Jamie Kennedy's favorite movie review site
Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About 

Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 0%
Just Average: 0%
Pretty Crappy: 12.5%

1 review, 2 user ratings

Latest Reviews

All Is True by Jay Seaver

Fugue by Jay Seaver

Aniara by Jay Seaver

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum by Jay Seaver

Long Day's Journey Into Night (2018) by Jay Seaver

Shadow by Jay Seaver

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché by Jay Seaver

Hustle, The by Peter Sobczynski

Detective Pikachu by Peter Sobczynski

Mope by Jay Seaver

subscribe to this feed

Manhattan Baby
[AllPosters.com] Buy posters from this movie
by Jack Sommersby

"Just Another Bastardizied Boner by Lucio Fulci"
1 stars

After a passable beginning this rock-bottom cinematic exercise in irredeemable turgidity becomes as entertaining as a root canal. Even gore fans of its infamous Italian director will be disappointed by the lacklustre blood and total lack of nudity.

In his attempt to venture out in a new direction with his supernatural thriller Manhattan Baby, Italian giallo filmmaker Lucio Fulci fails yet again to churn out a recommendable piece of filmmaking. Without the wall-to-wall gory set pieces to fall back on this time around, he's worked himself into an artistic corner in his reliance on old tricks and adhering to a screenplay which is honorable in intent but hoarily developed, and also because he seems at a total loss throughout as how to effectively manipulate and carry an audience along on a tension-filled, nerve-jangling ride. Where a gifted director can sometimes glide over bad writing, a strictly mediocre one like Fulci is left to rely on the scripted goings-on to carry the day -- he can't make faulty material play better than it is. The viewer, though, actually holds out a glimmer of hope for Fulci to pull things off here, for the opening passages aren't bad and more than a wee bit intriguing. Then again, this always seems to be the case with a Fulci film, whether it's his monsters-on-an-island bore Zombie, his unintentionally funny serial killer/police procedural The New York Ripper, or his sometimes-successful thing-in-the-basement tale The House by the Cemetery: where the promising build-ups give way to truly lackluster follow-throughs. Fulci is undoubtedly an artist despite his shortcomings (the main one being his lack of a true film sense for what will and will not convincingly play for an audience), but his nonchalant concern for fundamentally sound storytelling always ends up rendering his films' already-shaky narratives as evanescent and inert, thus depriving the proceedings of drive and, most importantly, a core. His films exist as miasmas of attention-getting molehills as opposed to sturdily-built mountains, yet die-hard fans of his myopically aver that for Fulci merely to attempt art is to achieve it, which, of course, and which his films more than validate, is poppycock.

Manhattan Baby concerns itself with a five-thousand-year-year-old Egyptian necklace, which has come into the possession of a young girl during her archaeologist father's expedition in Cairo. To trick us up a bit, it's not the daughter who's in initial danger, but her father, who, in exploring a forbidden dwelling, is blinded by two blue light rays from sinister-looking, priceless artifact; the family then returns home to Manhattan, where the father is informed by his doctor that he's likely to be blind for at least a year. In their high-rise apartment, the family tries to move past this, but all sorts of weird, unexplained things start happening: the daughter experiences a slew of horrific nightmares and sees equally horrifying visions during the day. She's supposed to have acquired some kind of ESP ability, which accounts for her telling her mother a thunderstorm is going to occur, which the mother discounts; but the thunderstorm does in fact occur shortly thereafter, even though, mind you, a thunderstorm isn't exactly a tantalizing meteorological phenomenon. When the wife's immature co-worker goes upstairs to investigate a strange noise in the daughter's bedroom, a flash of blinding light envelops him upon opening the door, and his dead body is transported to the sands of Cairo, with some of the Cairo sand covering the bedroom floor shortly thereafter. When the building's security guard is called upstairs by the au pair to check out a locked door, the bottom of the elevator bottom collapses out from beneath him, thus ensuring him a most unwelcome demise. Asps and scorpions manifest out of nowhere in the apartment. The daughter and younger brother are always giggling creepily as if privy to a sinister secret all their own. Finally(!), the father comprehends the danger and works to defeat a malevolent force known as the Sacred Symbol of the Grand Shadow, which has a "sudden notoriety for tremendous cruelty and utter evil".

As aforewritten, the film opens up a story line that's initially involving, simply because some of its aspects are of the phantasmagorical persuasion that can afford the audience a pleasing time in this broad spectrum of a supernatural tale. Anything can pretty much go in this genre, but it's up to the filmmakers to serve up a series of worthwhile happenings that, as truly outlandish as they may be, possess a consistent inner logic trying the story threads together; otherwise, an uncouth hodgepodge of mere ideas, rather than maturely thought-out ones, is the unctuous result. The eclectic John Boorman took on similar material in his much-despised (though slightly underappreciated) Exorcist 2: The Heretic, which dealt with a grown-up Linda Blair battling evil forces in (as is the case here) a Manhattan high-rise; yes, the dialogue was idiotic and the camp value high, but Boorman gamely embraced the craziness he managed to unearth from the many-hands-involved screenplay and gave it a palpable air of menacing texture and, miraculously enough, conviction. In contrast, Fulci keeps a safe distance back from the material (appallingly written by Fulci veterans Elisa Briganti and Dardano Sacchetti, who managed some trashy appeal in their collaboration with director Enzo G. Castellari in 1990: The Bronx Warriors) as if he were dictating his witless wishes to a clueless second-unit director throughout the shoot; while one can forgive his film its own atrocious dialogue and the laugh-out-loud dubbing (the father's voice sounds like Ryan O'Neal's, and the eight-year-old son's like a thirty-year-old's), the countless story inconsistencies keep pulling us out of the story rather than pleasurably pulling us into it.

