Friday, December 2, 2022

Baby Blood (1990)

... aka: Evil Within, The

Directed by:
Alain Robak

The miserable Yanka (Emmanuelle Escourrou), who works as a tiger tamer's assistant in a scuzzy French circus, is trapped in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship with controlling circus owner Lohman (Christian Sinniger). However, she's soon offered a chance to escape... though not in the way she may have expected! The circus has recently acquired a leopard from Central Africa which, late one night, explodes and unleashes some kind of snake-like prehistoric parasite. The being sneaks into the sleeping Yanka's trailer and enters into her womb from between her legs. After finding out she's pregnant, she packs a suitcase, steals what little bit of money she can find and runs off to the city. With help from a taxi driver, Lohman manages to track her down to a derelict building in a crime-ridden neighborhood but he doesn't quite get the happy reunion he imagined. Instead, she promptly brandishes a knife and stabs him to death. As for the parasite that's embedded itself inside her womb – which communicates with her internally in a way that only she can hear – orders her to then slit his throat and drink his blood. After all, it's a growing baby and needs its nourishment.

And so begins the strange, brief and (eventually) strangely symbiotic relationship between Yanka and her unborn "baby".

One sign of a clever screenplay is not blatantly providing background information on characters through dialogue or exposition yet still managing to provide a wealth of information through plot detail and circumstance alone, and that's precisely what we get here. Very little is blatantly spelled out about Yanka, yet we still end up knowing quite a bit. She's one of those lost, adrift souls in the world; goalless, aimless, sporadically depressed and someone who hasn't really done much of anything in her life aside from get by. She has no home, she has no friends and there's no mention of any family. All of that makes her the ideal host for this particular creature. 

More time, though not an excessive amount, is actually spent on the mythology of the organism. It's been around even longer than humans, only stuck in an extremely slow-moving evolutionary stage, and has just now made it to the point where it can inhabit a human host to move to the next phase of its development. After it's able to achieve rebirth through a human, likely picking up human traits during this process, it will then find its new home in the ocean, where it will continue to grow and multiply. Eventually, and we're talking millions of years into the future, it will emerge from the waters and take over the planet. Despite being physically undeveloped, it is intelligent, manipulative and intellectually and emotionally advanced.

After setting up its premise, the film takes on a sort-of road movie feel, with our protagonist temporarily settling down in a new city, getting a new job and preying on various men for their blood to feed the lifeform growing inside of her, before moving on to somewhere else. On one of her stops, she gets a job as a waitress and is pursued by a truly pathetic guy named Richard (Jean-François Gallotte), who's been stringing along a frustrated buffet line cashier (Roselyne Geslot) yet asks Yanka to marry and have kids with him after just one brief fling. Her next stint as a taxi driver offers up an ever greater opportunity to procure victims. Others are easily seduced, like a man lured into an alley, or just happened upon as need be, like passersby and paramedics. She even hijacks a blood mobile at one point! The men in this movie are played in an almost universally negative light, culminating with Yanka almost getting gang raped by a bunch of rowdy footballers on a bus!

Escourrou, a completely unknown actress here in America who probably wouldn't pass muster as a leading lady because she's gap-toothed and very voluptuous (what would probably be referred to as "fat" by some viewers nowadays), seems to merit more comments about her looks, teeth and weight than her acting abilities, which is both unfair and unfortunate because her actual performance here is pretty strong.

A number of well-known French performers also show up in cameos, including highly acclaimed and heavily-awarded filmmaker Jacques Audiard (A Prophet; Rust and Bone) and comedian / director Alain Chabat (who also does the French voice for the animated ogre Shrek) as victims, Jean-Claude Romer (who co-wrote LITAN) as a man whose truck is stolen, Cannes-winning actor / director Yann Piquer as a vagrant, professional prankster Jean-Yves Lafesse as a truck driver and even an appearance by Chimbot, the canine star of the memorable black comedy Baxter (1989), which was co-written by Audiard.

Despite being screened out of competition at the Avoriaz International Fantastic Film Festival in 1990, the film ended up winning an award anyway when the jury went to see it; the first time that's ever happened. Wes Craven viewed the film there and offered the director the chance to direct The Hills Have Eyes Part 3, which he passed on because he didn't like the script. Hills 3 would instead be retooled to become Mind Ripper, which was eventually filmed in 1994 in Bulgaria by another director and with Craven serving as producer. Robak's only other genre contributions were shorts contributed to the horror anthologies Adrénaline (1990) and Wacko (1994), which is rather surprising considering this film's success. And it seems to have only grown in popularity over the years.

Numerous, slightly cut versions of this were released here in America in 1994; one with its original French language audio accompanied by English subs and another with an English-dubbed track. A-Pix Entertainment was the original VHS distributor and that was followed up by a DVD from Anchor Bay in 2006 and then a Blu-ray by Kino Lorber in 2019. The good news, and where I disagree with many other reviewers, is that I don't at all mind the English dub and find it actually quite good. As an added bonus, Gary Oldman (!) does the voice of the creature in this version, which is much better than the more tinny / electronic-sounding voice used in the original French version. On the downside, there have been some changes for the worse in the soundtrack department on the English version.

The German release Baby Blood II: Welcome to Hell is not a sequel to this but instead a re-title of the American film The Unborn II (1994). The actual sequel, Lady Blood (2008), which again starred Escourrou (who also co-wrote the film), did not receive the same kind of international release as the original and came and went with very little fanfare. I've not seen it but it's reputedly not very good.

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