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I love the movies of the late Italian director Lucio Fulci, he had such a great eye (two in fact) for making a scene look good, and to terrify on an incredibly low budget. But something about Shameless Films 8th DVD release just leaves me cold. The reason for the coldness is straightforward enough, despite stunning visuals; Fulci's Manhattan Baby is just horrendous. I might go as far as to say that it's the worst movie of the Directors career.
When I hear the title Manhattan Baby I always get a vision of Austin Power's smiling saying "Manhaaattan Baaaabaaay". And regardless of how I try I can't get this image out of my head, sadly this is the best memory the movie ever triggers in my head. Interestingly enough the title Manhattan Baby is a little confused, while the story is set in Manhattan their certainly is no baby involved.
The Hacker family are on holiday in Egypt, Professor George Hacker (Christopher Connelly) spends his days exploring tombs while daughter Susie and wife Emily sightsee; son Tommy is sadly vacant and back in the US staying with Grandparents. While out looking round old tombs and temples Susie stumbles across a demented old woman with pure white eyes "Tombs are for the dead!" she says while handing Susie a strange amulet. Down in the base of a Pyramid George is looking for rare finds when his companion is horrifically killed (by accident of course), George ventures further into the base of the pyramid where he finds a series of strange inscriptions, one of which showing ancient Egyptians worshipping a shell. With little or no notice a big blue blob appears in the air and shoots George square in the eyes blinding him immediately. But these things are harmless enough; the real horror awaits the Hackers when they return to their Manhattan home.
I really cannot put into words how dire this movie is, it's so bad that its actually incredibly painful to watch, and on this basis despite the fact that I want to give my support to the company releasing the DVD , I really would not bother watching this at all, unless you are of course some sort of sadist. Manhattan Baby falls down on so many levels. The biggest of course being that after what seems like a positive build up the story just goes pear shaped. The purpose of certain events just don't add up, while the storyline seemingly heads off into Manhattan for a few drinks; when it returns it's highly intoxicated and non-sensible. "Let's chuck a scorpion in there" cries out the storyline, and as if by magic the scorpion appears. In between this you have crazy old women throwing notes out of windows, men screaming out with little girls voices, people who just disappear almost in a puff of smoke, and badly dubbed children talking to adults from a great distance but in a whisper.
At times Manhattan Baby can be quite scary if you're unfamiliar with more intense horror, one guy being pecked to death is quite a menacing thing to watch. Though being quite sick it adds the only real high point to the movie for me.
It's not just the storyline that suffers however; it seems that even the soundtrack has slipped out for a drink. In order to save money Fulci commissioned Fabio Frizzi to create only a couple of new tracks, the rest of the music he robbed from his earlier movie The Beyond, assuming that in the couple of years that had passed people would not remember the score, of course he never expected The Beyond to become one of the most acclaimed European horror movies of all time, and that 20 odd years later people would be buying the DVD like it was going out of style. I will say that all the music is fairly good by Italian horror standards.
I will say in Manhattan Baby's favour it is one of the most beautifully shot of Fulci's movies. His scenes in the park are so vivid; you can almost feel like you're there. While his photography of Egypt is just amazing to look at and create a very real and menacing tone to start the movie off. It's sad however those great visuals are not enough to make up for an incredibly deficient story about strange child possession, and I have not even told you about the incredibly bad special effects, which are the worst of any Fulci offering.
Sadly Fulci was always the victim, ripped off by his wife, lover, and manager; let alone being used by the Italian Movie companies to draw audiences because of his name, without giving him funding to pull off his projects. Whereas Zombie, City Of The Living Dead, Black Cat, House By The Cemetery, and The Beyond were all marvellous and tremendous successes, Manhattan Baby is a prime example of Fulci's lesser work during a period of time he had been exploited. Sadly it's often his worst work that is remembered, than the stuff that still sells phenomenally well across the world.
About The DVD
The movie has been lovingly restored for DVD and it's the first time the movie has ever had a UK release. The print quality is great, imagery and colour all give expert care. Also somewhat of a blessing is the fact that Manhattan Baby got passed the BBFC (British Board Of Film Classification) without cuts, although in fairness there is little to cut. What is interesting however is that this is the longest EVER cut of the movie in existence, something that Shameless certainly deserve a pat on the back for.
The DVD case comes with a reversible cover, on one side is Shameless' own depiction of the cover showing freaky little Susie in a possessed form. On the reverse is the traditionally known cover of a sinister looking child, slightly ghostly and obviously possessed. Both sides have an 80's kitsch about them, a real homage to the video nasty covers of that period.
The DVD contains the original theatrical trailer for Manhattan Baby, see this and you possibly might never want to see the movie.
There are also trailers for other Shameless DVD releases: New York Ripper, The Black Cat, Night Train Murders, Flavia The Heretic, The Frightened Woman, and Torso.
Manhattan Baby is available from HMV priced £12.99 or from play.com at a more reasonable £8.99, either way you might feel a bit done.
Spencer Hawken 03/08