Monday, March 19, 2007

Desert Island DVD - THE MANITOU

As a child of the suburbs, a trip to the big city of Chicago was always a rare and big occasion. The IC train (soon to be metra) would take you downtown, but beyond the rare excursion to Marshall Fields for Christmas under the tree, our family wasn't much for trips to Chicago. The city was pretty different back then. Scary and unkempt, downtown Chicago under Daley Sr. could be an ugly place. It's hard to believe, but where now the sidewalks are filled with tourists and white collar workers during the day, and theater -goers at night, back in the 70's drug-dealers, hookers and ne'er-do-wells of all sorts ruled the streets. It was into this urban-jungle that I somehow talked my father into taking me in the summer of 1978.

A chubby kid going through puberty, I pretty much lived in Star Wars T-shirts, and had a pretty deep movie obsession. Having seen pictures and read previews of The Manitou in monster and sci-fi magazines, my God, I just had to see it. It not only had a gooey neck-monster, but also a battle in outer space! I was sold. Especially when, without any effort at all, I found the novelization sitting amongst the small selection of paperbacks at the Jewels. The Manitou there and then became the first novel I would ever read. Heck, it was probably the first book I ever read that wasn't 50% pictures. Having been a best-seller in the wake of "The Exorcist", Graham Mastertons novel was on it's umpteenth printing by the time it found my sweaty hands. Detailed with Native American mysticism and charlatan psychics, The Manitou made the daunting task of reading a pleasure. It also gave me a new outlet to enjoy my obsessions. Books! Those long-feared tools of "learning" could actually be enjoyed. Who knew? To this day, the prolific Mr. Graham Masterton has continued to turn out novels and short stories, many using these same characters.

Back in "the day", many movies used to play only at downtown theaters, never reaching the suburbs for weeks or months, if ever. Not just the "art-house" ones, but nearly every film that was smaller in stature, you had to work to see. People may say bad things about 20 screen mega-theatres, but had those been around back in the 70's I may not have had to drag my father to the Woods Theatre on that sweltering summer day. Rat-infested and run-down, the Woods was an air-conditioned escape for the street people and gang members that owned the streets outside. Finding the theater fairly full, we were properly ignored as we eventually found some usable seats. After this, the only events of note occurred on the screen. Bring on the gooey neck-monster!

From the first scenes "jump out of your seat" Dolby-enhanced screech, to the final battle in another dimension, The Manitou was everything I wanted it to be. Sure, as seen with the eyes of an adult, The Manitou is a bit lacking in a few places, but dammit, there isn't a thing about it I would change. It's a bizarro mix of campy horror and sci-fi, with a Made for TV cast, wonderful cinematography and a fantastic score by Lalo Schifrin. The story of a reborn medicine man in modern San Francisco, The Manitou has enough fantastical ideas to fill half a dozen movies.

One of its most unique ideas being that computers have souls. All too often, science fiction has used sentient computers as benevolent masters which want to enslave us. Even today it's quite "forward thinking" to have computers as our allies. I don't want to over-sell this movie as an exercise in cyberfuture thinking, since at it's heart, it's just a quirky, oddball and eccentric B-movie that is unlike anything you have ever seen.

Sadly, this was Writer/Director William Girdlers final film, since he died in a helicopter accident before The Manitou could be released.

The long in the making DVD had been announced as an extras filled bonus edition, so I was quite surprised to find all you get are two trailers and a pretty underwhelming menu screen. Maybe Anchor Bay will follow the sales of this budget disc, and deem it worthy in the future, but as for now, I am more than grateful to put away my well worn VHS tape.