Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Manhattan Baby (1982)

Title: Manhattan Baby (1982)

Director: Lucio Fulci


In Manhattan Baby, we meet the Hacker family while they are visiting Egypt. The father, George Hacker is an archeologist conducting an exploration of ancient Egyptian catacombs. While he does this with a colleague of his, his wife Emily and his daughter Susie go around Egypt exploring buildings and architecture, taking in the sights. Suddenly, a blind old lady walks up to Susie and hands her an Egyptian amulet. The blind old lady then disappears into thin air. Susie seems to think nothing of the lady vanishing into thin air before her very eyes (how typical of Fulci!) and decides to keep the amulet  and take it back home with her. At the same time, while exploring the ancient catacombs, George comes upon an ancient hieroglyph on the wall; a symbol of a snake. Suddenly, rays of blue light shoot out of the symbol and blind him! Will he regain his eye sight? And what’s up with the strange amulet that Susie brought back with her from Egypt? What strange powers does it hold?

Watching Lucio Fulci movies can sometimes be something of a challenge. Case in point: Manhattan Baby which proved to be a difficult movie for me to follow. I kept trying to pinpoint why the hell this was so. I mean, I watch so many movies, why can’t I grasp the ideas that Fulci is trying to put across with his visuals? What is it that distracts me from following? Then I figured it out, its Fulci’s camera movements! I had to rewind certain moments and re-watch them instantly until I realized that Fulci sometimes focused his camera on completely unnecessary things that had nothing to do with the story. Here we are focusing on a light bulb….for no reason whatsoever! Here we are panning out towards….what? Something else that doesn’t even matter or say anything that’s what! Why did Fulci do this so much? It’s almost as if he didn’t want you to understand the film. Some might try and pass this off as “visual poetry” or what have you, but I say boloney! I think it’s just lazy filmmaking, or just plain bad filmmaking. While watching Manhattan Baby it felt as if Fulci was actually purposely trying to confuse me as a watcher rather than helping me understand his story. This got really annoying after a while. Is it the “Italian Way” of telling a story? I mean, I’ve seen a lot of Fulci movies and have encountered this same feeling, so maybe it’s not just this film. Maybe it’s the way Fulci chooses to tell his stories that I find hard to follow. Whatever the case, you’ve been warned! This movie just might get on your nerves to the point where you’ll suddenly find yourself completely lost. And it’s not that it’s a difficult story to tell, or even a complex one, it’s just the way Fulci unfolds his story that gets in the way.

Fulci goes overboard with close ups of eyes on this one! 
There is a phrase amongst film buffs that is commonly used to refer to unexplainable moments in a film. That phrase is “What The Hell---?” or What the Fuck---?” In order to keep this blog family friendly, I’ll use “What the Hell---?” from here on in. The last Lucio Fulci film I saw that had an excessive amount of “What the Hell---?” moments was House by the Cemetery (1981). That one was a “What the Hell---?” type of film every step of the way. Just when you think House by the Cemetery  is starting to make some sense, right out of nowhere comes some image or situation that has nothing to do with the film, and ends up confusing you even more. I never thought the day would come, but House by the Cemetery is no longer the most confusing film in Lucio Fulci’s repertoire! Manhattan Baby has now taken its place! Manhattan Baby is overflowing with moments that have little to no explanation whatsoever. For example, on this film people disappear and are never heard of again…and nobody gives a damn if they do! Wouldn’t you be the least bit concerned if your co-worker suddenly vanished into thin air right in your own home? Wouldn’t you be freaked if some blind old lady handed you an amulet and she would suddenly disappear right in front of you? Wouldn’t that freak you for life? Well, not in the world of Manhattan Baby, things like these phase no one. And this are just some of the “What the Hell---?” moments I'm referring to, trust me, there are many more where those come from. So be ready for that. Manhattan Baby is a strange, strange movie.

As is the case with many Italian films from the 70’s and 80’s, Manhattan Baby was extremely influenced by a number of American films. First up, we open up with the exploration of an ancient Egyptian catacomb, something along the lines of something we’d see in Indiana Jones film. The films title Manhattan Baby is an allusion to Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), in fact, the writer of the film actually admits that there was an attempt to turn this film into a Rosemary’s Baby of sorts, but honestly, I don’t see anything that even resembles Rosemary’s Baby except for the films title, and the fact that one of the characters in Manhattan Baby has the same last name as one of the Satanists in Polanski’s film. The film that Manhattan Baby most resembles is The Exorcist (1973), though it doesnt have a miligram of the atmosphere found in that horror classic. Manhattan Baby has possessed girls, exorcists and exorcisms. The only real difference between both films is that the demon who posseses the little girl in Manhattan Baby doesn’t come from Africa, but from Egypt. It also has a bit of Poltergeist in it, especially when it comes to how they handled the kids and the supernatural events that unfold in their rooms. So once again we have one of these Italian films that’s trying to be like a more successful American film. The only problem with these attempts at ripping off American films is that American films like The Exorcist and Poltergeist were made with millions of dollars while Fulci only had about 300,000 dollars to make Manhattan Baby. So what we got here is a film that needed more money in order to tell its story, unfortunately Fulci had to make do with the little money he had. The film suffered because of it in my opinion.

