A young girl on vacation in Egypt is given a mysterious charm, causing her archeologist father to be struck blind inside an unexplored pyramid tomb. But when the family returns home to Manhattan, a plague of supernatural evil and sudden violence follows. Can this ancient curse be stopped before it is unleashed on the streets of New York City?
Italian shock master Lucio Fulci combines elements of The Exorcist, The Awakening, Poltergeist, and more in this bizarre horror thriller. Also known as Eye Of The Evil Dead and The Possessed, Manhattan Baby is notable as one of Fulci's final films to be released in America.
The 80s were an odd and magical time for films, weren’t they? Even for the horror genre alone, many different subgenres emerged, and all thrived for a short period of time. One of the most interesting, that surely isn’t alive and well today, was the Italian horror genre. From Dario Argento (my personal fave), Mario Bava, all the way to Lucio Fulci, all emerged in the late 60s and built their names through the 70s to finally become more mainstream and thrive in the early 80s. These directors were a group of underground filmmakers, not so concerned with dialogue and plotting, but more with mood, setting, and more importantly, shot composition. Yes, folks, these filmmakers really knew how to use the camera. In fact, most times the camera felt like a character in the film alongside the actors, constantly moving and never stagnant.
Now, I have always put Fulci at the middle of the pack as far as Italian horror goes, because, well… he never seems to have all his eggs in one basket so to speak. He excels at shot composition and camera movements, but scene to scene things never seem to add up, and this movie is no different. We start with the Hacker family on vacation in Egypt where we are immediately introduced to their predicament. While in Egypt, little Susie Hacker (Brigitta Boccoli) is handed an Egyptian amulet by a local, while simultaneously, George Hacker accidentally stumbles (literally, he trips and falls) onto an identical amulet. These amulets have different effects. In George’s case, he goes blind for a short period of time. But in Susie’s case, she gets possessed by an Egyptian entity and starts behaving erratically. These odd occurrences aren’t ever explained. It was the same amulet; so why did George react differently than Susie? And as the possession starts, why does it seem to have nothing to do with Egyptian lore? The film doesn’t feel the need to explain anything, and by the end I had enough questions to fill the Grand Canyon.
There are also two other members of the Hacker family. There is George’s wife, Emily (Laura Lenzi), and their son Tommy (Giovanni Fezza), and for the most part these two aren’t affected by the spirit except for a few odd scenes with Tommy that go nowhere. But that doesn’t mean these actors are any better than the ones that play Susie and George, because all the acting in this film is unforgivably wooden. I counted fifteen instances where staggeringly shocking things happen to the Hackers and the rest of the people in the room just look at them with a blank wooden expression on their face. In one scene, we get the obligatory MRI scene with Susie, where she violently coughs up blood s her mother Emily just looks at her stone faced like this happens every Tuesday. The absolute worst case of this is the obligatory exorcism scene between Adrian Mercato (Cosimo Cinieri) an antique dealer/ religious lore specialist, and Susie. The spirit seems to go into Adrian for a short period of time and blood starts pouring from his eyes and mouth, while scratches appear all over his body. Throughout this entire time, George is just standing there, not in horror, but with the same damn blank expression on his face like nothing is phasing him. Literally every scene is riddled with expressionless dialogue and blank expressions on their faces.
The one and only redeeming quality ‘Manhattan Baby’ has going for it, is its camera work. Every scene has the camera doing something different and unique; whether it’s an exterior establishing shot, or a scene where characters are sitting having a conversation, the camera is constantly moving and has more character than any of the actual “characters” here. The rest of the movie is a real enigma to me. Nothing makes sense and this is some of the stiffest acting I have ever seen. I could have gone for a more artistic Egyptian version of ‘The Exorcist.’ But that is not what is on display here. Instead we get an incoherent mess that no one could possibly take as having a deeper meaning.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats:
Blue Underground brings ‘Manhattan Baby’ to Blu-ray in a rather impressive package. No slip cover is found here, and the usual hardcover case isn't blue at all. Instead, we are given a clear white case with some great cover art. Inside on the right we are given a BD-50 Blu-ray with a DVD copy of the film behind it. On the left we are given a collectable booklet written by Troy Howarth (I have never had the pleasure of reading any of his work besides what is presented here), and behind that is a CD copy of the Soundtrack. Behind all of this is an alternate cover for the case that you can remove from the sleeve and switch out as you wish.
‘Manhattan Baby’ puts an Egyptian hex on your system, with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encode that tends to show its age quite often, even though has a shiny new transfer. Framed at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this movie was released in 1982 on a shoestring budget, yet we have a transfer that has been uprezed to a 2K resolution. Keeping this film’s budget and age in mind, there are some shots that reveal a decent amount of detail, specifically in close ups. But more importantly, this transfer allows for the only real star of this film to shine, and that is its camera work. The camera moves around its set like a pro, and seeing this at a 2K resolution allowed the camera to be the only thing holding my attention thought the film.
