By Special Guest Dungeonmaster Howard
Fulci's Manhattan Baby combines two elements essential
to Italian horror films during their heyday: being hugely derivative
of other films, and the casting of an American in the lead role.
American here is Christopher Connelly, who is in a subgroup that
was well represented in these films- the American Actor Whose
TV Show Had Been Cancelled. In the mid 1960's he had been on the
prime time soap opera Peyton Place in which he played Ryan
O'Neal's brother. Then a few years later he had been on a short
lived series Paper Moon playing Moses Pray, a character
played in the award-winning film by, once again, Ryan O'Neal.
In that series Jodie Foster played con-man Pray's daughter, Addie,
and of course she moved on to bigger and better things. But Connelly
didn't have O'Neal's or Foster's luck in making the transition
to feature films: Benji was probably the highlight of his
big screen resume. Tragically, Connelly died young: cancer claimed
his life at the age of forty-seven in 1988.
Baby takes gobs and chunks from other genre films: Rosemary's
Baby, The Omen, The Omen II, The Exorcist, The Birds, and
a really awful Charlton Heston movie called The Awakening
which I don't think Mr. Heston lists on his resume.
seen this film before, and been totally unimpressed. It was a
derivative, dubbed thriller. Thanks to the good folks at Anchor
Bay, it's now out in DVD. It's letterboxed, there's a chapter
index and an interview with author Dardando Sacchetti, who also
wrote Cat o' Nine Tails for Dario Argento; Bay
of Blood - also reviewed in these pages, check the index-
for Mario Bava; and Demons and Demons 2 for Bava's
son, Lamberto. By being letterboxed and therefore shown in the
wide-screen format it was originally shot in, it's now a derivative,
dubbed thriller that looks absolutely fantastic.
Baby starts off in Egypt where archaeologist George Hacker
(Connelly) has gone to dig in the tombs of the pharaohs. He has
taken his wife, Emily, and Susie (Briggita Boccoli, who is still
making films in Italy), his daughter, with him. Their son, Tommy,
stayed behind with Jamie Lee (Dead Meat Number Four), their nanny.
Jamie Lee is played by Cinzia de Ponti, who was Miss Italy in
1979 and has had a very active film career (twenty-one film credits
is in an Egyptian marketplace with her mom when the child meets
up with a mysterious blind woman dressed in black. The mystery
woman takes Susie's hand, tells her "Tombs are for the dead,"
and then a necklace appears out of nowhere in the girl's hand.
Dead center in the middle of the necklace there is a bright blue
stone. The same day that George is going to desecrate the tomb,
his daughter will be corrupted and have a curse placed on her
that will follow her back to America.
back at the dig, George is having troubles of his own. The workers
are reluctant to desecrate the resting place of pharaohs, so George
and an Egyptian man (Dead Meat Number One) go in by themselves.
They see strange carvings and paintings on the wall. A spring-loaded
snake flies out of a hole in the wall, only to be shot by the
Egyptian. Usually these movies feature a spring-loaded cat: Fulci
was feeling creative. There are questions in my mind about whether
this snake is supposed to be several thousand years old, or whether
generation after generation of his family has patiently waited
in that wall for some poor sucker to wander in, or if it's a supernatural
apparition. A first cousin of this snake appears later in the
story in an apartment and then an office in New York City, so
I'll go for Door Number 3 and figure it's an apparition.
a knob which George can't resist turning, which then releases
a trap and the floor falls away, causing the two men to fall to
a lower level of the tomb. The Egyptian man is killed instantly
when he's impaled on spikes. George survives, of course, and continues
to explore. He finds a mysterious carving on the wall with a blue
stone in the middle.
survives because he's the American Actor Whose…. In films like
this, having that status would almost guarantee that the character
would still be alive for the happy ending. However, Fulci violated
this rule like a madman in the far superior The Gates of Hell
in which he waxed Christopher George in about the middle (as
best I remember) of the third act. So George had best not get
too cocky here.
George doesn't know is that this design is identical to the necklace
that's been given his daughter. If you sense a pattern emerging
there, you're right. The blue stone glows with an unearthly light
and then George is zapped in the eyes by blue rays of light. Blind!
Somehow he finds his way out of the tomb and collapses in the
Egyptian scenes are tremendous. They could hold their own against
any mainstream, big budget studio film. The camerawork is great,
the color and composition are tremendous, there's a nice feel
of how big the desert is, and a real atmosphere of menace and
mystery. If only this could have held up.
