2/27/09

Fulciuary: Manhattan Baby (1982)

Holy cow, Fulciuary seems like such a short month. I can’t believe we’ve already spent 4 weeks with the Godfather of Gore. We put on our legwarmers for Murder Rock, visited a little town called Dunwich in City of the Living Dead, and quacked up at New York Ripper. This week we’re looking at a film released the same year as Ripper and maintaining the Big Apple setting. It’s perhaps one of Fulci’s most divisive films, and so I felt it would be perfect to end this month with Lucio being as much a mystery as when we began. So what is this film called? Cabin Boy? Nope that’s not it. Encino Man? Surely not! Jersey Girl? What? Jersey? How dare you this is….
Manhattan Baby (1982) starring Christopher Connelly, Martha Taylor, Brigitta Boccoli, Giovanni Frezza, Cinzia de Ponti, and Cosimo Cineri. Directed by Lucio Fulci.

Susie Hacker (Boccoli) has accompanied her father and mother, George and Emily (Connelly and Taylor), to Egypt. There George seeks to discover the ancient mystery of a forbidden tomb. As George explores the depths, blue beams emanating from a jewel in tomb’s wall blind him. Meanwhile, Susan accepts a strange medallion in the shape of a blue eye from a blind woman who promptly vanishes before her eyes.

On their return from Egypt, George finds little comfort in his doctor’s assurance that his blindness will only be temporary. Soon the family’s home is plagued be scorpions and snakes which appear out of thin air, and after their son Tommy goes missing, the parents learn the amulet has given the children access to another dimension. It’s not long before strange deaths begin to happen around them, and the children’s nanny comes up missing. With nowhere left to turn and believing an Egyptian spirit possesses their daughter, the Hacker’s must seek help from creepy occultist Adrian Mercato (Cineri).

Film Facts

--Lucio Fulci shows up in a brief cameo appearance as Dr. Forrester.

--Edward Mannix, a professional voiceover actor, provided the voice for Adrian Mercato. He has also done voice work in Yor, the Hunter from the Future, Golgo 13, and in five other films by Fulci including the voice of Jack Hedley’s Lt. Williams in New York Ripper.

--Manhattan Baby is also known as Evil Eye, Eye of the Living Dead, and The Possessed.



The Bug Speaks

How shocked was I when a film called Manhattan Baby, by an Italian director, did not open with an establishing shot of NYC. Instead, we are treated to some very nice location work in Cairo, Egypt. Lucio working with Cinematographer Guglielmo Mancori had full command of the camera in these locations. Mancori and Fulci had collaborated before, but not since working on the comedies The Masseuses and The Strange Type in the early ’60’s. In the interim, Mancori had lensed many a horror flick and a fair share of spaghetti westerns. The latter may account for the stunning shots of the desert locales.

Most Fulci movies suffer from uneven performances, but for the most part, I found the cast to be very good in Manhattan Baby. Christopher Connelly, of Peyton Place fame, gives a solid performance throughout as the tortured father. While Martha Taylor, in her single film role, manages to bring across some wild emotions without ever stepping over the edge of self-parody. The real remarkable thing is the performance of Brigitta Boccoli. She was a young actress in her first role and the linchpin of the film. This is a role that could have been totally botched, but Boccoli’s Susan is believable during all stages of the ordeal. The most shocking this of all is Giovanni Frezza, most recognized as the endlessly screechy Bob of The House by Cemetery, is dubbed slightly better here, and I didn’t have to mute the sound each time he opened his mouth.

Manhattan Baby hit the movie scene about the same time that Poltergeist made its debut, and many may think that Fulci was trying to rip off the Tobe Hooper supernatural opus. However, Fulci was mostly ripping off another movie, Rosemary’s Baby. While there is no pregnancy or devilish doings, there are several on the nose nods to Polanski’s film. The film makes a great deal about Emily Hacker working at the Time & Life Building that was featured in Rosemary’s. In addition, the name of the occultist, Adrian Merato, was taken from Adrian Marcato; the name of a witch in a book Rosemary is given. Perhaps it is also no accident that like Christopher Connelly, Mia Farrow came to fame on the TV version of Peyton Place. Spooky, eh?

With a film like Manhattan Baby, Fulci was trying to distance himself from the over the top gore he he’d become so noted for. Coming two years before Murder Rock, where I feel his movement to the middle had gone too far, this flick managed to still retain much of Fulci’s atmospheric flavor, including the love of the zoom lens, and provide a few scenes of gore. While none of the bloody stuff can be compared to Zombi 2 or The Beyond, the final onscreen death is perhaps worth the price of admission. (I won’t spoil anything, but anyone who has seen the film knows that this scene provides one of the most memorable last lines from a character ever put to film.)

The thing with Manhattan Baby I believe turns a lot of people off is that it makes very little sense. There is no direct logic to the film at all, and with scenes and reactions that come and go, the audience is often left to draw its own conclusions. This could partly spring from meddling in the plot by the film’s producers as has been reported, but I felt that it kept very in line with the impressionistic style of many of the Italian directors. Some say this is style over substance, but Manhattan Baby provided me with plenty of substance. It delivered a very dreamlike world where a supernatural tale unfolded, and with each layer that was peeled back, the story became more and more unsettling. Plus it had some of my favorite offerings from Composer Fabio Frizzi, a frequent Fulci collaborator.

This is not the film I would introduce people to Fulci with, but it is one I would recommend to anyone exploring deeper into his oeuvre. So what say you Lair-ers About? I know I have more than a few Lucio fans out there and I’d love to know how you folks come down on this one. For me I gotta give it….

Bug Rating


And so we end Fulciuary, but fear not. Feature Fridays kick off again next week when "You Don't Know Shat!" get's underway. See you soon folks.

4 comments:

  1. Great review and I think we see eye to eye on it. It is quite the head scratcher, but it's still a good flick. Kind of low key for Fulci--but I found that refreshing.

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  2. I, too, think this is quite underrated. I agree about the non-logic as central problem for most people who don't like it - personally, I don't watch genre pictures in search of logic.
    I also never understood the "style over substance" argument. Can the two really be divorced from each other?

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  3. this one is completely bonkers and nonsensical but nevertheless great fun. I think prompted by this post I may give this one a spin over the weekend.

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  4. "I also never understood the "style over substance" argument. Can the two really be divorced from each other?"

    You hit the nail on the head. As did all you fellows. It's so great to have insightful commenters like you guys!

    ReplyDelete

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