Thursday, October 20, 2016

MANHATTAN BABY (1982) (Blu-ray Review)

3-Disc Limited Edition 
Label: Blue Underground 
Region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 89 Minutes
Rating: Unrated
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1, DTS-HD Mono , Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX; Dolby Digital Mono with Optional English, French and Spanish Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Lucio Fulci
Cast: Christopher Connelly, Martha Taylor, Brigitta Boccoli, Giovanni Frezza, Cinzia de Ponti, Cosimo Cinieri, Andrea Bosic, Carlo De Mejo, Enzo Marino Bellanich, Mario Moretti, Lucio Fulci, Tonino Pulci

Ten-year old Suzie Hacker (Martha Taylor) is on vacation in Egypt with archaeologist father Professor George Hacker (Christopher Connelly, 1990: The Bronx Warriors) when she a weird blind woman approaches her in the city bazaar and gifts her with an ancient Egyptian amulet cursed with evil power. While this is happening her father is excavating a cursed Egyptian tomb and is struck blind when zapped with an 80s awesome laser blast to his eyes, the optical effect is dated but still fun for an old time like myself. These opening scenes in Egypt are fantastic, though perhaps not a shocker to Lucio Fulci fans they are a bit confusing. Fulci was at top of his visual game at the time and the creepy Egyptian tombs with secret passages are loaded with venomous serpents, trap doors and deadly spiked booby traps look magnificent on screen. 

The Hackers returns to New York City where the professor is told that the sudden blindness is only temporary, which is great for him but things just get weirder for his young daughter who becomes possessed by the evil Egyptian amulet. Suzie's brother Tommy is played by child actor Giovanni Frezza, whom you will not be able to forget as that spooky creeper kid Bob from Fulci's The House by the Cemetery (1981),who is not quite so annoying here.

Manhattan Baby doesn't have the best reputation in the Fulci canon, coming off as a bit of Fulci knock-off of The Exorcist (1973) and Rosemary's Baby (1968) with a nod to Hitchcock's The Birds (1963), but Fulci and cinematographer Guigliemo Mancoro (Spasmo) manage to create a memorable movie with loads creepy images which make it a fun watch, with the oodles of Egyptology and ancient mysticism on display. Some of the dated optical effects such as glowing doors and the 80's laser lights do come off as very hokey, but there are some of the practical gore effects we've come to expect from this era of Fulci, just toned down quite a bit considering this is coming right on the heels of New York Ripper which was mean-spirited and sleazy. With Manhattan Baby the director was aiming for more atmosphere and mysticism over gore for whatever reason, while it is a mixed bag it is also a fascinating watch. 

There's a lot of weird and totally unexplained stuff happening, you don't walk away from this one with a lot of answers but the movie is suspenseful enough and loaded with enough cool imagery to keep you watching. I think Fulci gets hammered for poor storytelling and this head-scratcher, penned by longtime collaborator Dardano Sacchetti (Zombi, New York Ripper), certainly won't dissuade that line of criticism, but I always find his movies enthralling. If you have a love for Fulci's supernatural weirdies of the same era I think you will have a great time with this one, sure it is slim on gore, but it's thick with creepy atmosphere and schlocky supernatural fun, which is always awesome. 

Audio/Video: Manhattan Baby arrives on Blu-ray from Blue Underground restored in 2K from the original uncensored camera negative and the results are very pleasing all the way around. Properly framed in the original widescreen scope (2.35:1) aspect ratio the image looks more solid than ever before. It does have that usual 80s softness to it that the Italians loved a bunch but the new transfer looks pristine with a nice layer of film grain and an abundance of detail throughout. Yet another eye-popping platter from Blue Underground who continue to wow with their string of Eurocult titles on Blu-ray. Audio on the disc come by way of English DTS-HD MA 5.1, DTS-HD Mono, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX and Dolby Digital Mono. I prefer the original mono mix which sounds great uncompressed but I think the Fabio Frizzi score sounds terrific with the surround option, though there's not a whole lot of use of the surround otherwise. 

Onto the extras we have a smorgasbord of Fulci-centric awesomeness from Blue Underground whom carry over the eight-minute interview with screenwriter
Dardano Sacchetti and add loads of new stuff. The new stuff produced by David Gregory is quite good, beginning with the nearly hour-long Fulci & I interview with composer Fabio Frizzi who walks us through his whole career as a composer, from the early days on through to his wonderful collaborations with Fulci. There's also a nine-minute interview with star Cosimo Cinieri, plus an11-minutes with legendary make-up effects artist Maurizio Trani. My favorite of the new stuff is a 13-minute conversation with Stephen Thrower the author of "Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci" who offers candid and honest recounting of the movie within the context of Fulci's career working with screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti and producer Fabrizio De Angelis, Thrower notes the odd abundance of optical special effects and the lack of the typical Fulci-gore in the movie. 

The disc also features a wonderful performance of Frizzi and his touring band playing the "Manhattan Baby Suite" live in-studio which is wonderful for fans of the composer - t sounds great and is fun to see performed. Additional extras on the disc include a theatrical trailer for the film and a poster and still gallery containing images from the movie in addition to various home video and soundtracks releases through the years. The three-disc set includes a DVD with the same main feature and bonus content in standard-def, in addition to a third disc containing the original motion picture soundtrack composed by Fabio Frizzi, a haunting and atmospheric score that contains both music composed for the film and some borrowed cues he composed for Fulci's The Beyond and City of the Living Dead. 

Away from the disc extras we have a 20-page booklet with writing on the movie from author Troy Howarth, plus cast and crew information, the CD track listing. The three-disc set comes housed in a clear Criterion-style keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork containing the alternate Eye of The evil Dead artwork.

Special Features: 
- Fulci & I - Interview with Composer Fabio Frizzi (An Hour-Long Career Overview Of the Soundtrack Collaborations of Fabio Frizzi & Lucio Fulci) (56 Mins) HD 
- For The Birds - Interview with Star Cosimo Cinieri (9 Mins) HD 
- 25 Years With Fulci - Interview with Make-Up Effects Artist Maurizio Trani (11 Mins) HD 
- Beyond The Living Dead - Interview with Co-Writer Dardano Sacchetti (8 Mins) 
- Stephen Thrower on MANHATTAN BABY - Interview with the author of "Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci" (13 Mins) HD 
- "Manhattan Baby Suite" - Live Studio Performance by Fabio Frizzi (9 Mins) HD 
- Theatrical Trailer (3 Mins) HD 
- Poster & Still Gallery (52 Images) HD 
- BONUS 20 Page Collectible Booklet featuring new writing by author Troy Howarth
- BONUS CD - MANHATTAN BABY Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Fabio Frizzi (33 Mins) 

Manhattan Baby comes towards the end of a prolific period for Fulci, it does feel slightly lesser when compared to what came before but the movie is loaded with atmospheric visuals and weird Egyptian mysticism - making this a notable entry in the Fulci canon. The three-disc set from Blue Underground is nothing less than definitive with superior A/V and nearly two hours worth of video extras and very nice packaging, this is a real treat for Fulci fans.