A.J.’s Big ’80s Horrorthon #26: “Manhattan Baby” (1982)
by A.J. Hakari
Lucio Fulci is sure making it hard to stick to my whole “give movies a chance” philosophy. I’d love to walk away impressed from one of the Italian filmmaker’s cult shockers, but not being a fan of the loosey-goosey adherence to logic he shared with his contemporaries never fails to budge in the way. I knew this going into 1982’s Manhattan Baby, but even by those standards, the flick still has its head crammed up its incoherent hindquarters.
George Hacker (Christopher Connelly) went to Egypt, and all he got was a lousy case of blindness. Playing Indiana Jones and violating the sanctity of an ancient tomb may have robbed his sight, but his little daughter Susie (Brigitta Boccoli) isn’t going home empty-handed. An old crone pawns onto the tyke an ornate trinket that proceeds to wreak multiple forms of havoc when her family returns to New York City. Snakes are summoned from thin air, people around them vanish, and gateways leading to spots all over the globe pop up in the closet. It’s clear that Susie’s pendant is the vessel of some eons-old evil, one whose stranglehold George attempts to loosen before it completely takes her over, body and soul.
Hypnotic as Fulci’s “anything goes” approach to horror may be for some, in Manhattan Baby‘s case, it only serves to cheat the audience out of a creepy good time. Just cobbling together a paragraph’s worth of plot represents more effort than Fulci exhibited in the name of giving the film any form. Yes, style over story is how it usually went for him, Argento, Bava, and such, but Manhattan Baby reaches maddeningly cryptic heights. The narrative seems stuck on shuffle mode, often with no rhyme or reason behind what you’re seeing. What exactly is that sinister force lurking within Susie’s necklace? Beats me. What does it want, and why does it need Susie to achieve it? No clue. How come characters randomly drop out and dead animals return to life, yet no one ever mentions them? Your guess is as good as mine. The only sure thing about Manhattan Baby is that all its light shows, gore effects, and “Egyptian Mythology for Dummies” lessons didn’t make me more concerned for a little girl who was apparently possessed (good luck getting an explanation out of this flick).
I hate to throw in the towel on a certain breed of movie because of a few bad examples, but Manhattan Baby might be the last time I kick it with Mr. Fulci for a while. I’m plumb out of patience for any genre director who plops us before their slideshows of the damned and wants us to be grateful for the privilege, and though I trust Fulci has his gems, I’m in no great hurry to seek them out just yet. Manhattan Baby is bad news, and neither its amusing dubbing or zombie birds can brighten up its outlook.