UK Release Date: 24th September 2018
Runtime: 85 minutes
Director: Ted Post
Writer: Abe Polsky
Starring: Anjanette Comer, Ruth Roman, David Mooney, Marianna Hill
Synopsis: A social worker becomes fascinated with her latest case, assessing a fully grown man who appears to have the mind of an infant.
The joy of reviewing the eclectic output of Arrow Video is in discovering endlessly bizarre cult oddities that never would’ve been in your orbit otherwise. Seldom has that been truer than in the case of 1973 horror The Baby, which is one of the strangest movies to get a new Blu-ray release this year. The film is directed by Ted Post, who made the movie in the wake of a highly commercial period in his career, including two Clint Eastwood star vehicles and blockbuster sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes. If there’s one word no one would ever use to describe The Baby, it’s commercial.
The protagonist is a conventional enough figure in the shape of sweet, kindly social worker Ann (Anjanette Comer). Her latest case involves her visiting the Wadsworth family, led by Ruth Roman as the steely, mysterious matriarch along with her two daughters (Marianna Hill and Suzanne Zenor). The reason for Ann’s interest, though, is the family’s third child (David Mooney). Known only as Baby, he is a 21-year-old man with the mind of an infant. As her visits to the Wadsworth’s become more frequent, Ann comes to believe that there might be more to Baby than meets the eye and that it might be the family’s actions that have caused his unusual condition.
Every time The Baby feels as if it’s falling into any sort of pattern, Post wrenches the audience in a completely different direction. What starts as a mysterious insight into a warped family is swiftly turned on to the grief and flaws of the initially straight-laced protagonist, before the finale descends into a cavalcade of swinging blades and bloody madness. The entire movie is an enjoyably tangled web of shifting plotlines and inscrutable characters, anchored by David Mooney’s intensely physical performance in the title role. He’s just about the only character who feels trustworthy.
The calibre of performances on show is very impressive indeed. Anjanette Comer, who had been nominated for an Emmy a decade or so prior, is terrific in depicting the constantly fluid motivations of Ann, who develops a weird fixation on the Wadsworths, despite multiple characters advising her to back off. Her equal is Ruth Roman – best known for her role in Strangers on a Train for Hitchcock – as the imperious Mrs Wadsworth, driven only by her fervent desire to retain her family’s fragile status quo. Her cutting one-liners and explosions of violence provide the film with its toughest, most hard-edged moments.
These splashes of gore only intensify as the movie crawls with a very deliberate pace – the film’s leaning running time is a virtue it uses to great effect – towards its finale. Some of the most shocking excesses of this denouement feel a little too far in the context of the story and come across as lame attempts to disgust the exploitation movie crowd. For an hour of its time on screen, The Baby is a story in which violence simmers under the surface, with only occasional scenes of physical assault, but it culminates in rather incongruous bloodshed and an evil act that’s a little gratuitous, despite a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hint of foreshadowing early in the movie.
It’s easy to see when watching The Baby why it went on to become a cult success. This is a very unique beast of a horror movie that deals in lurid story details and a bizarre central conceit that lends itself to success among genre fans in search of something new to shock them. It paints the walls red in the third act in a way that the narrative never earns, but it delivers a neat final twist that redeems it as a very solid tale.
There’s an interesting selection here, including a genuinely heartfelt appreciation of the film by Blumhouse website editor Rebekah McKendry and an interview with Marianna Hill, in which she doesn’t seem to like the movie much in retrospect. There’s also a couple of archive interviews and a commentary track.
Pop or Poop?
With the spirit of cult, midnight movie horror leaking from its every pore, The Baby will almost certainly become one of the weirdest films in your Blu-ray collection. It is, however, a very valid and enjoyable addition to your shelf. It’s performed by a roster of very committed actors across the board and, despite its undue descent into chaos in the third act, it’s an engrossing tale of darkness, secrets and the evil of a sick, twisted family unit.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
The Baby is available on Blu-ray in the UK from Monday, courtesy of Arrow Video.