Saturday, October 6, 2018

Season of Horror 2: The Baby (1973)

There's something that intrigues me when I see a film described as "one of the most bizarre horror movies ever committed to celluloid," especially when it's from the 1970s. It makes me wonder if it will somehow top all of the other bizarre horror movies I've seen from that era, and it's what led me to pick up the movie I'm watching tonight, The Baby.

I recently acquired the special edition release from Arrow Video, which has great picture quality and some interesting special features. This movie was also described as "a twisted, psychedelic nightmare of suburban depravity," which might help sell it, but I disagree that there's anything psychedelic about this film, and any scenes of depravity are minimal. If that's what draws you to this film, you may want to skip it, but if you want to see an unusual film that's good for an evening's entertainment, this may fit the bill. It's not a scary film, but is tense and suspenseful, and will probably creep you out.

My baby. What have you done to my baby?

The film begins with a social worker reviewing the case of a grown man who is stuck in an infantile state. He is unable to walk or talk or attend to his own needs, requiring feeding and diapering. The last social worker on the case disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Ann Gentry becomes interested in the case, and develops an immediate connection with the man-child known as Baby, suspecting that the family may have something to do with his failure to mature. She may also be devoting herself to the case to help cope with the trauma of her husband's recent accident.

Baby's mother and sisters are overly protective of him, and are clearly put off by Ann's constant visits and attempts to help Baby develop and make progress.

When they come home one evening to find the babysitter caring for Baby in an inappropriate way, they give her a violent thrashing. When we later see his sister, Germaine, drop her negligee and climb into his crib, we suspect it may be where he learned this behavior.

After a visit where Ann gets Baby to make some progress towards walking, his mother curses him, and he reacts fearfully.

His sister, Alba,  uses a cattle prod to remind Baby that he's not to try and walk or talk or interact with strangers.

When she suggests to her mother that they should have sold Baby to the circus, her mother reprimands her.

The women are finally able to get Ann Gentry kicked off Baby's case, but when she threatens them, they invite her to Baby's groovy 70s style adult birthday party so they can drug her and hog tie her, with the obvious intent of causing her to disappear like the last social worker. Ann manages to escape with Baby, who she brings home to live with her and her mother-in-law.

When the family goes on a mission to rescue Baby from Ann's house, they are surprised by what they find.

In the end, they all wind up in the pool for what seems like a happy ending.

What's horrifying about this movie is the thought of having to be dependent on others, and deliberately kept that way, like a prisoner in one's own body, though the movie is less about a dependent man and more about his female caregivers. Appearances are not what they seem, and while the turn of events at the end is expected, it's still interesting to see how the drama unfolds, and to learn Ann's true purpose for bringing Baby home to live with her.

We don't really know why Baby's mother didn't give him a name, or why she and her daughters conditioned Baby to remain a baby. We can only suspect that he may have developed normally if not for their efforts. Ann learns that each of the children in the family were fathered by different men who all abandoned Mrs. Wadsworth, leading Ann to believe that the motivation was to control the only man left in her life. While the family is protective of Baby, there is no real caring or love shown to him. At his birthday party, he is mostly ignored while the mother and daughters cavort with some sleazy guys.

I enjoyed this movie because it doesn't provide all the answers, and keeps the viewer wondering what is going on with the main protagonists. I learned from Rebekah McKendry's interview in the special features that David Manzy, who plays Baby, initially used his own voice to squeal and cry like a baby, but was later dubbed with a real baby's voice. I think it would have been more realistic and more frightening if his own voice had been used, though it was pretty creepy to hear a baby voice come out of a grown man, and it was dubbed well enough to be believable. It was interesting for me to learn that director, Ted Post, also directed some episodes of The Twilight Zone and Thriller, as well as Beneath the Planet of the Apes, among other well known movies and TV shows. While this may not be the most bizarre horror movie ever made, be sure to check this one out if you want to see a unique film that will leave an impression.

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