Publication Year: 1975
First of all, despite what you may believe, “Manitou” is not the plural of “manatee” (Thank you! I’ll be here all week!).
I decided to give this one a spin after reading Will Errickson’s review on his excellent Too Much Horror Fiction blog. I remembered a magazine article about the film version that had appeared in Starlog back in those pre-Fangoria days. The movie’s premise, a Native American medicine man growing out of a woman’s back seemed a bit whacked and I never made any attempt to track the movie down. I didn’t realize until Will’s review that the film was based on the first novel from horror scribe Graham Masterton, an author I had certainly heard of but whose work I had never read.
Karen Tandy has a large tumor on the back of her neck, made all the more alarming by the fact that it has grown to softball-like proportions in just three days and it only seems to grow at night. Dr. Jack Hughes, a specialist in treating tumors, has taken her case, but even his expertise hasn’t prepared him for what’s forming on Karen’s neck. X-rays indicate that what is growing inside resembles a human fetus.
On the night before her surgery, Karen visits Harry Erskine, a tarot-dealing psychic who Karen’s aunt swears by. She’s looking for reassurance that all will be well, and she tells Harry about her recurring dream of an old style Dutch sailing vessel that she’s been having ever since the growth manifested. Harry is a fraud, of course, making a good living reading fortunes for wealthy clients. Still, he takes an interest in Karen’s case, researching the ship from her dreams. When another one of Harry’s clients apparently becomes possessed during a tarot session, he is forced to reconsider his disbelief in the supernatural. He convinces a friend with genuine spiritual abilities to hold a seance and they learn they are dealing with a Native American medicine man who centuries ago cast his spirit, or manitou, into the future to be reborn via an unsuspecting host.
Harry enlists the help of Singing Rock, a modern day medicine man who doesn’t care much for his chances but for the right price he’s willing to give it a try. The thing on Karen’s back grows to a monstrous size, and when the being within bursts forth things really hit the fan.
The book was published in 1975 and has some charmingly dated bits, like when Harry Erskine has to wait in line for a phone booth (no cell phones in the 70’s, youngsters) and people firing up cigarettes left and right in hospitals. And there’s bourbon. Every time the horror reaches unbearable levels our heroes retreat to Dr. Hughes’ office to guzzle bourbon. Granted, I’m a fan of the stuff, but when up against murderous otherworldly phenomena I prefer a clear head.
Less charming, but certainly a product of the era are the terms Red Indian, Red man, and the like. I was also a bit surprised to see Masterton refer to a a black woman as a “negress.” I was around for the decade of Watergate and disco, and I don’t recall that term ever being in common usage.
All in all, The Manitou is good bit of gory fun. The final third of the book detailing the battle of modern forces against a reborn 300 year-old medicine man is pretty cool ride. It’s a quick read too (the NOOKBook version clocks in at 126 pages) making for a lean story with no padding to speak of. Highly recommended.
Also, since I originally posted this review I learned some interesting things about the book’s original ending.