American family returns home to New York. Doctors tell George
that it could be a year before he regains his sight, so he tries
to resume normal life. This movie makes being an archaeologist
look like a very well paid job: George and Emily (Martha Taylor,
in her only credited film role) live on the Upper West Side at
84th Street and West End Avenue in a huge apartment. Scenes in
Central Park and on city streets - we get a glimpse of the Guggenheim
Museum- establish that Fulci is indeed filming in Manhattan but,
at the risk of being picky, ain't no baby.
Susie and Tommy appear to be about eleven years old. So Fulci
would more accurately have called this Manhattan Child or Manhattan
Pre-Adolescent, but that wouldn't have the cross reference to
Roman Polanski's 1968 masterpiece.
night Susie announces that she has a "premonition" of thunder
and lightning. The adults in the household scoff at this statement,
telling her that it's going to be a beautiful night. Not surprisingly,
seconds later a huge thunderstorm strikes. Susie goes to sleep,
and dreams of the mysterious woman in the marketplace. She tells
her parents about this and passes out cold. Thus endeth Act I.
next day Susie's eyes glow with an eerie blue light. She and her
brother are playing in their room. Emily is at work. Tommy walks
from the apartment into another dimension. George hears shouts
and runs upstairs. "Daddy help me," is written on the mirror in
the children's room. Of course, George is blind at this point
but I feel churlish pointing this out. A child wouldn't think
about that. Suddenly, from nowhere two intense beams of blue light
strike George in the eyes and his sight is restored.
often read that Fulci has sort of a fetish about eyes. It shows
here. There's the blind woman, her vision destroyed by cataracts.
The Egyptian who goes into the tomb with George loses both eyes
when he's impaled. George is blinded. There are close-up shots
of eyes filling the wide screen over and over. George once was
blind but now can see, just like the hymn.
children have mysteriously disappeared and then just as mysteriously
reappeared. Susie has passed out cold after a bad dream. And nobody
seems really disturbed about this. Of course we never see the
family before the fateful trip to Egypt: maybe this is just daily
life for them.
is why I maintain that movies are better than real life. People
can be dumb as bricks and still have beautiful homes and wonderful
children. George and Emily have a car but never have a problem
finding parking spaces. It seems that nobody's job involves strict
working hours. George Carlin said it best. Reality, what a concept!
and Susie decide they want to play hide and seek with Jamie Lee.
During the course of the game the lights go out. It's not the
circuit breakers. Then, to make things worse, Jamie Lee discovers
a snake in the apartment. Not just any snake, but a cobra- not
what you'd expect to find on the sixth floor of a building on
the Upper West Side. She calls the building's security man (Dead
Meat Number Two), which lines up events for a set piece that's
very similar to a scene in The Omen II.
unfortunate security man gets into the elevator- the walls are
bright primary red- and goes not to the floor where apartment
623 would be, but rather to the top floors of the building. Then
the elevator begins to malfunction. It quakes as if the earth
were trembling. He pushes buttons. Nothing. The terrified man
tries to pry the doors of the elevator open by sheer strength
and will, but only succeeds in cutting his hands to shreds. Then
the floor of the elevator separates from the cage, plunging the
man into the darkness below to certain death.
it becomes obvious that building security won't be coming, Jamie
Lee calls Emily at work and tells her that the door of the children's
room is stuck and she can't open it. Either she's forgotten about
the cobra (which doesn't make an appearance again until the third
act) or else the footage with it was edited in after the telephone
scene was shot. Or, of course, maybe this is just one of those
things if you take care of Professor and Mrs. Hacker's children.
Need one add that there is never any mention of the unfortunate
security man again, nor of the elevator with the breakaway floor?
is at her job in the Time/Life Building. It's uncertain which
publication she works for, but she's in an office with a lot of
typewriters so it must be some print medium. Her buddy Luke (Dead
Meat Number Three) says he'll go back to the house with Emily.
