MANHATTAN BABY, Lucio Fulci's Egyptian-accented take on THE EXORCIST, hits Blu-ray/DVD/CD combo courtesy of Blue Underground.
Professor George Hacker (Christopher Connelly, 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS) is in Egypt excavating an ancient tomb while his wife Emily (Laura Lenzi, THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULES) is taking snaps for Time/Life accompanied by their daughter Susie (Brigitta Boccoli). At the moment Susie accepts the gift of an ancient amulet from a blind woman ("Tombs are for the dead," she intones), George is struck blind in the tomb by STAR WARS laser beams emanating from a jeweled "evil eye." Returning to New York, George and Emily are mystified by strange occurrences in their apartment emanating from the room shared by Susie and little brother Tommy (HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY's Giovanni Frezza) which is now covered in Egyptian sand and swarming with scorpions. As unfortunate visitors to the apartment disappear into the bedroom vortex – among them babysitter "Jamie Lee" (NEW YORK RIPPER's bicyclist Cinzia de Ponti), Emily's practical joking colleague Luke (Carlo de Mejo, THE OTHER HELL), and a maintenance man played by CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD's tough-talking detective Martin Sorrentino – George and Emily are contacted by occultist Adrian Marcato (MURDER ROCK's Cosimo Cinieri) who may be their only help.
The last of director Lucio Fulci's collaborations with producer Fabrizio de Angelis which started with ZOMBIE and encompassed their popular "gothic trilogy" THE BEYOND, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, and HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY along with the envelope-pushing NEW YORK RIPPER, and also the last Fulci film scripted by Dardanno Sacchetti (DEMONS), MANHATTAN BABY seems to have been watered down by de Angelis into something more mainstream. A muddled mix of concepts from THE EXORCIST, POLTERGEIST, and THE AWAKENING (as cited by Troy Howarth in his liner notes booklet), MANHATTAN BABY does not even have Fulci's trademark splashy grue or the texture-sensitive and voyeuristic photography of Sergio Salvati (THE WAX MASK). Lead performances are rather listless with de Mejo and Cinieri injecting energy into the story but given far too little screentime. What works in its favor is the dependable scoring of Fabio Frizzi (THE PSYCHIC) – although the final cut of the film seems to have been augmented with additional cues from THE BEYOND and CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD – and some neat Techniscope compositions by substituting DP Guglielmo Mancori (SPASMO) although the more mobile camerawork takes the form of a cobra POV. The English dubbing is typically laughable with Tommy calling Susie a "lousy lesbian" after losing a game of softball to her. Fulci has a cameo as a doctor late in the film.
Released theatrically by 21st Century Film Corporation as THE EYE OF THE EVIL DEAD, MANHATTAN BABY went to VHS from Lightning Video under its original title in a panned-and-scanned transfer. Anchor Bay released the film on DVD in 2001 in an attractive anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer and a short interview with writer Sacchetti on what the film might have been (Blue Underground ported over the encode and contents in 2007 for their reissue). An unlikely choice for a Blu-ray upgrade, MANHATTAN BABY's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen encode is derived from a new 2K of the original negative. The new transfer does not wow viewers from the start with the washed out desert vistas and zoom-happy photography looking a bit soft in some of the long shots (particularly ones where the sun is allowed to flare between the lens and Boccoli's dazed face) but makes itself known in close-up with enhanced facial and clothing textures, which adds to ones appreciation of the film's few prosthetic gore effects as well. While the Italian dub has not been included, Blue Underground has provided not only a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track but also a lossless 5.1 track that spreads the score and some of the film's sound effects across the channels. It is by no means as dynamic or immersive as a contemporary surround soundtrack but a welcome gesture. Subtitles are also available in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
"Fulci and I" (55:50) is listed as an interview with composer Frizzi, but it actually includes additional commentary from Franco Bixio (THE SINNER) with whom Frizzi formed a "workgroup" along with Vince Tempera (PAGANINI HORROR) for the early part of their film scoring career which encompassed Fulci's FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE, DRACULA IN THE PROVINCES, and THE PSYCHIC. Their partnership had dissolve by the time Frizzi was called to work on ZOMBI 2 which presented a challenge to him since he had to find a new sound for horror and built the main theme out of the theme he wrote for Luigi Cozzi's 1977 colorization of the Raymond Burr-modified GODZILLA. Although he does not note any inspiration from Goblin, he does reveal that Maurizio Guarini, Fabio Pignatelli, and Agostino Marangolo all worked on his scores as session musicians at different times. He generally got on with Fulci but reveals that the director disagreed violently with his original cue choice for the main title sequence of CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, a placid cue that was not used in the film but appears on the soundtrack and in his concert performances. In discussing THE BEYOND, he reveals that he has arranger Giacomo dell'Orso (husband of vocalist Edda dell'Orso) to thank for providing lyrics for the choral sequences rather than the "ohhs and ahhs" he used in ZOMBI 2 and CITY. Frizzi did not work on HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY because he was not asked (but he was also not hurting for work) but recalls MANHATTAN BABY as being the most enjoyable because of his fascination with Egyptian history and opportunity to write an Egyptian theme. The score also gave him the opportunity to work with another maestro Gianni Mazza when Guarini was not available for keyboards. He concludes the interview with bittersweet discussion of his last Fulci collaboration on CAT IN THE BRAIN.
