According to the internet, so it must be true, director Lucio Fulci did not like the title of Manhattan Baby, his second feature released in 1982. He preferred the title ‘Evil Eye.’ He had a point. ‘Manhattan Baby’ makes it sound like this movie is just a ripoff of Rosemary’s Baby, and it is not. If there is any horror movie this flick cribs from, it’s The Exorcist.
Manhattan Baby stars Christopher Connelly as George Hacker, a professor of Egyptology. In an introduction featuring some beautiful location work in Egypt, Hacker is shown heading an archeological dig. A tomb is uncovered, and while Hacker is exploring it, he falls through a trapdoor into another chamber. There, a strange symbol carved into the wall, with a glowing jewel in its center, shoots blue lasers into his eyes, blinding him. Meanwhile, Hacker’s daughter, Susie (Brigitta Boccoli), and wife, Emily (Laura Lenzi), are nearby, having accompanied George for a vacation. At the same time George is being blinded, an old woman with clouded eyes is giving Susie a medallion just like the mysterious symbol George found in the tomb in miniature. Soon after George crawls forth from the tomb and collapses into the desert sand. That’s some setup.
The Hackers return home to the Upper East Side of Manhattan and George gets some good news. He should regain his sight within a year. That kind of makes his tragedy pointless to the story, but it’s made even more so when, in the second act of the film, another shot of supernatural blue lasers restores his sight. It’s a rare moment of bad storytelling in a movie mostly bereft of that.
The medallion begins working its magic on Susie and little brother, Tommy (Giovanni Frezza), whose character plops into the film with no prior warning of his existence. Susie and Tommy begin disappearing and reappearing in their home, sometimes bringing back artifacts from ancient Egypt. The medallion is also causing some minor characters in the movie to meet their ends, giving audiences a little fodder here and there.
It turns out the medallion is the symbol of a demon that Egyptians worshiped over 5,000 years ago, and now the demon is playing havoc with the Hacker family. Viewers are treated to familiar supernatural shenanigans before a final act shift in plot, when it turns out the demon wants to take over Susie’s body, and the family turns to antique dealer and expert in the occult, Adrian Mercato (Cosimo Cinieri), for help. He warns the family that unless Susie can be freed from the demon’s clutches, she will soon die.
This film is something of a cross between a haunted house flick and a demonic possession flick. This kind of mix led Fulci to show a surprising amount of restraint when it came to the blood and guts, right up until the final act, anyway. Instead, Fulci relied heavily on mood and the cinematography of Guglielmo Mancori, who favored extreme closeups of characters, and use of liminal space when the camera pulled back. This is a much better looking movie than something like Fulci’s Zombi films.
The film also has much more of a deliberate pace, which fits in well with the story. To the characters in this movie, the events are as much mystery as they are supernatural. A thoughtful progression of the plot is called for. Again, right up until the final act. Then, Fulci lets himself off the leash, and viewers are treated to a frenetic and bloody finale. It’s a quite satisfying way to wrap it all up.
An added bonus for viewers was the cast. Despite their heavy load, the young performers both did an admirable job. His performance in The House by the Cemetery left me worried for this film, but Frezza proved those fears unfounded.
The standouts in the cast were Connelly, Lenzi, and Cinieri, however. They were professional and believable throughout, with Cinieri being weird when called for.
The 1980s were Fulci’s peak as a horror filmmaker, and this film slots nicely into his oeuvre. It’s not his most well-known film, but it is a good film.