Luke is a practical joker, given to wearing glasses with funny
noses and doing magic tricks. He's almost as annoying a character
as Jar Jar Binks, and viewers can take comfort in knowing that
he won't be around for long.
at the apartment, Luke announces to Jamie Lee and Emily that he
can open the door. He goes up the stairs intoning phrases like
"hocus pocus," as if he were going to put a spell on the door
to make it open. The door opens very easily and he walks into
the room. There's a blinding flash of light, a bloodcurdling scream,
and he's gone. The floor of the children's room is covered with
sand at least a foot thick. Rushing in to see what has happened,
Emily sees a scorpion burrow its way down into the sand.
dismisses this as a practical joke on Luke's part. This woman
is allowed to have children, drive a car, and vote? Lord help
us all. There's over a hundred cubic feet of sand in there. He
carried it in his pockets?
an amazing concession to The Way Things Are in the Real World,
a phone call is made to the office to see if he's gone back there.
Emily does suggest calling the police (duh) but this idea is rejected
immediately. Half a world away in the Egyptian desert Luke's lifeless
body lies in the sand, his eyes frozen with terror.
we're starting to get an idea of why he and the other men have
met such sad fates. Beards. They, and Dead Meats Five and Six,
all have beards. Were I writing this for Psychology Today I'd
dig out my old psych texts to see what Freud said about beards,
but since he also had one (and so do I) that issue will have to
Lee and the children go to Central Park on a beautiful, sunny
day. She takes a Polaroid picture of them, but it is blank. They
toss it aside (litterbugs!) and go on. A mysterious woman picks
it up. The picture finally develops. It shows the Manhattan skyline
but not the children, although the necklace is seen suspended
in mid air.
is walking along 10th Street when a woman calls to her from an
upper floor, telling her that she has information about her children.
Emily gets in her car, which is parked right in front of Adrian
Mercato's antique store (see, I told you movies were better than
real life, parking places right where you need them) and drives
is agitated. His colleague Robert (Dead Meat Number Five) has
examined the sand from the children's room and found it to be
silt from the Nile. And Jamie Lee has disappeared. Actually, Jamie
Lee has gone on a voyage. Tommy helpfully tells us that Jamie
Lee screams every time she goes on a voyage- the blue stone somehow
has power over trivial things like time and space- and adds, "Poor
Jamie Lee," a curtain line which ends the second act.
III opens with another set piece. Robert is in his study looking
at the picture of the necklace. A cobra glides silently along
the inlaid wood floor, and there's some really nice camerawork
from the snake's point of view. It bites Robert, he dies foaming
at the mouth, and we suppose the snake wisely heads back to Egypt
by whatever means before the New York winter.
dies with the picture in his hand, but it disappears and reappears
in Susie's hand. George- credit where credit is due- is beginning
to think that something just may be wrong here. Tommy hands him
a statue of Anubis, which he picked up "on a riverbank" while
on a voyage. Maybe it's time to call in outside help. Off to 10th
Street to see Adrian Mercato (Dead Meat Number Six)- and don't
you just know they parked right in front of the store.
a mysterious character who looks somewhat sinister and has the
same name as a character in Rosemary's Baby- is an older
man. Bearded. You know it, don't you. You see it coming. Dead
Meat Number Six will be involved in yet another set piece, but
later in the story. Mercato tells them that Susie has absorbed
the energy of the stone and is in great danger. He goes on to
explain how some stones will absorb the energy of those who wear
them when we finally realize what he is saying but nobody connected
with the film is willing to let him put into words. It's clear.
daughter is a mood ring.
he doesn't say it. Drat.
goes to the apartment. He's upstairs with Susie when the parents
hear her cry out "Mama, help me," and they rush up the stairs
and see Mercato rolling on the floor, foaming at the mouth, and
talking in Susie's voice. Father Damien Karras leaps to his feet
and crashes through the window, falling to the foggy Georgetown
street below and rolling down the long flight of steps. An older
priest rushes up to him to administer the Last Rites and Christine
MacNeil watches in horror as the man who has saved her daughter
from Pazuzu…..oh…..sorry…wrong movie…it just reminded me so much
tells George (I'm back, it's ok, I'm back) that the stone has
power over time and space. Good work. Susie, who has developed
the habit of glowing (the child will never need a nightlight again)
winds up in New York Hospital. That's the name on the building.
Tidy, generic. Her condition worsens. Her doctors are mystified.
One of the doctors (the one with glasses and a moustache) is played
by Fulci himself, doing an Alfred Hitchcock. It should be noted
here that one of the other doctors does have a beard but somehow
he escapes director Fulci's wrath.
gets worse and worse. Finally Mercato decides to intervene- for
no reason indicated in either the screenplay, performances, or
direction. But he substitutes himself for Susie, she is redeemed.
