A review of Italian director Lucio Fulci’s atmospheric horror fantasy Manhattan Baby
Manhattan Baby (aka Eye of the Evil Dead) was made and released at the tail end of Italian gore god Lucio Fulci’s spate of extreme, fantastical early ’80s horror golden period. And because the movie lacks the baroque, explicit frissons of signature works like Zombie, The Gates of Hell or The New York Ripper, many fans both casual and hardcore have long dismissed the picture as a lesser work. But revisiting the film via Blue Underground‘s new Blu-ray/DVD/CD combo pack, it’s clear to see that this might be one of Fulci’s most stylish works, though certainly it’s also admittedly one of his most convoluted. And that’s saying something!
The film was produced by frequent Fulci collaborator Fabrizio de Angelis and, like Ripper before it, was an attempt to do something different, devoid of the metaphysical flesh eating ghouls that populated their previous pictures. But while Ripper remains one of the most vile, violent and seedy Italian thrillers ever made, Manhattan Baby is a lush fantasy, blending Egyptian lore with a domestic possession plot. In it, Christopher Connelly plays a professor exploring a tomb with his family in Egypt. When his daughter Suzy is given a strange medallion by a blind woman in the streets, her dad is hit in the face with some kind of ethereal laser beam and stricken blind. When the family returns to New York, the “curse” follows them, with Suzy seemingly in the thralls of an evil force. Much nonsensical phenomena follows along with a dash or two of traditional Fulci gore and buckets of atmospheric Fabio Frizzi music.
Indeed, Frizzi might be Manhattan Baby‘s MVP. Endless cues recycled to disorienting effect from both Zombie and – most notably – Fulci’s masterpiece The Beyond fill every second of screen time along with a new theme that ranks among Frizzi’s finest compositions. Fulci is fully engaged too, betraying the diminished budget he was saddled with and fixating and fetizhising objects like eyeballs, door handles, stuffed animals and even a Rubick’s Cube to create a feeling that every single person and thing is alive with some sort of supernatural energy. The cast features an array of Fulci regulars including Giovanni Frezza (Bob in The House by the Cemetery) and the late Carlo de Mejo (The Gates of Hell), but none of them have much to do but allow Fulci to zoom in and out of their concerned faces and unblinking eyes and they’re saddled by a story that has very little momentum or clarity. To get the most out of Manhattan Baby, one must simply surrender to it and enjoy it as a dream, which it most certainly plays like. And man, that death bird climax is one for the books…
Blu Underground present all-new David Gregory-produced extras (including an almost 60-minute documentary on Frizzi) with minimal features ported over from the previous DVD release and a new booklet penned by author Troy Howarth. Best of all, they have included a CD of all the key cues and themes from the film, licensed from Italy’s Beat Records. The 1080p digital transfer looks great, with colors that pop, but there’s some blobs and shadows in the peripherals of the frame from time to time. Still, none of this detracts from the lovely widescreen imagery and general somber mood. All in all, this is a fine package for an interesting, flawed but rather sensual Euroshocker from one of the masters of the movement.