OHMC 2013 – The Baby (1973) [mild spoilers]

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Good afternoon, pals! So far, this year’s October Horror Movie Challenge has been…well, it’s been really kind of mediocre. But there have been a couple highlights, including 1973’s weirdo cult film, The Baby. Ooooh, this is gonna be a fun one, for you and me both…

THE BABY (1973)
Director: Ted Post
Starring: Anjanette Comer, Ruth Roman, David Manzy
Country: United States

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The Baby starts with social worker Ann (Comer) as she goes over a case file for the Wadsworth family. A series of pictures of Baby Wadsworth show him from infancy to his current age – but Baby (Manzy) hasn’t exactly grown mentally past infancy. He sleeps in an enormous crib, is spoon-fed while wearing a bib, and isn’t out of diapers. However, that’s not what makes the film weird; in fact, Baby is the most sympathetic character here. Mama Wadsworth (Roman) and especially Baby’s two sisters Germaine (Marianna Hill) and Alba (Suzanne Zenor) not only keep him in this perpetual baby-state, they also physically and sexually abuse him. So when Ann shows up and begins butting into their daily routines, the Wadsworths do anything they can to keep her away from them and away from Baby.

I’m not exactly sure where to begin with The Baby. I think most people viewing the film for the first time, like me, anticipate a film where Baby is treated as a sideshow attraction, or where Baby is playing out some kind of sexual fetish. But he’s actually not where any of the film’s horror comes from, which ends up being something of a relief. This makes the film something akin to Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), where the titular characters are, in fact, not the horrorshow. Rather, it’s the surrounding characters – the “normals” – who are the ones that end up being the most wicked, deformed on the inside. I was also surprised by how the two main women in the film are rather complex characters. Their motivations are not purely good nor purely evil. Even from the beginning, we get the sense that while Ann is ostensibly the film’s protagonist, her weird obsession with the Wadsworth family is not entirely borne of a motivation to save Baby from an unfit situation. Similarly, when Mama speaks of her love for Baby, we genuinely believe that she only wants the best for him, particularly when she says that while many would see him as a burden, she sees him as a blessing.

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This ambiguity comes further into play the closer the film gets to its utterly bizarre ending. During a birthday party for Baby – which would frankly be the single most inappropriate birthday party for a baby regardless of age (see? Even at this point in the film, the audience comes to identify Baby as truly a baby, not a grown man) – Ann is drugged and bound in the basement, and left to probably be murdered later on. However, with Baby’s help, she escapes, taking him along back to her home. When we find out exactly why Ann is so interested in Baby, it’s such a strange twist, but nothing that comes from so far out as to give the audience whiplash. Her motivations make sense – a sick kind of sense, but sense nonetheless. Are her motivations good or bad? It’s confusing, but incredibly satisfying to see how this plays out. Ann’s love for Baby is as genuine as Mama Wadsworth’s, and when she goes as far as murder to get him into her life permanently, it doesn’t feel overdone or out-of-the-ordinary. You totally understand the why of it.

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The Baby was one of the most entertaining and weird films I’ve watched for an October Horror Movie Challenge, but it was weird in the most unexpected and delightful ways. Granted, there are some scenes that made me feel very uncomfortable – in particular the scene where Germaine visits Baby at night – but overall, this is indeed one of the better cult classics out there. I consider this an instant favorite, and one that I’ll definitely visit again in the near future.

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OHMC tally:

12 first time views
2 repeat views

14 total views

and here’s a round-up of mini-reviews for my first week of the Challenge, over at Dreams In The Bitch House!

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