Celebrated fantasy author Richard Matheson was banging out TV scripts seemingly by the gross during the early ’70s, notching such indelible hits as Duel (1971), The Night Stalker (1972), and Trilogy of Terror (1975), so it’s understandable that not all of his projects were winners. Some, like The Stranger Within, are trifles containing interesting ideas and passable suspense sequences, even if they’re forgettable and somewhat pointless. In The Stranger Within, a woman becomes pregnant under mysterious circumstances—her husband had a vasectomy years earlier, and she swears she’s been faithful—then experiences bizarre changes in personality and physiology as the child inside her develops at an abnormal rate. Any resemblances to the theatrical blockbuster Rosemary’s Baby (1968) are strictly unintentional, although Matheson keeps an ace up his sleeve to ensure that The Stranger Within doesn’t rehash the demonic denouement of Rosemary’s Baby.
Whenever the movie is really cooking, albeit never at more than low heat, it’s fun to ponder the story’s inherent mysteries and to sympathize with the anger, confusion, and fear experienced by the protagonist’s husband while his wife transforms. Given the constraints of a 74-minute running time, there’s only so deep into emotional terrain Matheson can take this material, and he seems more concerned with giving viewers the heebie-jeebies, anyway. That being the case, think of The Stranger Within as a Twilight Zone episode stretched to a longer-than-necessary length, and you get the idea.
As for the specifics, Barbara Eden, the onetime I Dream of Jeannie starlet who does nothing here to erase her reputation as an ornamental actress, plays a housewife married to a college professor. When her doctor reveals that she’s pregnant, the professor (George Grizzard) tries to respond with compassion and pragmatism, despite the unavoidable implication of betrayal. As the housewife’s behavior gets weirder and weirder—an endless appetite for salt, scars that appear and then magically disappear—worries about infidelity give way to worries about the true nature of the unborn child. The Stranger Within is mildly entertaining, and it’s fun to see future Charlie’s Angels sidekick David Doyle playing a serious role as a friend of the unlucky family. Nonetheless, only those with deep affection for Eden, Matheson, or ’70s sci-fi TV should bother tracking this one down, and even those folks should lower expectations accordingly.
The Stranger Within: FUNKY