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July 31, 2014

Movie Review: The Baby (1973, Blu-ray)

Directed by Ted Post

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

Social worker Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer, The Loved One) is assigned to a most unusual case: The Wadsworth family is composed of ruthless Mother Hen Mrs. Wadsworth (Ruth Roman, Strangers on a Train) and her two voluptuous daughters, Germaine (Marianna Hill, Messiah of Evil) and Alba (Suzanne Zenor) and their son … Baby (David Manzy). Baby just goes by the name of Baby, appears to be at least 21 and acts in the manner of a two-year-old. The Wadsworth family showers lots of love on Baby, and the occasional touch of discipline: cue cattle prod. Proudly displaying Baby in toddler clothes and oversized playpen in their front yard, Mrs. Gentry suspects that something is “not right” with the arrangement. After a lengthy tug-of-war Between Mrs. Gentry and the Wadsworths over the well-being of Baby, things quickly degenerate into a bloodbath … and it’s revealed that there’s a very special reason as to why Mrs. Gentry wants Baby all to herself! 

This scintillating slice of Seventies sickness, seen frequently on daytime TV with a few edits, is enjoying a renaissance in the digital age. It’s recently got the Blu-Ray treatment from Severin Films, and cult film fans are lining up to watch what many describe as a “film you CAN’T unsee.” Seeing as every slasher film is written off as “misogynist,” The Baby offers up a particular worldview where every woman is a predatory monster bent on the subjugation of males. This reviewer has long thought that the Wadsworths would be the deadly trio of femme fatales from Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill, Kill (1965) if they managed to survive hightail it to the suburbs.
More correctly, The Baby can be more accurately be described as “misanthropic,” a terrible vision of a society gone morally bankrupt. Baby is dressed as Little Lord Fauntleroy and made to play in his grotesque crib on the front lawn, and no one notices – or cares. The Wadsworths throw a party for all the local hipsters, and their reaction is … “Yeah. So what? I’m doing my own thing in my own time, man.” Goody two-shoes Mrs. Gentry has a sinister agenda, all of it attended to and facilitated by her elderly mother (Beatrice Manley). Young and old, male or female, everyone in the film benefits from Baby being kept in his infantile state. In an especially sick touch, a babysitter hired for the evening (Erin O’Reilly), at first repulsed by Baby, does what she thinks is right – and breastfeeds him!

With minimal gore, The Baby unabashedly tackles lots of taboo subjects: incest, child abuse, mental cruelty, sexual assault … while fellow cast members recall a game Ruth Roman on the set, in her final published interview prior to her death, the actress steadfastly refused to discuss the film.

The extras contained on the Blu-Ray have been seen on previous DVD releases of the title. “Tales from the Crib: Audio Interview with Director Ted Post” is a 20-minute audio interview with director Post. He says that he was initially turned off by the film as it was “too negative.” This is quite a statement from a man who directed Beneath the Planet of the Apes a mere two years prior in 1971, where mutated humans and intelligent gorillas blew up the world with a super atomic bomb! The late Post expresses no regrets or embarrassment over his involvement with the picture, although it’s hard to believe to have come from the same man who directed Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force (1973) the very same year!

“Baby Talk: Audio Interview with Star David Mooney” is a nearly 15-minute audio with the actor in the titular role, now leading a conventional life as a drama instructor. Mooney/Manzy recalls how he was required to shave all his body hair in order to get into the role. He has warm memories of his co-stars, who he says were all top-level professionals. The actor would do little film work afterwards, but seeing The Baby, that’s some-what understandable. The Blu-Ray also includes the film’s theatrical trailer.

Campy, creepy and thoroughly bleak, if The Baby was a high school student, it would spend indefinite amounts of time stowed away in detention on basis of its “atti-tude” alone. They sure don’t make them like this any-more, and as such, is required viewing. 

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