Welcome To Manhattan Baby (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Welcome to Lucio Fulci's most unfairly maligned horror film.  1982's Manhattan Baby seems to get even more flack than his real clunkers like Voices From Beyond or Door Into Silence; fans just seem to love putting this one down.  I mean, sure you can say that Manhattan Baby is silly, poorly dubbed, un-scary and illogical... you know, like all of Fulci's greatest works.  But it's got some cool production values, another nightmarish "anything goes" plot, various gruesome kills, and one of his best soundtracks.  No, it's not on the level of The Beyond or City Of the Living Dead, but I'd put it about even with The Black Cat.  I mean, the pros and cons are very different for this and Black Cat, but in the final tally they come up about the same for me.  And now, maybe this fancy, new special edition from Blue Underground will scare up some more favorable reappraisals from you guys, too.
So what's this one about?  Well, a happy American family go on vacation to Egypt, where their daughter is given a mysterious amulet.  They go back home (to Manhattan, hence the title), and naturally it turns out that the amulet brought a bunch of evil supernatural problems with it.  The father goes blind, the son gets pulled through a dimensional gateway into the ghost world a la Poltergeist, people get possessed, animals attack. peoples' eyes bleed.  It's almost everything you want from a Fulci film.  Predictably, there's an older gentleman who can tell the family about the evil they've inflicted with and try to tell them save themselves from this ancient Egyptian curse.
I've already weighed most of the pros and cons.  It's kind of like an Egyptian-themed Exorcist with some extra Fulci-madness layered on top.  But it does have slower scenes of exposition that slow it down, and again, it never reaches the heights of The Beyond, and falls a little short of the consistent atmosphere of House By the Cemetery.  But Fulci lovers should be delighted by the return of Bob!  I mean, it's not actually the same character, but it's the same kid dubbed by the same woman.  The fact that Fulci seems to have actually shot at least some exterior scenes with the cast in both Egypt and Manhattan certainly gives this film some 'scope, not to mention his usual, excellent widescreen cinematography.  It is lacking one or two great gore highlights to really place it in the history books alongside his most famous work, and the father does look ridiculous wearing his glasses over his big eye bandages, but this is still a solid entry in his oeuvre as far as I'm concerned.
Manhattan Baby debuted on DVD in 2001 with a nice, anamorphic widescreen transfer from Anchor Bay.  I've still got that disc, so we'll be looking at it today.  They repackaged it as an appropriate double-feature with The New York Ripper in 2002.  Then, in 2007, Blue Underground acquired the rights and reissued the same disc.  But now, finally in 2016, we have an actual new edition, as Blue Underground takes the film into the HD age with their new "3-Disc Limited Edition."  I put that in quotes because I'm literally quoting the case, and because I think it's a stretch to call this a 3-disc edition, although technically, yes it is.  Nightbreed, Army of Darkness?  Those are real 3-disc special editions, where each disc includes important, unique video content: extras, different versions of the film.  This set is a combo-pack, so disc 2 is exactly the same as disc 1, except that it's a DVD copy of the blu-ray.  And the 3rd disc is a CD.  So advertising like it's on par with a proper 3-disc edition, well; we all know what Judge Judy says about peeing on her leg, right?  But don't get me wrong, it's still a pretty awesome single-disc blu-ray special edition, as we're about to see!
2001 Anchor Bay DVD 1st, 2016 BU DVD 2nd, 2016 BU blu-ray 3rd.
2001 Anchor Bay DVD left, 2016 BU blu-ray right.
Blue Underground's new transfer comes from a fresh 2k scan taken of the original camera negatives.  The HD is much sharper and clearer than the old DVD with kosher grain and more natural colors.  The framing has been corrected slightly from 2.35:1 to 2.39:1, and in addition to that, we're also zoomed out a little farther so we get more picture info on all four sides.  Admittedly, that does open the door for some dirt and debris along the very top that we'd never seen before, but overall I'd definitely call it an improvement.  We're talking more than the usual sliver here; look at the mirror on the left side of Tommy's room.  But don't try to look for it on the AB disc; it's not there.  The old DVD was actually a pretty solid transfer for it's time, so it's not a whole world of new detail, but as you can see in the close-up, it is a lot less grainy and soft.  And the new DVD version?  It kind of bridges the gap between the two, giving us the new scan, but still has a soft look to it compared to the blu.

Audio-wise, The old DVDs gave us the original mono in Dolby 2.0, with no subs.  Blue Underground gives us the choice between a modern 5.1 mix and the original mono, both in DTS-HD.  The Italian track might've been a nice addition, especially since they're already including subtitles in English, Spanish and French; but as long as we have the mono, I'm happy enough.
For extras, we've only had a brief but interesting interview with the writer, Dardano Sacchetti, plus the trailer.  Curiously, it also had hidden notes by Michael Felsher on the reverse of the cover [pictured right], even though it came in a solid black case so most owners probably never even found them.  Anyway, thankfully, Blue Underground has preserved the interview and trailer, so you can go ahead and chuck your old DVDs.  And they've also given us a bunch more.  Finally, Manhattan Baby has a special edition.

Now, the music seems to be the one aspect of Manhattan Baby that everybody can agree on, so we get a lot about that.  They talk to Fabio Frizzi for just about an hour, not only about this film but his entire career and collaboration with Fulci.  Then we get another featurette of him performing a Manhattan Baby suite.  Next, moving out of the music, we get on-camera interviews with Cosimo Cinieri, who played the mysterious Mercato, and special effects artist Maurizo Trani, plus a poster and stills gallery.  And that CD?  It's the official film soundtrack.  Like I said, the music is the main thing with this film.  Blue Underground also includes a nice 20-page booklet with extensive notes by Troy Howarth, and we get cool reversible art showing us the film's alternate title, Eye Of the Evil Dead.
If you're a Fulci fan, I recommend you give this film another shot.  And this terrific new Blue Underground release is the ideal way to do it.  If they come out with a non-limited single disc edition, though, I'd say that would be every bit as good, unless you're really into these soundtrack CDs.  Personally, I never listen to 'em, and redundant DVDs?  No thanks.  But the single blu-ray is pretty kick-ass.

1 comment:

  1. Bob!

    It's funny that he looks exactly the same in "House by the Cemetery" and "A Blade in the Dark". I think he might even be wearing the same clothes.

    And I remember reading on some imdb thread that in real life he has a very deep, baritone voice, which is also pretty hilarious.

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