Redeemed. That's the word Marcato uses.
is a completely selfless act on Mercato's part. Now, it's fine
for a character to do something totally unexpected- there's a
tremendous scene in Jeepers Creepers in which one character,
finally confronting the demon in the climactic scene upstairs
at the police station, steps in front of another character and
tells the monster, Take me instead, I'm stronger and smarter.
That was a surprise. This is simply confusing.
gives George the necklace and tells him to throw it into the deepest,
darkest part of the river. George obeys and the last we see of
him he's tossing the necklace into the Hudson River, where the
pollution should corrode it to nothing in a few months.
is now alone in his antique store on Tenth Street. He hears the
flutter of wings. Suddenly stagehands climb on ladders and tie
strings to the stuffed birds that line the walls of the store
and swing them at Mercato, and he pretends to be afraid of them.
excuse me. That's exactly what happens. The birds are supposed
to come to life and peck him to death. The blessing and curse
of a DVD is a bright super-clear picture and the wires on the
birds are as visible as Dallas. There are some effective scenes
of birds pecking at his face, but the long shots let us see the
wires once too often. He cries "Birds of darkness, consume me,"
and the birds eat their lunch. Him.
We're back in Egypt. The old blind woman approaches yet another
young girl. She takes the girl's hand. Out of nowhere the mysterious
necklace with the blue stone appears in the girl's hand, opening
the door for a sequel should anyone ever wish to make one.
winter I taught high school English. We started the semester off
with the 1968 film of Romeo and Juliet directed by Franco
Zeffirelli. In introducing the film, I asked the students a thought
question. In the nine Friday the Thirteenth films released
so far (I'm eagerly awaiting Jason X this Spring) we've
seen over a hundred characters their age slaughtered like cattle.
Had they or anyone they knew or knew of cried during one? Of course
not. Characters in those movies exist only to be sacrificed on
Jason's blade. Period. They are targets not in a shooting gallery
but a stabbing gallery.
same is true in Manhattan Baby, but it lacks the narrative
drive that makes the Fridays so entertaining. They are paced like
a rocket. Fulci's pacing is slow and stately, as if he were directing
Strindberg or Pinter but with gore effects. An Egyptian man helping
George is impaled on spikes? He was on salary. Luke is zapped
in New York and his body lands in Egypt? No loss, he was a pain
anyway. Robert is bitten by a cobra in a city not known for wildlife?
OK. Jamie Lee falls prey (offscreen) to the forces of e-e-evil?
Pity. The security man plunges however many floors to his doom?
He was only onscreen for a couple of minutes. Mercato is the only
character we might feel anything for because of the sacrifice
he makes for Susie, but because of his uncertain motives his death
is just one more set piece.
parents are mere stick figures. They are both incredibly stupid
people who cannot understand what's going on around them and are
more bewildered by life than Forrest Gump. Heck, in his playing
Dr. Forester we see Fulci give the most fully developed role to
himself. He's a medical doctor, he's concerned about the girl's
well being, he has a moustache and wears glasses, and he smokes
a pipe. By comparison to the other characters, we know tons about
this man even though he has only a tiny function in the story.
difficult to evaluate performances in a film which is dubbed.
All the actors seem thoroughly professional, but without hearing
their original voices it's hard to tell. The dubbing is very,
very good. Some of the actors beside Christopher Connely may also
have been speaking English. Martha Taylor, as noted earlier, didn't
make any other films and the IMDB tells nothing about her origins.
strongest points of the film are the wide-screen camerawork and,
oddly enough, the music. There are two main musical strains at
work here. In the scenes in Egypt the music reminded me of the
group Goblin, which provided music for many of Dario Argento's
films, notably Suspiria. For the street scenes in New York
the music is bluesy, jazz-accented. And, as noted earlier, the
movie looks great. Which leads me to conclude with a…..
Many people dislike letterboxed films. Bah. Let them eat cake.
This is the composition that the director and cinematographer
wanted, this is the way it should be shown. I've seen too many
wide-screen movies on tv where a scene was shot with characters
sitting at the extreme left and right of a table. On tv, all you
see is a table and occasionally someone's hand drifts into the
screen. End of rant.
a scale of one to five, Pops gives Manhattan Baby three
mysterious blue stones. Parent's note: there's violence but no
profanity, sex, or nudity. This wouldn't be disturbing to anyone
high school age or older; but it wouldn't necessarily hold their