We do also have many flaws here that are glaringly obvious from the first shot of the film. We are in Egypt and the father, George, is meeting a guide, and the desert looks so blown out and blurred that there is zero detail to be seen. That’s because there are shots here where the picture looks so soft that it looks damn near close to the quality of the DVD. Another, more amateurish, sin this disc commits is the fact that there seems to be debris on the lens of one of the cameras they used, which appears on and off in every scene in the entire movie. I also watched the DVD copy to see if the debris was still there, and that is definitely the case, which makes me believe it is on the source that both these transfers were derived from. This transfer does have many problems, and yes this is a curious movie to uprez to 2K. But with that being said, this transfer offers more than the movie itself deserves, and anyone pining for a HD copy of this film should be satisfied, if not a tad bit underwhelmed by this transfer.
‘Manhattan Baby’ haunts your speakers with a rather bland DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix that just isn't up to par with today's standards. Now, we have learned from some of my previous reviews, that you don't need to back up the money truck in order to create a good sound mix. That's why I love audio mixing, all it takes is a little TLC. Yet I feel like the people behind the scenes here chose to mix this film as is without changing very much.
Front speakers are the star of the show here, and not because of the fact that they are so damn dynamic. No, it's more like they are the only speakers that get a workout here, because the surrounds don't get any love. I counted two scenes total, that were both possession scenes, that my surrounds came to life for a split second and that's it. The score of the film feels very rooted in the 1970s though it was released in 1982, but at least it gives the LFE Channel a chance to stretch its legs, because other than the score, it isn't used to its fullest potential in the least. Dialogue is crisp, clear, and audible, but all of this hurts the overall enjoyment of the film where every screaming child, ticking clock, and even the exorcism scene has a serious lack of impact.
Lastly, Fulci used a mostly Italian cast and as a result, the film is dubbed for English speaking audiences. But the dub is done horribly, and is a huge reason why the performances come across so wooden. What is even more frustrating is that there is no Italian mix on the disc with English subtitles. I understand, from listening to the Special Features, that this was supposed to be Fulci’s introduction to American audiences, but the original Italian performances would have added a great deal here. Because of that, on the whole I was a bit underwhelmed by this audio mix. Even though this film is more than thirty years old, we have heard older films with similar budgets that have a more robust and fulfilling track than what is here.
Folci &I – Interview with composer Fabio Frizzi (55:49 HD) – This documentary grabbed my attention more than the actual film itself. This hour long documentary goes into Frizzi and Folci’s influence for the scores that they have done over the years together, and more importantly, it displays their passion. Something that was sorely lacking in the overall film.
For The Birds – Interview with star Cosimo Cinieri (8:51 HD) – Cinieri was the only performance in the film that actually felt like there was an actual living, breathing person on screen, and not a robot reading lines, and he shows his heart as he looks back on working with Folci who unfortunately has passed away. He has fond memories of working with Folci and I found it quite amusing to watch him talk about filming scenes together, like the scene where the owl attacks Cinieri.
25 Years with Folci – Interview with Makeup Effects Artist Maurizio Trani (11.15 HD) – Trani did most of Folci’s makeup effects for his movies, and this is a rather amusing look at their relationship over the years. He expresses that they actually had more of a combative relationship, but always pulled together and got the job done.
Beyond The Living Dead – Interview with Co-Writer Dardano Sacchetti (8:17 SD) – This seems to be a carry over from the DVD version of this film, but this was interesting nonetheless. Sacchetti talks a lot about this being a compromised project, and one that was severely stymied by a last minute cut in the budget that caused them to make some significant last minute changes.
Stephen Thrower on ‘Manhattan Baby’ (12:42 HD) – This is a rather revealing look at Folci’s body of work through the eyes of Thrower, where he confirms Folci’s relationship with his long time producer Fabrizio De Angelis, and as a result even he admits this isn't Folci’s best effort. He also states that he feels the score is what makes this film stand out for him.
“Manhattan Baby Suite” Live Studio Performance by Fabio Frizzi (8:35 HD) – A terrific live performance of the main theme of the film over thirty years after its release.
Theatrical Trailer (3:12 HD)
Poster & Still Gallery
I have spoken about my love for everything the 80s had to offer as far as horror is concerned before. Yet, I feel like “Manhattan Baby” was a compromised vision, and as a result, feels scattered and incoherent at times. Because of the fact that we aren’t offered an Italian audio track, we are left with a film containing a bad dubbing job with wooden and stiff performances. ‘Manhattan Baby’ feels like it wants to be a movie much in the vein of ‘The Exorcist’ or ‘Rosemarie’s Baby,’ but instead we get a seemingly messy version of those films. But there is a glimmer of hope for this film with its lively cinematography and amazing score by Fabio Frizzi. This feels like a love letter to Fulci, with a Blu-ray set that goes all out with its video transfer, packaging, and especially with its Special Features. If anyone is a fan of this cult film, they would be pleased with the sheer mass of material presented here.