Manhattan Baby

Director: Lucio Fulci
Screenplay: Elisa Livia Briganti & Dardano Sacchetti
Stars: Christopher Connelly (Professor George Hacker), Laura Lenzi (Emily Hacker), Brigitta Boccoli (Susie HackerGiovanni Frezza (Tommy Hacker), Cinzia de Ponti (Jamie Lee), Cosimo Cinieri (Adrian Mercato), Andrea Bosic (Optician), Carlo De Mejo (Luke), Enzo Marino Bellanich (Wiler), Mario Moretti (Tennant), Lucio Fulci (Dr. Forrester), Tonino Pulci (Orderly)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1982
Country: Italy
Manhattan Baby Blu-ray + DVD + CD
Manhattan Baby

When cult horror director Lucio Fulci dismisses one of his own films as “terrible,” you know you’re in for something interesting, which is exactly what he did with Manhattan Baby. “I think it’s a terrible movie,” was the extent of his assessment in a lengthy interview with Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta for their book Spaghetti Nightmares, although his subsequent comments suggest that his outright dismissal of the film has more to do with his falling out with producer Fabrizio De Angelis than anything regarding the film itself—which isn’t particularly good, but is hardly “terrible” by Fulci’s standards. Manhattan Baby was something of a transition film in Fulci’s oeuvre, as it capped a period of frenzied production in which he focused exclusively on ultra-gory horror films like Zombie (1979), The Beyond (1981), The House by the Cemetery (1981), and The New York Ripper (1982) and began a new phase that focused more on science fiction and fantasy (the uproar over the misogynistic gore and nihilism of The New York Ripper certainly encouraged a chance of pace). Manhattan Baby is still a horror film, no doubt, and it boasts a handful of gory setpieces, but it also moves toward a fantastical kind of supernaturalism that is more about glowing optical effects than bodies being torn apart.

The film puts all its production value up front as it opens in Egypt, where we meet Professor George Hacker (Christopher Connelly, known primarily his roles on various U.S. TV shows), an Egyptologist who is overseeing a massive new excavation. When he descends into a recently opened tomb, his guide dies a horrible death after falling into a spiked booby trap and he is temporarily blinded by bolts of blue energy that shoot out of an amulet on the wall. At the same time, his young daughter Susie (Brigitta Boccoli) is sight-seeing with her mother, Emily (Laura Lenzi), and is approached by a blind woman who gives her the very same amulet, which looks like a giant eye surrounded by coiled snakes. The amulet goes home with them to Manhattan, where Susie and her younger brother Tommy (Giovanni Frezza) discover that it can transport them back to Egypt. However, instantaneous international travel via a glowing door has its price, as the amulet is revealed via a cracked antiquities dealer named Adrian Mercato (Cosimo Cinieri) to be the evil Eye of Habnumenor, which possesses Susie and then starts causing the deaths of everyone around them, including a poor security guard who has the bottom of an elevator drop out from underneath him, a goody coworker of Emily’s who is zapped to the Egyptian desert, and another character who is pecked to death by the stuffed birds in his office come to life (this is by far the goriest sequence in the film, with Fulci’s trademark extreme close-ups of his eyes and throat being gouged and ripped open).

The screenplay by regular Fulci collaborators Elisa Briganti (Zombie, House by the Cemetery) and Dardano Sacchetti (The Beyond, The New York Ripper) is a typically convoluted stew of potentially interesting ideas only vaguely connected by anything suggestive of a cause-and-effect narrative, which is not at all uncommon for Italian horror in general and Luci in particular. However, because the plot in Manhattan Baby is more lumbering than usual, even by Fulci’s standards, the disjointed nature of the storytelling feels more dull than baffling. It doesn’t help that the cast, a mix of American and Italian actors, don’t have much to do but recite exposition and look alternately grave and confused (and sometimes bored), and their lack of impact is enhanced by the hollow postproduction dubbing of their voices (poor Giovanni Frezza, who was made utterly alien in The House by the Cemetery when his voice was dubbed by an adult trying to mimic a child, sounds better here, but he still feels like he slipped in from another dimension).