The film has some positives going for it though. First off, I loved how the film opens up in Egypt. The filmmakers actually went out to Cairo, Egypt and shot the opening sequence of the film there. Filming in an exotic location like that, with real pyramids and dessert vistas for a backdrop can add a lot of beauty to your film, and I must say Fulci really took advantage of filming in Egypt. Unfortunately, I learned later that these scenes in Egypt were actually filmed after the film had been completed so they could give a more international feel to the movie, to help sell it. That Egyptian opening sequence was just tacked on. Back in those days, Italians had an extremely messy way of making movies; sometimes it feels as if they were making them up as they went along. And I’m sure they did on many occasions. Manhattan Baby has some of Fulci’s trademarks. For example, on this one he went over board with the focusing on the eyes thing he always does in all his movies! We get animals turning evil on this one as well, only this time it’s with a twist. Yet, strangely enough, this film has very little of the traditional Fulci gore. It starts and ends with a bit of gore, but it’s not the amount we are used to seeing in a Fulci film.

Final words: this is not what I would call a good Lucio Fulci film. I am used to a certain amount of confusion from an Italian movie, there is something about how they tell their stories that can end up confusing the hell out of you as a viewer, but Manhattan Baby takes the taco as one of the most confusing of all. I get that they were trying to get away from zombies and what is considered a traditional horror film, by the writers own admission, they were trying to take horror to ‘new dimensions’ with Manhattan Baby. I guess by this he meant that he didn’t want to do what he’d always done with Fulci meaning zombies, ghosts and magical books that open doors to hell. On this one they were going for something just a little different. Demons from Egypt! I don’t think they were entirely successful in pulling off the story they wanted to tell, a lot of that seems to stem from their meager budget. I’d suggest this one to fans of Fulci films, everyone else will either be completely bored or confused, take your pick.

Rating: 2 out of 5


Erich Kuersten said...

Watching Fulci, it helps to imagine you're seeing it in some sketch Times Square 70s grindhouse, or else a drive-in, where your speakerbox keeps cutting out. Fulci's stories must be 'intuited' - it's 'dream logic.' I've not seen Manhattan Baby but I do like House by the Cemetery for the very reasons you describe. Of course I was cutting in and out of paying attention to it, and was in a late night spooky frame of mind. That said, I've heard Manhattan Baby is bad even for Fulci fans, and te 1982 date means the haircuts may well be too pouffy, the clothes styles that tacky strip mall color.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

The only logic employed in this film is the logic of the imbecile. This really is an abortion of a movie. Kudos for reviewing it though Franco, I don't think I'd spare it the time.

Franco Macabro said...

@Erich: I normally enjoy Fulci films, I like their 'grindhouse' atmosphere, I got that feeling while watching The New York Ripper for example. Felt like I was in a 42nd Street movie theater with people smoking inside the theater and the sticky floors...but Manhattan Baby...I just dont know, it wasnt making any sense. At all! I'm a Fulci fan myself and I didnt really enjoy it.

House by the Cemetery is cool in my book, even though it's got a lot of what the hell moments, I still enjoyed it.

Manhattan Baby felt kind of sloppy in some areas...I mean, you could even see the wires on the bird attack scene! Over and over again, theres those wires!

@Shaun: Yeah, I want to review a couple of Fulci movies that I have missed, like this one and a couple of others. I've seen his most important works though, I guess what is left is the crappy ones, like Manhattan Baby. But I've heard good things about Dont Torture A Duckling, so I've still a couple of good ones to look forward to I guess.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I think DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING is one of his best films - also worth a look is A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN, and the western MASSACRE TIME. FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE gets som reasonable notices, but I don't think a great deal. You might also want to check out THE PSYCHIC as well.

Franco Macabro said...

I saw The Psychic but wasnt impressed, I felt like it draaaaaged for the longest time. I did like the last tension filled moments, but the rest of the film was too slow and confusing for me.

I will be checking out those others that you mentioned Shaun, I've been meaning to see them for a long time now. I'm extremely curious to see how Fulci deals with a western!

Thanks for the recommendations!

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