Review by Michael Jacobson
Connelly, Martha Taylor, Brigitta Boccoli, Giovanni Frezza, Cinzia De Ponti
Director: Lucio Fulci
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Anchor Bay
Features: Theatrical Trailer, Interview with Writer Dardano Sacchetti, Talent Bios
Length: 91 Minutes
Release Date: June 12, 2001
Tombs are for the dead!
Manhattan Baby, an oddly titled but generally effective horror thriller, boasts the one thing I dont think Ive ever seen in a Lucio Fulci film an off-camera death. Its a non-consequential little scene where an apartment elevator goes haywire. The floor slowly crumbles away, the maintenance man plummets screaming to his demise but we dont see it! This from the director noted for not only having characters fall to their death on screen, but often with conveniently placed spikes (as in an earlier shot) to make the death all the more grisly.
Apart from that curious aspect, the film is filled with distinctive Fulci touches his masterful camerawork (possibly his best ever), narrative of extreme close ups (particularly of sets of eyes), a sense of the otherworldly and a helping of gore, though considerably less than normal for one of his movies. Consider Manhattan Baby to be Fulci Lite less filling, but still tastes great.
The story opens in Egypt, where professor George Hacker (Connelly) is exploring an ancient ruin (consider this picture came out a year after Raiders of the Lost Ark if youre experiencing déjà vu) that leads to the death of his partner and his own blindness. While there, his daughter Susie (Boccoli) is given a strange, eye shaped trinket by a stranger that she takes back to Manhattan with her.
It is there that a supernatural series of events begin to take place within the confines of their apartment. The amulet seems to have the power to open portals in space; both Susie and her brother Tommy (Frezza) seem to journey away, leaving their parents mystified particularly when two close friends seem to vanish without a trace!
Seeking the help of an expert, the truth is revealed: the emblem is evil, and the ruins Hacker explored earlier was the place where an ancient people gathered to worship that evil. It has begun assuming control of little Susie in order to carry out its dark, maleficent purpose (Im not sure exactly what that might be, other than scaring the piddle out of a couple of kids from New York), and unless stopped, it could prove irreversible.
The film manages a few good scares along with a particularly noteworthy visual style from Fulci. There are some touches of cheesiness from time to time as well, just to add to the fun. I love when the boy screams in his bedroom the father turns to the mother and says, That sounds like Tommy! Well, duh how many sons do you have, mister? Actually, considering the atrocious dubbing job done on behalf of young Giovanni Frezza, it can be understood if his dad didnt immediately recognize the voice.
But as I mentioned, the camerawork is a real plus. Shot after shot is cleverly constructed and effective in the way the camera moves, focuses and re-focuses, or closes in for added effect. Apart from the gore, I think Fulci admirers appreciate him for his fluid visual style, and this picture could be his best offering in that department.
Fans of Fulci will be pleased with Manhattan Baby, even if they dont rank it as a favorite. Its good, clean, diabolical fun, and one of the Italian masters last pictures to achieve major distribution in America.
BONUS TRIVIA: Recognize the actor playing Dr. Forrester? Its Fulci himself.
Anchor Bay once again proves themselves the horror fans best friend. All of their Lucio Fulci Collection films have boasted a new anamorphic widescreen transfer (crucial for these movies; a pan and scan presentation would destroy most of the visual compositions), and all of them have been outstanding. Manhattan Baby is a clean, clear rendering that once again proves films from the 80s dont have to look shoddy on DVD. Though more limited in palate and lighting extremes, this picture still boasts a good contrast between lights and darks, with no grain or image break up to mar the effect. Images are well rendered, with good detail, though occasionally and purposefully a little soft to achieve an ethereal effect. All in all, as usual, a considerably good effort.
The mono soundtrack is perfectly fine, but a little less distinctive than some of the other Fulci Collection offerings. While dialogue and music are both clean, clear and nicely rendered, dynamic range is a bit limited. Certain sequences where characters are screaming dont come across any louder than ones where theyre just talking. Its not a problem, per se, but a little added punch to the mix would have been welcome.
In addition to the trailer, there is a 10 minute video interview clip with screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti (short, but interesting), and some talent files.
The title may sound like a Woody Allen film, but the content is pure Lucio Fulci. Manhattan Baby is another worthwhile addition to Anchor Bays Lucio Fulci collection. It may not compare with the likes of The Beyond, but its still an effective, fun little fright film with a terrific visual style. Fans will definitely enjoy the movie, as well as this quality anamorphic DVD offering from Anchor Bay.