In "For the Birds" (8:51), actor Cinieri recalls being claustrophobic during the casting of his facial prosthetics for the ending but enjoying his working relationship with Fulci (although discussion does not extend to NEW YORK RIPPER). In "25 Years with Fulci" (11:14), makeup effects artist Maurizio Trani (ZOMBI HOLOCAUST) recalls butting heads initially with Fulci on DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING but the director seemed to forget about it by the next assignment WHITE FANG. He admits that he learned a lot from Giannetto de Rossi (CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE) from ZOMBI 2 onwards and recalls with admiration de Rossi's nerve in throwing together at the last moment a shootable effect for the eye splinter scene. He speaks more warmly of de Angelis than others, noting that he was a real producer investing his own money rather than waiting around for government funds. Ported over from the Anchor Bay DVD, "Beyond The Living Dead" (8:17) in which screenwriter Sacchetti recalls that the film was meant to be shot with a higher budget and deal with "high tech horror" rather than zombies and ghosts, with the possessing entity meant to be something unknown and possibly alien before a cut in the budget scotched the use of more electronic and optical effects (the Egyptian angle was added and made the supernatural aspect more conventional). He recalls his love/hate relationship with de Angelis who gave him a lot of freedom during scripting but then intervened in destructive ways during development and production. In "Stephen Thrower on MANHATTAN BABY" (12:42), the author of BEYOND TERROR: THE FILMS OF LUCIO FULCI provides an overview and appreciation of the film, suggesting that the film's scaled-down content may represent more of a winding down in the face of more technologically-proficient American competition than the idea that Fulci went less extreme after having crossed the line with NEW YORK RIPPER. Despite the film's deficits, he has a favorable impression of it, including Frizzi's score which he suggests "seduces the ear" even as Fulci assaults the eye. Frizzi's live studio “Manhattan Baby Suite” (8:35) – excerpted in the Frizzi interview – is included its entirely here. The video extras are rounded out by the film's international theatrical trailer (3:11) – to bad no one has tracked down one for 21st Century's EYE OF THE EVIL DEAD release – and a poster and stills gallery.
Also included in the package is a CD soundtrack of Fabio Frizzi's score. The score for MANHATTAN BABY had been fairly elusive for several years with a four-track LP and the appearance of those tracks on subsequent collections (Beat Records' LUCIO FULCI'S HORROR AND THRILLER as well as Blackest Heart's and Lucertola Media's separate releases of HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) leading to popular speculation that there were only four tracks written for the film since tracks from Frizzi's other Fulci works were recycled in the final cut (as was the case with Fabio Frizzi's score for the feature condensation of Sergio Martino's miniseries THE SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS). Blue Undergound's CD reproduces the contents of Beat Records' 2011 twelve-track CD, one of which was a recent bonus track by Frizzi for fans of the score. Troy Howarth, author of SPLINTERED VISIONS: THE FILMS OF LUCIO FULCI, contributes a liner notes booklet which includes discussion of Sacchetti's dissatisfaction with the changes producer Fabrizio de Angelis imposed on the script. Sacchetti also suggests the bizarre title comes from de Angelis wanting to force an association with ROSEMARY'S BABY. The one oversight in the package seems to be the lack of prominent placement for that famous still of Frezza terrorized by a scorpion (buried in the stills gallery). (Eric Cotenas)
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