The characters on dubious display here behave as if they'd previously undergone frontal lobotomies -- they're always making lame, eye-rolling decisions in life-or-death situations that make you think their children would have been better off had they been raised by the Son of Sam and Aileen Wuornos. When the wife's unfortunate co-worker disappears up in that room, her and her husband contemplate what happened, readily accepting the possibility that he's playing a joke on them and is probably back at home, which is totally absurd being that she and the au pair were at the bottom of the stairs, leading up to the room, before and after the disappearance, so he couldn't possibly have gotten past them. Duh. And there are too many head-scratching incidents you can't make heads or tails of. When the kids start screaming from their room in response to a bright light illuminating the doorway, which the mesmerized son is drawn to, the father fumbles up the stairs, is knocked out by two more blue rays to his eyes, is awakened by his wife, inquires about the kids, and is told they're fine and with the au pair. Well, what did that bright light do to the son, and why didn't he or his sister notice poor 'ol dad out cold on the floor when they fled their room? The transporting of the co-worker to an Egyptian desert is admittedly fairly nifty, so we assume the doorway is going to play an integral part to the story by having it serve as a defense mechanism against anyone angering the force in the necklace; yet, inexplicably, it's dropped soon thereafter. From there on the following ensues: a corpse is discovered embedded in the walls; an ally of the family winds up on the rather nasty receiving end of one of those lethal asps; and at the end, a man is eaten alive by several vicious bats (which are some of the very worst f/x creations Fulci has ever employed; they're so unfrightening it brings to mind Leslie Nielsen battling that pillow thrown at his head in the original Naked Gun).

Fulci is adept here at composing shots for the 2.35:1 widescreen frame in spatially and geographically different locations, whether it's the panoramic Egyptian desert or the confines of a Manhattan apartment. Then again, while the shots don't come off as having been overly designed and fussed over, they don't give off the appearance of having been rendered from an astute visual interpretation designed to serve the material: the collective images and camerabatics call too much attention to themselves, and the effect comes off as self-consciously arty. It's not enough that Fulci is incapable of sustaining suspense through both imagery and rhythmic editing from one scene to the next (the film induces more in the way of yawns from the audience than palpitations), but hardly four minutes go by where he's not insistently zeroing in on a character's eyes with extreme close-ups; Fulci's fascination with eyes is well-known, whether he's having them punctured by wooden shards (Zombie) or sliced into with razor blades (The New York Ripper), and for the umpteenth time this serves little in the way of a discernible purpose. The blue rays that beam into the father's eyes endow him with no particular special powers, and in several instances these close-ups are given to several peoples' eyes in a room during mere conversations, which we might infer is signifying an otherworldly communication going on among the characters, but it doesn't. For all the zero effect Fulci gets from his non-diaphanous eye obsession, he could have inserted shots of feet without the effect being any more banal (though if they'd been of Al Bundy's rank, room-clearing ones, it'd have been infinitely more menacing).

What really does Manhattan Baby in, finally, is its utter crash-and-burn failure to stoke our imaginations in successfully manipulating us into believing in something quite elemental in this particular realm of filmdom: that a powerful and evil ancient force is capable of destroying the entire world if widely unleashed, which is something countless other films (good and bad) have managed to convince us of for decades. This isn't a Herculean task to bring off, because the playing rules are left to the filmmakers, who can delve into their imaginations and draw up endless boundaries; but, again, no matter how fantastical a concept a story may boast, it at least needs to be thought out so the audience has an idea of how the story aspects are related to one another, so they know the rules of the game, which in turn gives them things to key off of. Fulci doesn't lack for technical competence but does lack for brains; he's so adamantly dedicated to carrying his stories over primarily with visuals and f/x that he tergiversates narrative logic as if it were strictly for sissies and squares. Cheap shocks might cause us to jump out of our seats once in a while, but they're not enough to sustain a film, and because there are so very few of them here, anyway, Fulci -- in his refusal to provide the necessary underpinnings -- is left with a film so lacking in organic clarity that it's dissociative nature alienates the audience. If Fulci were taking on complex material chock-full of grand aspirations, I could forgive him his failure to "keep the picture in his head" while trying to figure out his vision during the production process. But when a veteran director manages to completely screw things up in a flexible genre such as this with such paper-thin material, and fails to conjure up so much as a single valid scare or solitary second of menacing tension as compensation for the shoddy storytelling, it's not just pity I feel toward the "artist", but outright contempt.

Beware fans of this film: Anchor Bay's DVD is absurdly overpriced. At a retail cost of $29.98, it offers up little in the way of special features to justify the price tag. However it can be snagged for less than $10 at eBay and Half.com. But, hey, c'mon, if you want good gore and nudity, give "The New York Ripper" a little love. After all, where else are you going to see a serial killer quack like Donald Duck when he slays his victims?

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10544&reviewer=327
originally posted: 08/24/04 08:22:25
[printer] printer-friendly format  

User Comments

8/08/09 mr.mike More thrills and gore would've made it passable. 2.5 stars. 2 stars
8/26/04 tatum ...and Fulci is still considered a genius in some circles?? 1 stars
Note: Duplicate, 'planted,' or other obviously improper comments
will be deleted at our discretion. So don't bother posting 'em. Thanks!
Your Name:
Your Comments:
Your Location: (state/province/country)
Your Rating:

Discuss this movie in our forum




Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About 
Privacy Policy | | HBS Inc. |   
All data and site design copyright 1997-2017, HBS Entertainment, Inc.
Search for
reviews features movie title writer/director/cast