We're staying in New York again for today's movie, via a brief sojourn in Egypt, for some Spaghetti flavoured supernatural shenanigans from that maestro of surrealist splatter, Lucio Fulci. Manhattan Baby is generally regarded as a beginning of the end film, so to speak, in the context of the director's career, and isn't afforded the same esteem as his other genre pictures of the period. To be fair, this is somewhat understandable, as it hardly packs the same kind of visceral punch as his lauded Gates of Hell trilogy. Taken on its own terms though, it's still a highly atmospheric and enjoyable little gem, that I personally have an exponentially growing soft spot for; the kind of movie you can never take fully seriously but still stick on at any time and find yourself instantly engrossed in. You could describe the film as Fulci-lite, if you will; that's to say, it isn't as heavy going as City of the Living Dead and its ilk, but still retains much of the same juicy flavour. Or, to put it yet another way, you could probably give a fairly young horror fan a copy of this movie as their "My First Fulci" and they might get a kick out of it; despite a couple of characteristically icky bits, it seems no more potentially scarring than say Poltergeist for instance.
George and Emily Hacker (Christopher Connelly and Martha Taylor), an archaeologist and journalist respectively, are visiting the land of the pharaohs, half on the job and half on vacation it seems, with their ten year old daughter Susie (Brigitta Boccoli) in tow. While wandering around sightseeing, the young girl is approached by a creepy, milky-eyed gypsy woman, who hands her a blue-jewelled Eye of Horus amulet and announces portentously that "Tombs are for the dead". It's a shame that George wasn't around to hear this as he soon runs into some serious shit whilst traipsing around one, causing his assistant to be inadvertently killed by a spike trap, and his own sight to be temporarily taken away by frickin' laser beams. Returning home, the family soon discover they've been followed across the pond by a supernatural shit-storm of reality shattering proportions.
It's kind of unnecessary to say any more than that with regards to the plot. Fulci has essentially created a melange of 60's and 70's horror classics, such as The Birds, The Exorcist and The Omen, and infused it with his own particular dreamlike vibe. As the film was probably somewhat of an improvised affair, due having the bulk of its budget slashed at the 11th hour, it's no doubt unsurprising that events should be more than a little chaotic. However, this was probably still largely the plan to begin with as this sense of anarchy against both narrative and the body was already familiar ground by now to Fulci, as most memorably demonstrated in City of the Living Dead and The Beyond, but not as intensely utilised here.
The key word here, already mentioned, and central to the movie's appeal (for me at least) is atmosphere; it's shot with the same elegantly framed and exquisitely lit style (with focus pulls galore!) as Fulci's other American Gothics. And the music, by regular collaborator Fabio Frizzi, obviously helps as well, as much of it is recycled from his scores to these previous films. His original contributions to this particular soundtrack are also very welcome as they conjure up the appropriate Egyptian ambience. The director's infamous Artaudian gore set-pieces are mostly absent, apart from one (slightly) hilarious scene that sort of manages to riff on both Psycho and The Birds at once, where a man is pecked to death by the previously dead and stuffed feathered friends that decorate his shop. Sure, you can see the strings, but never mind eh?
It's worth mentioning that, for whatever reason, this seems to be a fairly polarising movie, even among Fulci fans. Still, if it sounds like your particular variety of strange brew, then I'm sure you'll dig it.