Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Retro Review: MANHATTAN BABY (1982)

(Italy - 1982; US release 1984)

Directed by Lucio Fulci. Written by Elisa Livia Briganti and Dardano Sacchetti. Cast: Christopher Connelly, Martha Taylor (Laura Lenzi), Brigitta Boccoli, Giovanni Frezza, Cinzia de Ponti, Laurence Welles (Cosimo Cinieri), Andrea Bosic, Carlo De Mejo, Lucio Fulci, Martin Sorrentino. (R, 89 mins)

Released to US drive-ins and grindhouses in 1984 by 21st Century as EYE OF THE EVIL DEAD, this 1982 Lucio Fulci film is best known by its original and subsequent home video title, MANHATTAN BABY, and while it's far from the director's best effort, it's better than its reputation. Viewers of the much-maligned MANHATTAN BABY are usually disappointed that it's not as gory as most titles from Fulci's unstoppable 1979-1982 classic era, but it does have its charms. It's also noteworthy as the last collaboration between Fulci and producer Fabrizio De Angelis after several years of trailblazing gore classics like ZOMBIE (1979), THE BEYOND (1981), THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981), and THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982), the duo having an irreparable falling out over some eleventh hour budget cuts on this film, which co-writer Dardano Sacchetti estimated to be in the neighborhood of 75%.  After this, De Angelis started calling himself "Larry Ludman" and concentrated on directing Italian ripoffs of popular American action films, and though he kept working with other producers throughout the '80s on films like CONQUEST, MURDER ROCK, and ZOMBI 3, Fulci never scaled the glorious heights of his De Angelis years, his prolific golden era effectively coming to a close by the time MANHATTAN BABY and THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY hit US theaters in 1984.

One big problem with MANHATTAN BABY is that Sacchetti, his co-writer and wife Elisa Livia Briganti, and Fulci can't seem to settle on what they're ripping off: there's elements of 1980's THE AWAKENING, a little of 1982's POLTERGEIST, plus a climax that seems like a tamer version of 1973's THE EXORCIST. Gore is minimal, confined mainly to a ridiculous bird attack near the end. Christopher Connelly (around the same time he played the hapless Hot Dog in Enzo G. Castellari's 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS) is archaeologist George Hacker, who uncovers a mysterious force in Egypt and is temporarily blinded, and his daughter Susie (Brigitta Boccoli) is given a strange medallion by a blind old crone who vanishes into thin air. Back in NYC, Susie is slowly possessed by the force, sand turns up in Susie's and little brother Tommy's (Giovanni Frezza, best known as THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY's "Bob") bedroom, colleagues start getting killed, and a pervasive Evil seems to be taking hold. This leads Hacker and his wife Emily (Laura Lenzi, credited as "Martha Taylor," for some reason) to consult mysterious antiques dealer Adrian Mercato (MURDER ROCK's Cosimo Cinieri, billed as "Laurence Welles") who seems to know something, and lucky for him the Hackers apparently never saw ROSEMARY'S BABY, since Mercato shares the name of the title hellspawn, for no particular reason.

US theatrical poster.  "George" Frezza?!

The pace is a little slow, there isn't the level of gore one usually associates with early '80s Fulci, and the title is terrible, but it's atmospheric, the NYC and Cairo locations are very well-shot by cinematographer Guglielmo Mancori (SPASMO), and though the bulk of the score is simply older Fabio Frizzi cues from the Fulci classics CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD and THE BEYOND (thanks to the budget cuts), the composer's main theme ranks among the best of his career. MANHATTAN BABY is definitely not the place for aspiring Fulciphiles to begin their explorations, but time has been kind to it, and even its biggest longtime detractors are slowly coming around to admitting that it's not deserving of its bad rep. Blue Underground's new Blu-ray is a three-disc special edition that includes a cd of Frizzi's score, and should further make the case for MANHATTAN BABY's belated acceptance.

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