extras 

The Manitou comes with reversible cover art featuring an alternate poster design.

Audio Commentary

  • With Film Historian Troy Howarth

Interview With Producer David Sheldon (HD, 11:00) – The interview primarily consists of Sheldon discussing his relationship with and films he made with William Girdler. Not much is really said about The Manitou here. He does touch on Girdler’s death and how it affected him personally. “He could have been the next Spielberg. As a director and a filmmaker, he had it.”

Interview With Author Graham Masterson (HD, 28:11) – Starting with being inspired by the film version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Masterson discussing his early writing roots and his work writing for newspapers. From there he talks discussion with William Girlder to make the movie and how he adapted it, going over the novel, writing its sequels and options for potential followups. He also discusses other film options and films not related to The Manitou.

Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:22) 

Television Spots (SD, 1:32)

Image Gallery (HD, 6:56)

Blu-ray Credits (HD, :13)

Summary 

The Manitou is a bizarre camp classic and cinematic oddity from the 1970s. It boasts a fine cast that buys into the silly things making it all the more crazy. Scream Factory has put together a fine presentation for this stinker and put together a nice pair of interviews and a commentary to help give new perspective on this over 40 year old film. If you’re into movies ripe for Mystery Science Theater 3000, but haven’t yet been riffed by it…here you are!

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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