"The Manitou is the realization of the novelist's vision of pitting powers of medicine men from the 16th and 20th centuries against each other. For producer/director/writer William Girdler, the film is a dream come true." (Press Release, 1977)
Graham Masterton wrote his debut horror novel titled The Manitou in 1975. The book was a smash in the UK and soared to the top of the US best seller's list by 1976. As the story goes, William Girdler first read the novel while on a flight to London. He was so enamored with the book that he immediately phoned Masterton requesting the film rights. The rest, of course, is history. The Manitou is the jewel in Girdler's crown. The posthumous hit would have surely catapulted Girdler to a new level of filmmaking.
Graham Masterton is an award-winning author with over 30 horror novels to his credit, including Revenge of the Manitou and The Pariah. His complete body of work totals over 70 books. Masterton's horror novels have reached more than 20 million readers worldwide. His 1988 best seller Ritual is the basis of an upcoming feature directed by Mariano Baino.
William Girdler.com recently contacted Mr. Masterton via email, and he charitably agreed to answer a few questions regarding The Manitou. I'd like to thank him for sharing his thoughts with the site.
WG.com: I found an old black and white postcard from
the 1920's that features a photograph of a Native
American midget named Manitou. He appears to be
part of a travelling show. Was this image related to your
initial inspiration for the story, or is it a creepy coincidence?
Graham Masterton: I had heard of a dwarfish Native American who claimed
that he had been shrunk by a vengeful spirit, although
I have never seen the postcard you mention. It was
this same Manitou of reduced stature who was supposed
to have appeared in two freak shows simultaneously --
one in Illinois and one in Washington State. This
gave me the inspiration for Misquamacus' ability to be
in more than one place at one time -- often thousands
of miles apart.
The tale of William Girdler's phone call to you requesting the screen rights for Manitou is
somewhat legendary. What was your first impression of William Girdler? Had you seen any of his previous film
efforts at that time?
I had seen Grizzly. It may look like a dated 1970s
exploitation movie these days, but you have to throw
your mind back 25 years to a time when movies like
Earthquake and The Towering Inferno and Jaws were all
the rage. Bill's movies were good scary fun, in spite
of the flares that everybody wears (I wore them, too!)
When I first met Bill in Los Angeles I found him
quiet, modest, appreciative and a genuinely nice guy.
I liked him from the beginning and we spent several
hours discussing The Manitou and all the future
projects we were going to do together.
Those who knew Bill said he was
excited about making The Manitou. Not only was
thrilled to be producing the feature, but he was
huge fan of the book. Were you aware of his
enthusiasm for the project?
Oh, yes. He made it quite clear that he loved the
book. But he didn't ask me for any input into the
movie. He obviously had his own vision of what it was
going to look like, and I was confident enough in his
talent to let him go ahead. As it turned out, his
vision of it was almost identical to mine.
(Click Here to see Misquamacus in action. Mpeg movie: 782 KB)
Girdler commented in a Louisville Times
that you were approached by several different
studios interested in the rights to Manitou
you signed up with him. He said some studios
you 10 times what he paid. Is this true? Did you
have any immediate regrets about working with
There were several approaches from other studios
interested in appropriating the rights but it isn't
money that counts when you find somebody who wants to
make a movie out of your work. Practically every book
I have ever written has been optioned for the movies
at one time or another, but it's very rare to find
somebody who has both the talent and the financial
clout to be able to bring it to life.
Girdler said he launched into pre-production
within three months of securing the rights to
story. Shooting wrapped within seven months.
you surprised at how quickly things rolled out?
does Girdler's speedy filmmaking style compare
your post-Manitou Hollywood experiences?
Yes...I was amazed how quickly The Manitou went from
lawyer's office to premiere. But when I recently sold
several stories to Tony Scott for his series The Hunger I was also impressed how fast they were
scripted, shot and completed. I recently sold my new
novel Bonnie Winter to Jonathan Mostow (of U-571
repute) and that deal was signed within three hours.
Did you ever have the opportunity to visit a Manitou set while the film shot in California?
No, I was too busy to visit any of the sets, although
Bill kept me closely in touch with visuals and running