Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Baby (1973)

Director: Ted Post
Notable Cast: Anjanette Comer, Ruth Roman, Marianna Hill, Suzanne Zenor, David Manzy, Tod Andrews, Michael Pataki, Beatrice Manley Blau

The ‘Nurture or Nature’ debate is a long running one, often used to promote other beliefs about the human psyche that don’t necessarily have a place for a review of a 1970s cult piece of cinema that relies on one strange gimmick to drive home its narrative. Yet, when it comes down to it, that’s the strange hinge at the wildly swinging door that is The Baby. Now, the film is hardly as intelligent as starting a review off with this idea would seem, particularly since it plays things fairly upfront and center with its plot and narrative. Still, it’s a hard concept not to dwell on as an audience watches a social worker investigate a family who have a full-grown person with the mentality of a small baby. The ace in the sleeve of a film like The Baby is that it never fully leaps into the gimmick and exploitative elements of its story that many lesser film makers might have run with. Instead, this cult horror classic takes the subject matter with a very serious approach that carries a lot more weight to its proceedings than what it should. The results are, well, quite impressive.

The concept behind The Baby is strange to begin with as we follow a social worker named Ann, played with remarkable heart by Anjanette Comer, when she takes an assignment to assess whether or not a family of women should continue to receive stipends to take care of their ‘baby.’ The Baby in question is a fully-grown man who is stuck in the mentality of a child. When Ann starts to question whether or not his condition is real, she starts down a path that might lead to much more dangerous places.

With a concept that like, it could have been very easy for the film to tumble down a path of exploitation to generate its entertainment. It certainly “goes there” in moments, although revealing some of those sequences will most certainly spoil much of the films surprisingly effective twists and turns, where exploitation starts to creep into the story in strange and often uncomfortable ways. The film is not completely void of those 70s style abrasive elements that have certainly made this film stand the test of time with genre fans, but it also does not cater to those exclusively. For much of the film, The Baby resides solely as a thriller instead of a horror, only to delve into the more classic tropes of the story for its third act. It keeps the main question, whether or not Baby is a scheme or not and why I brought up the nurture vs. nature concept in the beginning, as a large question mark. This is why The Baby is able to produce so much tension on a variety of levels, because the audience is forced to ask ‘why’ to so many parts of the film and it is tactful enough to keep those vague and blurry until the very end. It makes the narrative a rather effective journey for all the characters and the audience. This is where The Baby impressively succeeds.

Of course, The Baby does have some solid execution to go with it and a massive reason for its success is in the performances. This review would be remiss if it didn’t mention the strong acting that helps the film retain its strong narrative structure. In particular, the previously mentioned Comer has to work on a strange crevice with her performance the entire film and her reaction and drive against the three antagonists, the mother and two daughters who take care of Baby, is truly what drives the narrative – at least for the first two acts. When the film takes an intriguing twist for the final piece, again I am not here for spoilers so I won’t go much further than this sentence, the film reveals why the performances are so integral to its success. The manner that the three antagonists make the audience uncomfortable with little moments, before things boil to the surface, also makes sure that the audience is looking one way before being hit from the other.

The Baby isn’t always perfect though and once the entire story plays out and all of the intricacies are revealed, there are still a lot of questions that linger in the air that the film doesn’t necessarily address. On one hand, this allows the film to be interpreted in different ways, but on the other it does feel as though there are plot holes that might have been taken care of tie up some loose ends. Not that it’s a huge problem, but for know that some people will fall both ways in watching the film as it plays things loose with its characters, themes, and plot.

The Baby has received multiple Blu Ray releases in the US thus far and, for the record, this review was written after watching the newest release from Arrow Video. The film looks solid in HD, as is the style for releases these days particularly from this genre label, but it’s a handful of special features that make this release worth the purchase for your collection. The film contains the two interviews from the previous Blu Ray release, but it’s the new audio commentary and new interview with Rebekah McKendry (whom most people will probably know as one of the hosts of Blumhouse’s Shock Waves horror film podcast) that add a lot of great analysis and context to the film. Definitely two of the highlights of what this release has to offer.

All in all, The Baby is a much better film than expected. It’s odd, often times abrasive and unnerving in some sequences, but the film takes a shockingly thoughtful approach to its material and the choice to present it as a thriller for the majority of the film is one that works best for it. It’s not a perfect film, very much grounded as a cult classic for those qualities, but it’s one that is surprisingly effective and impressive. Cult cinema fans should definitely see the film and this latest Arrow Video release comes highly recommended.

  • 1.85:1 and 1.33:1 versions of the feature
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original uncompressed PCM mono audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Brand new audio commentary by Travis Crawford
  • Down Will Come Baby a new retrospective with film professor Rebekah McKendry
  • Tales from the Crib archival audio Interview with director Ted Post
  • Baby Talk archival audio Interview with Star David Mooney
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector s booklet featuring new writing by Kat Ellinger

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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