Manhattan Baby

I’m a snake shooter, shootin’ snakes in your direction
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1982
Director: 
Lucio Fulci
Starring: 
Christopher Connelly, Marta Taylor, Brigitta Boccoli, Giovanni Frezza
The Setup: 
Girl is possessed by some Egyptian spirit or whatever.
Discussion: 

From Lucio Fulci, famed director of the delightful Zombie, comes this, which sounded somewhat amusing, and which I specifically selected as counterprogramming to all the quality artsy movies I’ve been watching lately. One thing I’ve learned over the past three years of watching a ton of movies is that in the films of Jean-Luc Godard, people rarely get laser beams to the eyes.

So we open with a scorpion crawling around in the desert. This guy picks it up and this American with him says he’ll bring it home to his daughter—she’ll love it! She can hug it and squeeze it and pet it and love it. The Egyptian with him tells him to be sure to tell her it’s the symbol of evil [like what is she going to do with that information?], and the dad says that’s a heavy trip to lay on a 9-year-old.

We now meet the 9yo in question, little blonde Susie, who is hanging with her mother as she walks around this castle-thing taking photographs. For you see, as we will soon be assured repeatedly, her mother works for Time & Life, back in New York. Mom leaves the girl by some tomb, during which time she enters a kind of spell, looks behind her and sees this blind old lady, who intones “Tombs are for the dead,” to which Susie responds “But Trix are for kids,” and the blind lady gives her this amulet with a big eye in the middle.

Then dad George, he was the guy at the beginning, is excavating this tomb, the tomb of Habiduginah, which he is told carries a terrible curse. Yeah, whatever, George says, and he and his assistant go down. They find this hidden chamber, and uncover a hole in the wall—which turns out to be the snake shooter. It jets out a cobra, quick and straight as an arrow, which they then shoot. This being an Italian movie of the 70s, they REALLY shoot a cobra. Then they both fall down a pit, where the assistant gets impaled on the spike of doom, while George gets supernaturally shunted aside, only to receive two laser beams, right to the eyes. You see, the ancient Egyptians actually pionered Lasik long before our modern fancy-pants scientists.

So it turns out George has been blinded, and it’ll last for about a year. Everyone reacts to this as though he he has a pimple or something, no big deal, and George has to wear these huge white pads over his eyes, which he THEN covers with these lightly-frosted shades. WHY is he wearing his glasses of he can’t see? I’ll leave that for you to puzzle out.

Anyway, now they’re back in Manhattan—which means everything is shot in Italy with Italian actors, but they flew the principals to Manhattan for a weekend to get some exterior shots of them walking around. I’ll also mention, though it goes virtually without saying, that the dubbing is particulalry mismatched to the characters’ mouths. Anyway, I have some things in my notes that I don’t even remember or understand: “Susie has glowy eyes. She plays tape, Tommy vanishes through white door.” But before we know it, Dad gets his eyes zapped again, and soon his sight is coming back.

Tommy is Susie’s little brother, and is this obnoxious blond, blue-eyed kid with a bowl cut, and massive duck lips that cannot contain his gargantuan buck teeth. Anyway, one day the kids an the au pair, Jamie Lee, are out when they take a polaroid of Susie, which doesn’t develop right away, so they just drop it on the grass, BLATANTLY littering. We see the photo develop into a picture of the amulet, and this woman gives it to the mom, Emily, with the name Adrian Marcato written on it. She gives it to Dad, and he takes it into his buddy the professor or whatnot, named Walter. He says it’s the sacred symbol of the grand shadow, the God called Habiduginuh. Now, if you sound that out, it truly sounds like the biggest mouthful of pure gibberish ever: ha-bi-du-gi-nuh. It’s the sort of thing you would utter if you were trying to mock people from India.

Meanwhile, the kids are playing a game of hide and seek with Jamie Lee, and as we will soon learn, those kids have a secret that allows them to be assured of winning. Jamie Lee is terrorized by creepy crawling noises [actually somewhat effective], then a door opens and a snake comes out, although it’s a little odd, as Jamie Lee is looking UP and screaming, intercut with shots of the snake on the FLOOR. So she finally calls security [it never occurs to her to leave he apartment], and it’s a little funny, as she’s on the phone screaming “Please! I need your help!” and they’re like “Yeah, yeah, I’ll be right up,” in this lazy ol’ voice. A second later the kids reappear and everything’s back to normal—it seems poor Jamie Lee is just cracking up!

SPOILERS > > >
But security has already been alerted! So the guard, just as lazy as he sounded on the phone [since all the actors are Italian and were shot in Italy, it’s a little amusing to see how they represent Italian’s VIEWS of what New Yorkers must be like, mostly gleaned from movies]. He goes up in the elevator, but soon it’s stuck between floors. It starts making creepy noises [it really is remarkable how effective the odd creepy noise can be], and he tries to pry the doors open until his fingers get bloody. Then—and this was wholly unexpected—the floor starts to come unattached! It slowly peels away, and finally falls off. This is relatively effective, and I sure didn’t see it coming—probably because the whole idea that an elevator’s floor has nothing beneath it and is essentially stuck on with glue is so ludicrous—but if you go with it, it kind of works.

Meanwhile, Susie is missing and the door to her room is locked. Mom Emily gets her jokester magician friend Luke to come over and try to look in the room. He makes this big deal for the kids of saying “Hocus Pocus” as he goes up the stairs, it’s a big, long buildup, then he opens the door: and is zapped, and screams in agony! When Emily goes up and opens the door after him, they find that the room is full of sand, from which a scorpion emerges! We have a shot a bit later that shows us Luke’s body in Egypt—there’s some kind of portal in that there sand! The thing to do is obviously open some sort of Fifth Avenue boutique to sell imported Egyptian trinkets, seeing as they’ve discovered this exclusive distribution channel, but no, they decide to just hang tough and worry. Poor Jamie Lee is still having near-constant hallucinations. And the kids are claiming to take “voyages” to Egypt. This whole idea of the kids’ bedroom as the center of spiritual energy containing a portal to somewhere else would seem like it was ripped off from Poltergeist, but the movies came out at roughly the same time.

Now the parents decide that they have to go see Adrian Marcato, the name written on the back of the polaroid, who is your average evil antique dealer. But first we have a repeat of one of my favorite little elements that happens a lot in this movie: having Emily walk by the sign that says Time & Life to prove that she works there. This sign is outside, essentially on the sidewalk, so she is literally just walking by the building in a very public place, but the movie treats it as definitive proof that she IS a Time Life employee. So they go see Marcato, and he says that the amulet is “the eye of evil” and that it is centered on their daughter [another Poltergeist-alike], which they pooh-pooh. I mean, I’m sure there’s just a rational explanation for all that sand and scorpions popping out everywhere! In here we start to notice the massive preponderance of close-ups of eyes. By the end, I was prepared to state that a full 45% of the film is close-ups of eyes.

Anyway, Marcato’s got to come over and perform something or other. Around 52:50 you’ll notice this rather nice [and confusing] long tracking shot up one side of a spiral staircase, then turning and back down. There’s a nice little moment when the parents open the drawer with the amulet and find a giant scorpion on top of it. They just put the scorpion in a box and set it aside, as though it were just the most normal thing in the world to find hand-sized scorpions in one’s drawers in the middle of Manhattan. New Yorker’s just can’t get upset over every little thing. When they go back upstairs, Marcato is writhing on the floor, with Susie’s voice coming out of him. Cheap, but effective.

Menwhile, where is Jamie Lee? Tommy’s looking at the wall when suddenly it starts spattering with blood from the other side [effective], and then a woman’s hand bursts through, as Tommy mournfully [not] says “Poor Jamie Lee.” Then it would seem that Mercato has somehow substituted himself for Susie! He’s possessed and she’s not! Oh but she is: she starts croaking and blood starts draining from her mouth, leading me to think “At last she’s finally dead,” oh but she’s not: she’s fine, just, you know, a little blood out of the mouth. No big. Then Mercato is chillin’ at home with his comprehensive stuffed dead bird collection, when they all come to life and attack him, in perhaps the goriest thing in the movie. Then Dad tosses the amulet in the river and, well, that’s that, then!
< < < SPOILERS END

Let’s just say it could have been worse and leave it at that. I sort of liked that there was a Egyptian curse and yet it DIDN’T result in a mummy running around, it was more a generalized bad juju kind of curse. And clearly there are all sorts of Poltergeist-isms with the kids room being possessed and serving as the portal to another dimension. But ultimately the whole thing is just so silly and nonsensical that you just kind of get out of it what you can. It’s amusing—and that’s about the most I can say for it right now.

Should you watch it: 

If 1) you’re a huge Lucio Fucli fan, 2) if you’re so, so bored, like, SO bored, or 3) if terrorists demand that you watch it or they’ll kill your family.