The Baby (1973)

I love having people over to our house to watch movies. However, some folks don’t get to watch the really strange films in our collection. They have to make it through a test to see if they can hang. I’ve had the misfortune of trying to explain Beyond the Valley of the Dolls to people and get angry, then sad, then angry again when they just don’t get it. If you make it through my cinematic ring of fire, the journey through excess and madness and horror, then and only then are you greeted by the final challenge: 1973’s epic freakout The Baby.

This isn’t a movie that I’ve known about forever. Quite to the contrary — I discovered it two years ago when the trailer played during one of the all-night drive-in events at the Riverside Drive-In. The blast of strangeness in that trailer was enough to get Becca and I repeating the dialogue for weeks: “What have you done with my Baby?”

Luckily, Bill from Groovy Doom/Drive-In Asylum had a copy that he was only too happy to bring to our house. Too often these days, we’re greeted with too much hype for movies, with statements like, “If you don’t love this movie, you don’t understand cinema!” and “This movie shook me to my very core!” Well, I can honestly say that The Baby has destroyed my mind in a way that no film made before or since ever has.

Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer, The Loved One) is a social worker who has just been assigned to the incredibly strange Wadsworth family. There’s Mrs. Wadsworth (Ruth Roman, who not only starred in Strangers on a Train, but survived the sinking of the Andrea Doria), the strong-willed mother. Her daughters Alba (Susanne Zenor, who was the original Samantha in the pilot of TV’s Three’s Company before Suzanne Somers took over the role), who teaches tennis, and Germaine (the transcendent Marianna Hill, Messiah of EvilSchizoidBlood Beach), who occasionally acts in TV commercials when she’s not looking like a maniac. And finally, there’s Baby (David Manzy), a twentysomething man who doesn’t walk or talk and who has been raised as an infantilized adult.

You just read that right. This is a movie about a grown-up baby that sits in a crib and cries, but not just as cries. The original track containing baby sounds that  Manzy worked so hard to craft during the filming was lost, so the voice of an actual baby was used. It’s disconcerting to say the very least. Add in that the actor completely shaved his body for the role and you have the foundations for a movie that’s more than a little left of center.

Ann is driven to improve the lives of her cases, but Baby is a special case. Perhaps too special to Ann, as she’s recently recovering from a severe auto accident that had a serious effect on her husband. The Wadsworth family totally depends on Baby for most of their income and as a result, won’t allow him to grow into an adult. And it seems like Ann could change all that, as she discovers that Baby’s current state is the result of neglect.

“Baby doesn’t talk. Baby doesn’t walk.” Baby also isn’t allowed to do things by himself, either being beaten, cattle prodded or restrained when he does anything against the rules. Even when Ann shows the family that Baby has the capacity for growth, she’s instantly rebuffed.

If all of the above was all that this movie would be about, it would still rank amongst the oddest ever made. But it gets much stranger. You see, nearly every woman who meets Baby wants to possess him. And some often want to have sex with him, like the sitter who gets into his crib and allows him to nurse from her. The Wadsworths come back home to this scene and proceed to annihilate the young girl and beat Baby into further submission. And even Baby’s sisters may love him a little more than siblings should.

Finally, the simmering discord between Ann and Baby’s family comes to a head on the night of Baby’s birthday party — which is the strangest one committed to film since perhaps Jessabelle the cat’s celebration in The Sentinel. That said, any party that has Michael Pataki as a guest is one that I want to be at!

After escaping the murderous intent of the Wadsworths, Ann finally succeeds in taking Baby away. Rather than turning him over to an institution, she keeps him at her house and then sends his family photos of their manchild doing adult things like standing up straight.

This sends the Wadsworth clan into a murderous tailspin, as they head for Ann’s house with killing in mind. However, she and her mother-in-law aren’t willing to give up their new guest without a fight.

Even though this film was made over forty years ago, I’m not giving you the ending here. I want you to see it for yourself with no preparation whatsoever.

Now, after reading all of the above, you have to be thinking — surely The Baby is an unrated affair or at worst it got an R, right? Nope. This is a PG movie. The 1970’s did not care at all about children, blasting them with both barrels of bonkers with movies like this, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane and It’s Alive all getting just a simple Parental Guidance suggested label.

Here’s the next surprise: The Baby wasn’t an underground film. Nope, it was a mainstream release directed by Ted Post, who directed numerous TV series like GunsmokeThe Twilight Zone and 178 episodes of Peyton Place, as well as Hang ‘Em HighMagnum ForceBeneath the Planet of the Apes and the TV movies Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate and Cagney and Lacey, which led to the series. The dark nature of this film kept Post away for a year before writer Abe Polsky was able to talk him into getting behind the lens.

The Severin blu ray of this film was a great package, complete with informative interviews with Post and Manzy. Arrow Video is releasing a new version this week with even more extras, including newly commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil, deep commentary by Travis Crawford, interviews with Marianna Hill and one of the set painters and a discussion with film professor Rebekah McKendry on the influence of the film. It’s a great package that truly does this movie justice.

Back to the hype engine that sours so many on so many movies. Often, you’ll read things about how movies have permanently changed lives and scoff. I’m telling you that the way that I view movies and live has been forever altered by this movie. It’s hard for me to find another film that can match it for sheer audacity and bizarre subject matter. However, no words that I write can do it justice. You must watch it for yourself and be changed by the act of viewing it.

You can grab the new Arrow Video release of The Baby from Diabolik DVD.

BONUS! Here’s the podcast where we discuss The Baby in detail with Bill!

Disclaimer: I was sent this movie by its PR team, but as you know, that has no bearing on my review.

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