Written by: Stanley Price (screenplay), Nato De Angeles (original story)
Directed by: Peter Sasdy
Starring: Joan Collins, Eileen Atkins, Donald Pleasence, and Ralph Bates
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďThis one doesn't want to be born."
The Devil Within Her is yet another demonic British movie from the 70s, and yet another one that also found the devil begetting an evil spawn; however, this one often feels like there was an Italian production gestating deep in there somewhere due to some occasional moments of absurd brilliance. I mean, just consider the spaghetti-flavored premise of a dwarf cursing a lady after she refuses his lecherous advances, causing her to give birth to a murderous baby. Thatís about as nuts as any set up the Italians ever came up with, but, unfortunately, it only lends itself to those fleeting instances of gonzo greatness.
The woman in question is Lucy Carlesi (Joan Collins), a former showgirl that has indeed given birth to an abnormally large and strong baby boy. After laborious birth, she brings the child home and immediately senses something is wrong (indeed, she doesnít take much time to become resentful towards the tyke); she often feels like heís plotting against her, and he somehow manages to trash his room from his crib. Even though her doctor (Donald Pleasence) insists nothing is wrong with the baby, she confides to her friend (Caroline Munro) that she believes her baby is a demonic spawn, cursed by the aforementioned dwarf; her suspicions are confirmed not only by her nun sister-in-law (Eileen Atkins), but also by the bizarre, unexplained murders that happen in the babyís presence.
Itís almost hard to fathom that a movie featuring Joan Collins, Donald Pleasence, Caroline Munro, Ralph Bates (who plays Collinsís husband), and a killer baby somehow ends up being so dull. Maybe itís because the film feels so flat and deflated; we learn the truth early on about the dwarf (or at least we assume itís the truth since itís literally the only one that makes sense; plus, itís so wacky that it must be true). As such, a lot of the movie just feels perfunctory, as it mostly consists of Collins walking around in search of an answer that she already has. So weíve got to sit through the usual platitudes about science (from Pleasenceís doctor) and religion (from Atkinsís nun), and we already know whoís right. Even more mind boggling is that Collins ends up seeking out a former lover (John Steiner) and strip club owner in the hopes that maybe the baby will be his, therefore explaining everything (I guess?). It occurred to me that this could have led to the most demented episode of Maury ever, especially if they could have also summoned Satan for a paternity test.
Had the film committed to its ludicrous concept, it likely would have been a true trash classic. I like how itís dead serious about the killer baby somehow pulling off its various ridiculous feats; one of the murders is actually seen and somewhat fathomable, as his nanny takes him out for a stroll and ends up parking his carriage on a precipice above a river. She goes to have a look, and he reaches up and shoves her out, which is rather hilarious. But his other feats are left unseen, perhaps because theyíre so nuts or perhaps because they were actually trying to draw out a mystery; these include him somehow putting a dead rat in the housekeeperís tea, hanging someone from a tree, and even decapitating another victim. This scattered schlock is pretty commendable, with the decapitation being particularly grisly and impressive looking. And, of course, the notion that a baby is somehow pulling this off is guffaw-inducing and makes me wish someone would remake this and actually show the kid doing these deeds.
Besides the slight amusement provided by these scenes, The Devil Within Her is dryly directed by Hammer vet Peter Sadsy, though it is adequately performed. Pleasence especially is as stately as ever, and this feels his training wheels in preparation for putting up with Michael Myers over the next 20 years. Just about everyone else is saddled with typical roles (and awful dialogue), but Steiner manages to be one of the few who seems to realize what type of movie this is, so heís gloriously sleazy. When he examines the baby up close, it greets him with a fist to the face, which prompts him to inform Collins that itís definitely her kid before storming out of the door (and the movie). Claydonís dwarf is okay too, briefly stealing the show whenever he shows up; he also lends himself to the movieís funniest gag, which involves Collins hallucinating him in place of her baby a few times.
Thatís pretty much the extent of The Devil Within Her--itís mildly and briefly amusing, but one canít help but think that something with this type of premise deserved a better movie. Maybe it would have been better off in the hands of the Italians after all. Check it out for yourself with Scorpionís DVD release; part of Katarinaís Nightmare Theater, it gets a nice, restorted anamorphic print and mono soundtrack. Itís hosted by Katarina herself, plus thereís an interview with Steiner and the original theatrical trailer. This is also playing on Netflix Instant, where you should hit up after youíve watched better films, like Itís Alive and all of the Italian Exorcist rip-offs. Rent it!
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