Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Baby (1973)

          One of the most perverse low-budget thrillers of the early ’70s (and that’s saying a lot), The Baby concerns a social worker who becomes fascinated with a mentally challenged adult male whose family treats him like a baby, as in dressing him in diapers and sleeping him in a crib. Although the picture was marketed as a horror flick, it’s really more of a twisted psychological thriller leading up to a whopper of a twist ending: While it features grisly scenes and a sizable body count, the focus is on disturbing, rather than shocking, the audience. The sight of “Baby,” a grown man crawling on all fours and communicating through goo-goo-ga-ga gibberish, is consistently unsettling, and actor David Manzy gets points for his committed performance.
          Even creepier are Baby’s relatives, from his blowsy, frequently inebriated mother (Ruth Roman) to his sexed-up adult sisters, Germaine (Marianna Hill) and Judith (Beatrice Manley). As if the bit when Germaine slips into Baby’s crib for an incestuous liaison isn’t icky enough, Hill plays her entire role with outrageously teased manes of blonde hair, making her seem as weird as her infantilized sibling. Roman, with her throaty voice and caked-on cosmetics, works the estrogen-deficient vibe that characterized Shelley Winters’ roles around this period, so she’s a horror show all on her own, scheming to keep the welfare checks coming by arresting her son’s development.
          Adding a whole different level of crazy to the mix is the social worker, Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer). A glassy-eyed enigma who lives in a grim household with her mother-in-law and grieves for the husband she recently lost in an accident, Ann is a basket case in no shape to deal with something as troubling as Baby’s home life, yet she gloms onto Baby relentlessly. In their crude way, the filmmakers do a good job of implying that Ann’s interest in Baby is deviant until revealing a secret about her during the over-the-top climax.
          Director Ted Post, who mostly made action pictures and Westerns, doesn’t have the demented flair The Baby needs, which leads to scenes that feel drab and workmanlike. Plus, it should go without saying that the script by Abe Polsky is so gonzo that credibility was never going to be part of the equation. Still, the plot gets kickier as the picture progresses: The final stretch, in which Ann kidnaps Baby and provokes a final confrontation with his bizarre clan, layers one grotesque image upon another. Furthermore, because The Baby is more competently made than most out-there fright flicks of the same era, there’s a veneer of realism coating the picture’s truly insane plot.

The Baby: FREAKY


Anonymous said...

The Baby is one of the most, if not THE most memorable 70s films I've ever seen. It's fun, smart, and I'd give it a "groovy" as well as "freaky" rating. The film is actually smart! It's on Netflix (but for how long..) & I would not pass up the opportunity to watch this gem. The gore really isn't, the "blood" is that off color paint type stuff they used in old color westerns- very fake looking. I would not watch this with children (situations) but this movie is fine for even the most squeamish. It's a lovely, odd little film that you'll never forget. It has a happy ending!
I could not get up even for a drink or to use the bathroom during this cool show.
What a great little movie, and what great hairstyles!

Joseph Kearny said...

Ruth Roman who starred in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train gives a classic performance here as a domineering mother This is a deliciously sick and twisted low budget gem that actually doesn't resort to gothic horror until the final act. It's a twisted psychological drama. Suzanne Zenor and Marianna Hill offer terrific support as Roman's daughters and Anjanette Comer is excellent as the social worker who has her on eye on "baby" for her own reasons which are explained in the jaw dropping conclusion. The film is well paced, oddly convincing and compelling. The only complaint I have is a scene that features authentically disturbed children that does not belong here. The rest is memorable. Oh! Baby!