BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE BABY

By • Jun 15th, 2011 •

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When I saw Ted Post’s name as director (MAGNUM FORCE, GO TELL THE SPARTANS, “Gunsmoke”), my interest was piqued. Not his type of genre material, but he was such a competent director, who usually delivered performances that didn’t take us for idiots, that I wanted to see what he could do with exploitation.

The first thing he did was cast the film well. Anjanette Comer, a wild-faced beauty whose appearance in THE LOVED ONES was practically a caricature of a human being, and who lent dark, sensuous gravitas to a Brando vehicle, THE APPALOOSA, gives a better performance here than she did in either of the aforementioned titles. It’s in some ways a daring role to have undertaken.

As the perceived ‘heavy,’ Ruth Roman is excellent in a kind of BABY JANE role. In fact she looks like a meatier (read: non-anorexic) version of Joan Crawford. She obviously loves the menacing character she’s inhabiting, and keeps a level of tension afloat throughout the film.

The other roles are equally well-cast. Roman’s screen daughters – Marianna Hill and Susanne Zenor – are both cheap/sexy, angry and suspicious, and rippling with subtext. Comer’s mother, played by Beatrice Manley, has less to offer script-wise, but she’s as visually riveting as any of the other female cast members.

Which gives rise to a speculation about the film’s underlying meaning. These are two all-female dysfunctional families, fighting – at first civilly, and then physically – over Roman’s mentally-handicapped son, who lives in a crib, can neither talk nor stand, and becomes the pawn in the unfolding psycho-drama. Never outwardly stated, there’s something mighty strange going on between the frames, and I feel the credit for that rests on the screenwriter’s shoulders (or psyche).

As played by David Mooney, we can accept the grown man/child’s infantile behavior without it being a RAINMAN type of showcase. In his phone/interview he explains how he aced the audition.

All these solid performances, plus director Post’s good taste in casting and staging, deliver unto us a remarkably effective little horror flick, with genuinely surprising twists – particularly in the third act. There’s no nudity and relatively restrained amounts of blood spilled, but the narrative ideas are plenty shocking enough. Gerald Fried has written and conducted a fine score, which simultaneously seems tonally wrong for the flick, yet also lends it further dimension.

Severin has gotten Post to chat with them by phone, and at age ninety-three, he is lucid, but his recollections are not full of juicy anecdotes, still the nineteen-minute conversation is rather miraculous just by its existence. Mooney – aged seventy – is more animated, but not much more informative. Ruth Roman, who distinguished herself in films like STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, then later did tons of TV, died in 1999. Comer, now 71, and who was once married to STAR TREK/BABYLON 5’s Walter Koenig, does not appear on the DVD, which is a shame. Knowing Severin, her absence wasn’t for lack of trying. I wonder what she would have had to say about this picture…

As for Severin’s master element, I would assume they gave as good as they got. It has 70s wear, including some color fade and soft blacks. But it’s clean and intact. Easy to enjoy.

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