The Baby (1973)
Studio: Severin Films
Release date: July 8th, 2014
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Itís been a few years since I first saw The Baby, and itís the sort of film that doesnít even require a revisit to incite continued awe. Considering I was somewhat lukewarm on it back then, itís fair to say that I was mostly impressed by its very existence. If you need definitive proof that the 70s were a completely different time for Hollywood, consider the case of The Baby: not only did a film centered on a psychologically damaged man-infant and his deranged family make it to theaters, but it also did so under the direction of an A-list director and with a PG rating to boot. I doubt many films can challenge it for the title of ďsleaziest PG movie of all-time,Ē what with all the forced breast-feeding, multiple stabbings, and the skeezy portrayal of women in general.
But luckily we live in a world where this sort of film now manages to come home on multiple home video formats as well, and Severin has reissued The Baby on Blu-ray. Iím glad for the opportunity to revisit, too, because the film is somehow a little bit wackier than I remember it, perhaps because itís been unburdened by expectations. When I first came across it, I assumed the cover art served as a harbinger for some ultra-demented action involving an overgrown infant and his penchant for hatchet murders.
Instead, itís just that his mother (Ruth Roman) and sisters (Marianna Hill and Susanne Zenor) have completely broken and subjugated ďBabyĒ (David Mooney), the twentysomething man of the house who hasnít advanced beyond the mental age of a one-year-old thanks to some forceful conditioning via cattle-prods and verbal abuse. When yet another social worker (Anjanette Comer) begins to exhibit an intense interest for the situation, the Wadsworth clan becomes super protective of their baby boy.
For much of the filmís runtime, this setup actually manages to play up to expectations, as a borderline made-for-TV melodrama unfolds between Comer and her adversaries. Itís sort of stuffy and corny at times, even with the wackiness flitting about the edges. Mooneyís bizarre Baby is obviously the wackiest and weirdest flourish; he might be the title character, but heís understandably a passive entity here, existing mostly to fuel one nutty episode after another. I like that the situation is apparently such a maelstrom of oddness that anyone caught up in it is unable to escape, including a poor babysitter who seems to be a nice enough girl but just canít help but shove her boob into Babyís mouth (you can imagine it doesnít end well for her when the mother interrupts). Likewise, when the family throws Baby a birthday party, it only seems to attract scumbags who hit on the two Wadsworth daughters and aid them in subduing and kidnapping the social worker.
For a while, The Baby just feels like a haphazard collection of such offbeat encounters and insane characters, save for Comerís sweet-natured, melancholic Ann Gentry, a recently-widowed woman whoís only comfort rests in her mother-in-lawís support. Sheís the lone anchor in this torrent of psychosis, as the Wadsworths are completely far gone. The matriarch is a total loon, and starlet Roman brings some Old Hollywood theatricality to the performance by chewing up most of the scenery before it gets hacked to pieces later on. Upon this revisit, Zenon proves to be quite a revelation as the younger Zenon daughter, a buxom blonde/sexpot whose presence feels both unnatural and quite natural all at once. Anyone who can damn near steal a movie with a baby trapped in a grown manís body is obviously doing work, and itís fascinating to see her effectively absorbing her on-screen motherís kooky performance.
However, the film doesnít truly take off until the final showdown, at which point director Ted Post reveals his hand: The Baby is actually a good old psycho-biddy picture, which makes a lot of sense considering Roman is channeling the likes of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Itís here that The Baby plunges head-on into its absurdity, a feat that seems all but impossible given the general premise. But no, things get really out of hand during the finale, where the slasher-flick elements come into play and careen headlong into one of the more outrageous twists on the 70s exploitation circuit. Watching the film, thereís obviously a sense that something is very wrong with the Wadsworth, but itís all a brilliant bit of misdirection; indeed, this might be the only horror film I can think of where the ďheroĒ racks up a bigger body count than the villains.
The blurred lines between the two makes for an interesting subtext (that quickly becomes the bold-faced during the climax) involving the filmís women, all of whom are revealed to be bonkers and seemingly unable to face life without a man. Such a scuzzy portrayal makes an already uncomfortable film even more so; while it isnít exactly the point of The Baby, itís difficult not to confront it, especially when the script sometimes goes out of its way to speak derisively about the ďwomenís lib movementĒ and whatnot. Itís definitely a product of its time, which is to say itís not at all PC (its casual dropping of the word ďretardedĒ in conversation is actually jarring) and unabashedly sleazyóitís a drive-in movie that somehow snuck into and out of Hollywood.
As such, itís a very curious film for obvious reasons, but itís also one that manages to live up to its reputation. Granted, it took me a couple of views to come around to this manner of thinkingóI suppose my first outing gave me the worst kind of nostalgia trip thanks to the misleading artwork (but youíve got to admit that you definitely would love to see an infantile man carving people up with a hatchet, right? Letís get on that, Hollywood). The second time around confirms that this is a quintessential grindhouse flick: itís sort of juvenile in its wild provocation, mildly offensive, and a touch disturbing (particularly whenever Mooney is on screen and joined by the uncanny baby noises that were added in post to replace his own on-set cooing). Most telling, itís the sort of film where you can actually debate what itís most infamous scene should beóthere are a few whoppers strewn throughout, but Iím very fond of that ridiculous ending. I almost canít believe a film with this premise can continue to shock and amuse all the way to the finish line.
As previously mentioned, Severin has deemed The Baby fit for a Blu-ray upgrade, and itís a worthwhile one. While the film has naturally grungy, low-rent look to it, the high-def transfer is a faithful reflection in its grain retention and its vibrant color palette. The 1.0 mono track is also presented in lossless PCM, not that it does a whole lot of wonders for the original material. For extras, the studio has ported over everything from their previous 2011 DVD release, including the trailer and a pair of phone interviews with Post and Mooney that add up to about thirty minutes of remembrances and recollections.
Maybe youíve never come around to seeing The Baby (or maybe you watched it once and sort of dismissed it like I did)óif not, this is the perfect opportunity to discover that everything youíve heard about it is trueóand then some. Remember: parental guidance is suggested. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: