CAPSULE: THE BABY (1973)

DIRECTED BY: Ted Post

FEATURING: Ruth Roman, Anjanette Comer, Marianna Hill, Suzanne Zenor, David Mooney [as David Manzy]

PLOT: A social worker becomes obsessed with a case involving a family with an adult son

Still from The Baby (1973)

with the intellect of a one-year old, who sleeps in a crib and wears a diaper.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Baby‘s infantilism premise, which is handled with an almost disconcerting matter-of-factness, is outlandish, but the film is fairly conventional in its execution.

COMMENTS: Although it has a minor cult following, for the most part The Baby is a fairly ordinary thriller with low production values.  Director Post had previously worked extensively in television, and his direction here shows it: it’s efficient, competent, but unexciting.  But the colorful material overcomes the pedestrian direction, and you can see why this one stuck in people’s memory: the film “stars” an actor in his twenties who sucks his thumb and sleeps in a crib, and no one in the movie seems to think this is the slightest bit odd.  His teenage babysitter even changes his adult-sized diapers without a second thought.  That The Baby is also filled with hints (and often more) of psychosexual perversity—infantilism, sadism, pathological possessiveness—doesn’t hurt its memorability quotient a bit.  And despite the movie’s made for TV feel, there are a couple of things that it does very well.  The acting is uneven, but Ruth Roman brings verve to her role as the bitter old matron who’s willing to do anything to keep her Baby.  She channels Joan Crawford’s looks, Suzanne Pleshette’s voice, and Shelly Winters’ orneriness; by the end, she’s become a Ma Barker-style family queenpin, masterminding plots and directing her two oversexed girls on kidnapping and rescue missions.  (Perhaps coincidentally, and perhaps not, the family’s “two sexually predatory sisters and a nonverbal idiot brother” sibling structure replicates the even weirder clan from Jack Hill’s Spider Baby [1968]). Roman provides so much bitchy fun that you wish she’d thrown all restraint out the window and gone into full bore Mommie Dearest histrionics (if she had, the film really would be the undisputed camp classic it claims to be).  The downside of Roman’s charisma is that she sets off the soap opera-level talents of the pretty but vapid actresses hired to play against her.  Speaking of bad acting, though, nothing beats David Manzy’s head-lolling, mouth-breathing performance as Baby.  His attempts at infantile mewling and babbling are embarrassing.  Maybe that’s why (some viewers report) in earlier television screenings of the film, Manzy’s voice was overdubbed with the cries of a real baby!  It’s hard to say Manzy’s performance is bad—we don’t really have any other adult infant characters like Baby to compare it against, and maybe this is exactly how a twenty-year old with the brain of a one-year old would act—but it is ridiculous-looking.  Besides Roman’s performance, the other thing that stands out about The Baby is the twist ending.  For most of its running time, the movie does the minimum necessary to keep you interested.  There will be long sequences of the social worker visiting Baby, lightly fencing with Roman and her daughters over the best interests of the child, and just when you start checking your watch and wondering whether this is all the movie’s got, bam—Baby will do something wrong and need to be punished, providing another kinky plot development that gives the film life again for a few more minutes.  The twist ending operates in the same way, coming after the movie has taken an unexpected but unsuspenseful detour into slasher movie territory for the climax, with characters being picked off one by one in a too-dark house.  Then, just as you’re about to yawn and put The Baby to bed, there’s a pleasantly perverse little jolt at the end that wakes you up and makes you look at the film with new eyes.

Severin Films re-released The Baby in 2011 in a widescreen version remastered from the original negative.  The movie had previously been available on DVD in a couple of inferior incarnations, one from Image Entertainment and in a no-frills full screen version from the now-defunct Geneon, a company specializing in anime.  Severin’s release  adds only a few extras—the original trailer and telephone interviews with director Post and “star” Mooney—but it’s the best presentation the film’s fans are likely to see for an almost 40-year old camp thriller.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a strangely interesting little curio. If you’re in the mood for something unabashedly off-the-wall, then it should be worth your while to check it out.”–porfle, HK and Cult Film News (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by our own Eric Gabbard,who called it “weird but well constructed.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

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