The Baby (1973) – Blu-Ray Review

The Baby is a barking mad horror movie from 1973, presided over by workman director Ted Post. He was best known for his work with Clint Eastwood and for directing Beneath the Planet of the Apes, but Post also directed episodes of a lot of the big shows in the early ’60s, including The Twilight Zone. He was reluctant to accept the gig on The Baby because it was too “negative,” but writer Abe Polsky was relentless, and Post eventually signed on after a year of begging.

The plot is utterly bizarre, and so early ’70s it almost hurts. There is a creepy borderline-hippy family, the Wadsworths, which is led by Mama (Ruth Roman). Along with two equally warped daughters, she has baby… a 21-year-old “manchild” who can’t speak or walk, and is still in diapers. Social worker Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer) sets her sights on helping to liberate “Baby” from his predicament, which will bring down the wrath of Mama Wadsworth. But is there an ulterior motive behind her interest?

Ted Post directs the film with an almost televisual sense—it doesn’t look that far removed from a TV movie of the week. Still, it works because the increasingly bizarre premise is so gleefully unhinged. There is a birthday party sequence about two-thirds of the way through that seems like some acid-drenched happening on Haight Street in San Francisco during the “Summer of Love.” Certainly not the kind of party you would throw for your seriously mentally challenged “‘manchild”.

The early ’70s was also a changing period for mental health and disability, because the onion was being peeled back to let the world see the horrific abusive of inmates in various asylums, and also children’s institutions. Frederick Wiseman’s Titicut Follies was a documentary that caused just such a stir by showing the realities of these asylums: it was basically withdrawn from circulation and is still relatively hard to buy outside of France. The film taps into that zeitgeist as well, even though it’s certainly no statement film on those abuses.

Post would also direct the Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force the same year as The Baby, and they couldn’t be more opposite. The Baby has got a hint of melodrama in the proceedings, and you could even draw a link to Cronenberg’s overrated The Brood by merging horror and melodrama. It’s certainly no great film, but it has enough psychotronic weirdness to satisfy the viewers.

The disc has a host of special features, including a commentary by Travis Crawford, a new interview with film professor Rebekah McKendry, and audio interviews with Ted Post and star David Mooney. The trailer and a booklet by Kat Ellinger round off the package.


Ian Schultz

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