Monday, October 24, 2016

MANHATTAN BABY - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Often dismissed and much-maligned, even by hardcore Fulci aficionados, Lucio Fulci’s MANHATTAN BABY (1982) is undoubtedly one of his lesser efforts from the time period, which encompassed some of his most popular, gore-drenched efforts, such as The BEYOND (1981) and The HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981).  Produced at the tail-end of his working relationship with producer Fabrizio De Angelis and writer Dardano Sacchetti, it’s easy to see why it didn’t – and still doesn’t – resonate with most audiences, what with its hackneyed hodgepodge of ideas that seemingly go nowhere.  Much like the works of Jess Franco, however, if viewed in context within Fulci’s body of work of that time, it all begins to make sense a little more, and, for more forgiving fans, it can be enjoyed as a strange if entertaining blip in the maestro’s career.

While in Egypt on an archeological dig, George Hacker (Christopher Connelly) becomes intrigued by an unexplored and possibly cursed tomb while his wife Emily (Martha Taylor / a.k.a. Laura Lenzi) and their young daughter Susie (Brigitta Boccoli) take in the sights.  Susie is approached by a mysterious woman, who gives her a strange, eye-shaped amulet with a blue gem in its centre.  At the same time, while George is exploring the mysterious tomb, he gets blinded by an intense blue light.  Upon returning to New York, Susie is soon taken-over by some sort of malefic force, which also opens a portal to other dimensions allowing her brother Tommy (Giovanni Frezza) and their babysitter Jamie Lee (Cinzia De Ponti) to venture between ‘time and space’, an inexplicable phenomenon which results in sand from the banks of the Nile and – much more threateningly – even Egyptian black scorpions manifesting right in their bedroom.  As Susie’s paranormal condition continues to worsen, George and Emily are contacted by an antiques dealer named Adrian Marcato (Laurence Welles / a.k.a. Cosimo Cinieri), who may be able to help the family.

Swiping elements from a host of previous films, including Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968), William Friedkin’s The EXORCIST (1973), and, to a lesser degree, Mike Newell’s The AWAKENING (1980), Fulci’s MANHATTAN BABY definitely takes a somewhat different approach, with less gore and an even-more-prevalent ‘metaphysical’ angle.  But, outside of the minimal gore, the film still contains a number of similarities to many of his more beloved films.  A slender plot, disjointed cutting and random weirdness – the bird attack scene comes readily to mind – highlight most of Fulci’s films from the period, and although much of it doesn’t come together as well as it did in some of his other, more popular films, MANHATTAN BABY still manages to be strangely endearing in that ‘fever dream’ kind of way.  Highlighted by some excellent location work in Egypt – which was apparently tacked-on as an afterthought to give it a more international flavour – and also in New York, the open vistas of the Sahara provide definite contrast to some of the more claustrophobic settings of Fulci’s earlier films, giving it a much more expansive look and feel, much like Friedkin did with The EXORCIST. Perfectly complimenting the visuals is Fabio Frizzi’s magnificent score, which he recalls as a very enjoyable experience composing due to his fascination with Egyptology, and although parts of the film reuse snippets of music from both ZOMBIE (1979) and CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980), it’s easily the best aspect of this seemingly troubled production, as well as one of Frizzi’s most accomplished works. 

Periodically frequenting Italian screens at that time, American actor Christopher Connelly is rather too bland as the lead, and is given very little to do other than simply look concerned/worried, and although Laura Lenzi is no Catriona MacColl acting-wise, her physical resemblance to MacColl is at times oddly similar.  As usual, Fulci gets the most out of his child actors and, much like the aforementioned The HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, most of the action unfolds around them. However, Giovanni Frezza is once again badly-dubbed and, at one memorable and hilarious point, he calls his sister a “lousy lesbian” after a game of softball.

No matter how negatively MANHATTAN BABY is generally regarded, Blue Underground’s newest Blu-ray is a truly incredible package for sure, which not only sports a new 2K transfer of the film, but also a whole wealth of extras, most of which revolve around composer and frequent Fulci collaborator Fabio Frizzi.  The first, and most significant extra, “Fulci and I”, is an hour-long interview with Frizzi conducted in his studio as he and his band rehearse in preparation for one of their concerts.  It’s a career-spanning interview, which predominantly focuses on his work with Fulci, his admiration for the man and their working relationship, beginning with his days as one of the members of the prolific Bixio-Frizzi-Tempera trio – which also included Franco Bixio and Vince Tempera – who scored some of Fulci’s earlier films, like The FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE (1975) and The PSYCHIC (1977).  In “Manhattan Baby Suite”, a sort of deleted scene from the Frizzi interview, a “live studio performance” is performed before the cameras.  Shorter (yet no less significant) interviews with actor Cosimo Cinieri and makeup effects guru Maurizio Trani are also included, and ported over from the earlier (circa 2001) Anchor Bay DVD, writer Dardano Sacchetti is also interviewed, wherein he discusses his dissatisfaction with the end result, along with his original unused concepts for the film.

In yet another interview, Stephen Thrower, author of “Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci”, also offers his thoughts, freely admitting to the film’s many problematic issues, although he still finds things about it to appreciate, including some of Frizzi’s musical contributions to the film, which he also considers to be some of his strongest work ever.  As a special bonus (similar to some of Blue Underground’s recent Blu-ray upgrades), they have also included the entire 12-track soundtrack CD previously issued by Italy’s Beat Records in 2011.  This is indeed a fabulous and highly welcome extra!  Last of all, Troy Howarth, author of “Splintered Visions: The Films of Lucio Fulci” contributes an excellent, thorough essay entitled “Lucio Fulci’s Egyptian Curse”, which is nicely illustrated in an 18-page booklet.  A trailer and an extensive photo and poster gallery finish off the extras.  A DVD of the film containing the exact same extras is also included.


While the film itself isn’t one of Fulci’s strongest undertakings, the same can’t be said about Blue Underground’s astounding Blu-ray, which alone is reason enough to pick up MANHATTAN BABY, and its pristine presentation may well encourage more people to give it another look (and a fairer shake), in spite of its many flaws.  Order it from Amazon or DiabolikDVD.

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