The prog-rock musical score by Fabio Frizzi adds a sense of ethereal mystery that helps offset the film’s fundamental awkwardness, and Fulci does his best to impart style wherever he can. This results in a few good sequences that have real visual tension (especially the opening scenes in Egypt), but more often than not Fulci simply falls back on his grab-bag of tricks, most notably extreme close-ups of characters’ eyes whenever something mysterious or interesting is happening, a ploy he clearly stole from Sergio Leone without Leone’s understanding of the human face as emotional landscape. Manhattan Baby cribs shamelessly from any number of superior horror films, with the title itself being a nonsensical nod to Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). But, that is pretty much what you come to expect from a Fulci film, and if Manhattan Baby is often regarded as one of his lesser efforts, it isn’t for lack of trying.

Manhattan Baby 3-Disc Limited Edition Blu-Ray + DVD + Audio CD

Aspect Ratio2.39:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 monaural
  • English Dolby Digital EX 5.1 surround
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural
  • Subtitles English
  • “Fulci & I” interview with Composer Fabio Frizzi
  • “For The Birds” interview with actor Cosimo Cinieri
  • “25 Years With Fulci” interview with make-up fffects artist Maurizio Trani
  • “Beyond The Living Dead” interview with co-writer Dardano Sacchetti
  • “Stephen Thrower on Manhattan Baby” interview with the author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci
  • “Manhattan Baby Suite” live studio performance by Fabio Frizzi
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Poster & still gallery
  • Insert booklet featuring new writing by author Troy Howarth
  • Bonus CD Manhattan Baby Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Fabio Frizzi
  • DistributorBlue Underground
    Release DateOctober 25, 2016

    Blue Underground has gone back to the source for their 3-Disc Limited Edition release of Manhattan Baby, giving us a new 2K scan of the original camera negative. The resulting image is quite impressive and definitely the best the film has looked on home video, improving over both the 2001 Anchor Baby DVD and Blue Underground’s own DVD from 2007. Framed at 2.39:1, the image is sharper, clearer, and boasts slightly better color than the previous releases (although viewers will notice that it has an inherent softness to it, which is typical of Fulci’s films). It also opens up the frame a tad more, giving us more visual information on the top, bottom, and both sides than the previous DVDs. There is little in terms of age and wear in evidence, with only a few minor speckles. Grain structure has been left intact, giving the image a nice film-like appearance. The original monaural soundtrack has been remixed into a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel surround track that benefits Fabio Frizzi’s memorable prog-rock score the most. When the music kicks in, the soundtrack opens up nicely, although I was disappointed that there wasn’t more heft on the low end (a thunderstorm and some other rumbling sound effects don’t have much punch). Of course, the dialogue sounds hollow and weird, which is the fault of the postproduction dubbing, not the transfer.
    The previous DVDs of Manhattan Baby were largely lacking in supplements, but such is not the case with this release. Rather, Blue Underground has put together nearly two hours of new material that should please Fulci aficionados to no end. The longest supplement is a 56-minute interview with composer Fabio Frizzi, which covers not just his work on Manhattan Baby, but his entire career collaborating with Fulci. There are also new interviews with actor Cosimo Cinieri (who plays Adrian Mercator), make-up effects artist Maurizio Trani, and film scholar Stephen Thrower (author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci). Held over from the 2001 Anchor Baby DVD is an interview with co-writer Dardano Sacchetti. Also on the disc is a live studio performance of “Manhattan Baby Suite” by Frizzi, a theatrical trailer, a poster gallery, and a stills gallery. The case includes an insert booklet with a lengthy overview of Fulci’s career and assessment of Manhattan Baby adapted by Troy Howarth from his book Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films and a bonus CD of the film’s original soundtrack.

    Copyright ©2016 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Blue Underground

    Overall Rating: (2)

    James Kendrick

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