The Manitou, Reborn In HD! (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Ah, I have been looking forward to this one since the day it was announced!   The Manitou is a wild, fun ride.  But it's not so well done that it's a horror classic or anything.  It's what you'd call "a mixed bag."  It's got its great points, though, and what that winds up amounting to is the kind of film you're really rooting for to come out, partially because it very well may not.  If you fall for a beloved horror classic, you don't have to worry, oh gee, do you think Army of Darkness will ever get a quality release?  But with these secondary "also ran" titles that barely get mentioned on forums or Film Twitter, you really have to keep your fingers crossed tight.  Then if it does get announced, it's like your team won The Super Bowl, even when, sure, you can admit there's hundreds of better films.  But dammit, this one's my draft pick.  Is that the right term?  Look, I don't watch sports, but I dig The Manitou.  
If you're not familiar, The Manitou is a trippy 1977 horror film based on a novel by horror author Graham Masterton.  It's directed by William Girdler, who tends to shoot a bit flat.  And it's also rated PG, so if you're not watching it in its correct widescreen format, it can feel a lot like a TV movie.  How's that for a ringing endorsement?  It also stars Tony Curtis.  Hey, wait, where are you going?

Right, now you see why this isn't the consensus pick (how's that for a sports term?).  But let me tell you why I've been pulling for this movie.  How about a scene where Susan Strassberg, who just happens to have a full grown ancient Indian medicine man growing out of her neck, commands a laser-beam to blow up a bunch of doctors and nurses with her mind?  What if I told you the medicine man comes out deformed, and in his anger he summons a giant translucent lizard monster, turns an entire ward into solid ice, skins somebody alive and turns him into a zombie?  That last one's surprisingly graphic for PG, by the way.  And then the final confrontation takes place in outer space, with a topless woman and the devil himself shooting meteors at each other!  Now, I ask you: who could sleep at nights without owning such a film in HD?
But unfortunately, it's entirely pure awesomeness.  One major issue is that the film is most effective when taking everything earnestly, but Curtis and about half of the supporting cast are playing it like a Neil Simon play.  Some of that humor works, especially when Curtis is fleecing his elderly clients in the beginning of the film.  And that supporting cast I mentioned includes some big Hollywood names like Stella Stevens, Ann Sothern and Burgess Meredith, who inject some welcome charm into a scene now and again.  But all that stuff tends to work against the bigger picture.  We wanna see some of the other ancient spirit monsters this evil medicine man can summon, not Strassberg and Curtis flirting on a San Francisco trolley.  But as with Grizzly and other Girdler films, you're stuck killing time until the next entertaining pay-off.
Speaking of killing time, The Manitou was in no hurry to come out on DVD, but eventually found its way to most regions around the world, widescreen and anamorphic to boot.  Here in the US, it was an Anchor Bay DVD in 2007.  I've still got mine, so we'll be checking it out below.  But all those discs were barebones... This crazy flick needed a special edition!  And, as we rolled into the 2010s, it needed a blu-ray special edition.  Well, Scream Factory's upcoming release, due out April 16th, doesn't label itself as one of their "Collector's Edition," but I'd say this fits the special edition bill.
2007 US Anchor Bay DVD top; 2019 US Scream Factory blu bottom.
So the old DVD was anamorphic, but I left the negative space around the first set of shots so you can see how it was still somewhat window-boxed.  Correcting that also adjusts the aspect ratio from 2.27:1 to a proper 2.35:1.  If you study the different comparisons I've posted, you'll see the framing is different from shot to shot.  We can only assume Scream's is more accurate.  The same can be said for the color timing, which has also strongly shifted.  There, though, the DVD does seem overly red, making it an easier assumption.  The new image certainly "pops" more, with stronger contrast and deeper blacks, looking decidedly more photo realistic.  I mean, just look at Michael Ansara in that second shot compared to the first.
2007 US Anchor Bay DVD top; 2019 US Scream Factory blu bottom.
The case and promotion for this release has been touting a new 4k scan.  But only when you play the disc do you get an on-screen message that "sadly, the negative for the film is lost," and Studio Canal, who created the new transfer, had to use an inter-positive.  There's no doubt that there scan has pulled all the info they possibly can out of their source, as every speck of grain is finely rendered in 4k.  But detail in the actual image is a bit light... though still superior, and decidedly cleaner than the compressed DVD.  But this does introduce a few minor flaws that the DVD didn't have... there's some flickering, particularly in the beginning and at certain points - presumably reel changes.  There's also a very slight intermittent shudder during the first couple minutes; and while film damage is light, there is dirt and chemical marks that aren't visible on the DVD.  Those issues pointed out, though, it's still a far more pleasing image than the old disc (the flicker being the only one most viewers will likely even notice); there's no question the blu-ray takes the belt with a very satisfying knock-out (another expert sports reference!).

Another nice touch with the blu-ray is that Scream/ Studio Canal were able to restore the original Stereo mix.  Previous DVDs have only had a mono mix, but apparently the film was originally released theatrically with a stereo mix, and Scream's brought it back.  And they kept that mono mix, too; presenting them both in DTS-HD.  Both the DVD and blu-ray also include optional English subs.
Now, the extras I was super excited for.  After all, this film's never had any before, apart from the trailer, a TV spot, and some bonus trailers (including one for Superstition).  This time we've got some real extras.  The one I was anticipating the most was the on-camera interview with Graham Masterton, and it's pretty good.  It's a solid 28 minutes, but he spends the vast majority of that time talking about his youth and early career leading up to becoming a novelist.  He does eventually get to The Manitou, both the novel and the film; but he rushes through it.  It's even more extreme with the second interview, with producer David Sheldon.  He talks about Girdler but only refers to The Manitou in one single, passing sentence.  I got the feeling that Scream had interviewed Sheldon for another film, and just clipped out this excerpt that sort of applied here.
The third extra finally does actually focus on The Manitou, an audio commentary by film historian Troy Howarth.  He's got a lot of info to share.  He's read the book (in fact, he winds up knowing more about the differences between the book and the film than Masterton did), and is highly energized.  No dead air here.  Towards the last act, though, he does seem to be running out of material, repeating anecdotes and reading what sounds like each actor's Wikipedia page verbatim.  But any nitpickable issue ("he comments that the characters never think to call the police when they just had a big argument over whether to call the police in the previous scene... worst. commentary. ever!") aside, you'll come out massively entertained and informed about the ins and outs of this movie.  At this point, Howarth has got to be one of the best cult expert commentators in the biz.  Oh, and he also makes an impassioned plea for Warner Bros to drop the embargo on Abby, which I think we can all get behind.

Anyway, Scream's disc also includes the trailer, three TV spots, a thorough stills gallery, and surprisingly spicy reversible cover art.
So, I don't know what arbitrary standard Scream Factory uses to prevent this release from qualifying as a "Collector's Edition."  No slip cover I guess.  Whatever, this is a pretty terrific special edition that, a few quibbles aside, satisfies my every expectation.  I'm so happy to replace my barebones DVD with this.  It's a real home run!  ...or touchdown or whatever.

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