Baby, The (1973)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2011-06-16 00:01

Written by: Abe Polsky
Directed by: Ted Post
Starring: Anjanette Comer, Ruth Roman, and Marianna Hill

Reviewed by: Brett G.

“I come home and you got your damn tit in his mouth!"

Babies are pretty terrifying, perhaps even more so when they’re really a grown man with the mental age of a newborn. At least, that’s what the deranged minds behind The Baby must have been thinking when they concocted their bait-and-switch poster art. Featuring an oversized infant brandishing a hatchet in a crib, the poster would lead you to believe this to be a precursor to the “killer baby” genre that’s filled with mutants and other assorted basket cases. However, it’s really about something a little more familiar to horror fans: psychotic, over-bearing mommies.

Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer) is a social worker who has a keen interest in the Wadsworth family, particularly their son who is simply known as “Baby” (David Mooney). He’s a grown man whose development has been stunted by his abusive mother (Ruth Roman) and sisters (Marianna Hill, Susanne Zenor). If Baby ever gets out of line and even shows hints of cognizance, he’s greeted with a cattle prod and shoved into a closet. It’s pretty easy for Ann to see that something is amiss, so she tries to free Baby from the madhouse.

For a flick with an overgrown manchild, incest, murder, and other general sleaze, The Baby is expectedly bizarre; it’s also a bit more plodding and listless than you’d expect as well. It mostly plays as sort of a greasy melodrama involving a heroic social worker fighting against the batty Wadsworth trio, who feel like long-lost relatives of the clan from Spider Baby. Certainly the most interesting characters the film has to offer, these three are catty and protective of their son and younger brother; they’re also sort of insane and especially don’t appreciate Ann’s genuine concern for Baby. Once they become obviously threatened by her, the film becomes a cat and mouse game that never feels quite intense enough for much of the running time.

That is, until the final act, which culminates in a bloody, hatchet-filled custody battle that reveals that everyone might be a little nuts. At its core, The Baby is really a film about motherhood and the demented lengths these women will go to experience it. There’s very few men to speak of--they’re either dead, missing, deadbeats, or infantile; meanwhile, most of the women just want to be motherly. Both genders seemingly are caught up in a weird, unrealistic world, but the Baby character himself is basically a victim. There might be a message in there about overbearing, insane mothers not allowing their little boys to grow up, but I’m gonna leave that one alone. Besides, I’m pretty sure the point of it is to be a schlocky good time, which it is, right down to its clever, unexpected twist ending.

One of the most shocking things about it is that it managed to nab mainstream director Ted Post to helm it. At this point, he had directed some episodes of The Twilight Zone, Hang ‘Em High, and Beneath the Planet of the Apes; he would also direct Magnum Force, the first sequel to Dirty Harry in 1973. As such, The Baby is a competent production with fairly strong performances. Comer especially shows a lot of range, as she starts as a wide-eyed, good-intentioned social worker before she also gets rounded up in all of the hysteria. David Mooney’s performance as Baby is quite creepy--he actually resembles a vacant and confused infant, and the dubbed crying makes him even more pitiful. Once a fairly well-known actress in the 50s, Roman still feels right at home on the exploitation circuit playing a wickedly over-the-top matriarch.

The Baby won’t be what you expect; I recall stumbling upon an old DVD release of it in a bargain bin years ago, where I picked it up on a whim. I assumed it’d be a totally silly joke, and it kind of is. It doesn’t come without a bit of a nasty streak though--some if it is actually quite disturbing, what with all the cattle prodding and breast-feeding. At any rate, forget those old DVD releases for The Baby; instead, hold out a couple more weeks for Severin’s new disc, which is another winner. The anamorphic transfer is nearly flawless, having been meticulously restored; the audio is glorious mono and gets the job done--this is mostly a dialogue driven affair, and you can hear it all. Special features include audio interviews with Post and Mooney, and the film’s theatrical trailer (which actually does accurately represent the film, to the point of nearly revealing everything about it). Another shocker about The Baby? It’s rated PG, and certainly has to be one of the most perverse films the MPAA ever bestowed with that rating. If that doesn’t get your rattle shaking, I don’t know what will. Rent it!

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