Manhattan Zodiac ’77 is one of the more unusual attempts at recreating the look and feel of 1970s grindhouse films. For starters, it was shot on Super 8 film to get the grainy look of something shot on leftover 16mm rolls. For another, despite it being an Australian production, the cast and crew have been given German names and the actor’s dialogue dubbed in and doesn’t match the movement of their lips.
All you need is an appearance from Klaus Kinski, and it could almost pass for one of the many Edgar Wallace adaptations, such as Creature With the Blue Hand, passed off as horror films in the US back in the day. And that’s what it claims to be, the US release print of a lost German film. Why German and not Italian or even early Ozploitation? I have no idea, but they’ve certainly done a good job of making Manhattan Zodiac ’77 look like something found in the back room of a long closed theatre.
The plot is about as basic as it gets. A title card tells us the New York City is the most dangerous city on Earth, averaging 27 murders a day, and the number is still growing. It’s growing due to the efforts of the man dubbed The Manhattan Zodiac by the press. He’s doing his best to make sure the city lives up to its reputation, and as the film starts, a homeless man rummaging through the trash for food finds the skull of his latest victim.
A jaded, hard drinking cop named Stryker is trying to track him down but with little success. Apart from being hookers, the victims seem to have nothing in common. As his investigation grinds on, a young woman named Emily has come up North from Arkansas to visit her friend Eva. Emily has an ulterior motive, she plans to get an abortion while she’s in the big bad city. Eva has a secret of her own, though, it’s not her painting that’s paying her rent. And that’s going to put her on the killer’s radar.
The killer is reminiscent of Maniac’s Frank Zito. He looks dirty and creepy, hallucinates about his abusive hooker mother, has a mannequin in his apartment and a fondness for knives. The film’s other three leads are equally undefined, although at a mere fifty-six minutes long, Manhattan Zodiac ’77 doesn’t really have a lot of time for character development. Unfortunately, in the tradition of the cheaper films of the day, it doesn’t have time for much in the way of gore either.
While we do get a few body parts here and there, at one point the killer mails Stryker a severed breast, the killings themselves are tame, mostly a thrusting knife and practical blood splatter. Nudity is nonexistent, the closest we get is a dancer with tassels on. While films that promised everything and showed nothing were common enough on 42nd Street, patrons would have been disappointed, and so will anyone expecting this to match the more notorious films that played there.
But for those that willingly sit through films like Invasion of the Blood Farmers or Shriek of the Mutilated or the aforementioned Edgar Wallace Krimis, there’s fun to be had here, from the stock footage of NYC to the recreation of the films of the past including the score by Everett Dudgeon. If nothing else, Manhattan Zodiac ’77 is a wonderful exercise in nostalgia.
Manhattan Zodiac ‘77 will be released, at least in Australia, on Digital Platforms and on Blu-ray by Bounty Films some time in February 2024. There doesn’t seem to be a trailer, but Manhattan Zodiac ‘77’s score is available on YouTube.