Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Baby, The (1972)

Directed by:
Ted Post

There were many 1970s horror films that gleefully deconstructed the family unit (IT'S ALIVE, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE HILLS HAVE EYES and many others), but nothing quite like this! Compassionate social worker Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer) is assigned the case of her career; paying frequent visits to "Baby" Wadsworth (David "Manzy"/ Mooney), a mentally regressed fully grown adult male who wears diapers, crawls around on the ground, cries in an infant voice, sleeps in a crib and sucks on baby bottles (and *cough* other things when he can get his hands on them). Baby lives at home with his domineering, husky-voiced, ball-busting, man-hating mother (Ruth Roman), whose idea of child discipline incorporates an electric cattle prod, and two pretty, but equally strange, grown sisters; Germaine (Marianna Hill) and Alba (Suzanne Zenor). All the kids have different fathers but none of the fathers are anywhere to be found. Neither is Ann's husband; by all indications she lives the life of a widow at the mansion home of her her wealthy mother-in-law Judith (Beatrice Manley Blau, who was the co-founded of the Actor's Workshop in San Francisco). The whole family claim Baby is simply retarded and incapable of improving, but Ann thinks otherwise and the case becomes a personal crusade for her. After frequent visits to the home, she becomes convinced that Baby is actually be a fully functioning adult who has been kept in mentally adolescent state by three women who have some serious mental problems of their own.

Beginning as a strange, engrossing, well-made melodrama of one woman's consuming infatuation with her charge and getting through to the family, it turns into a full blown horror movie by the end with multiple kidnappings, bloody knife and hatchet murders and a character being buried alive. Sure it sometimes feels like a mixed bag of silly, tasteless, campy and downright sick ideas, but the performances are good enough to bail it out when it needs it and compensate for the shortcomings. Ruth Roman is especially terrific here. She possesses the same exact effortless campy qualities that made Bette Davis and Joan Crawford seem so at home in the horror genre during their twilight years. There's a memorable scene when she stumbles into the room to see the teen babysitter, uh, doing something she shouldn't be doing with "baby," and she proceeds to beat the living shit out of her while screeching "You lying bitch!" in her great deep voice. I'm used to seeing Marianna Hill as the lady-in-distress in such films as MESSIAH OF EVIL and BLOOD BEACH, but she's way better here playing it all wide-eyed, aloof and unhinged. Comer does well as the offbeat heroine and David Mooney is excellent in a role that could have come off as a complete joke in someone else's hands. Michael Pataki shows up briefly as Dennis, "one of" Alba's boyfriends during an amusingly gaudily-colored birthday party scene, and Virginia Vincent (the mom from The Hills Have Eyes) is in the movie somewhere. I kept my eyes peeled for her, so she was either cut out completely or was simply an extra during the party scene.

Even though it's well worth checking out, it does go way overboard during the hard-to-swallow finale and note to future filmmakers - Do not put a platinum blonde wig on the stunt double of a redhead. There are no special features on the Geneon DVD I rented, not even scene selection. When you pop it in, it plays. Simple as that. But the quality of the print is excellent.


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