POE LOOKS AT A FILM FOR
THE WHOLE (TWISTED) FAMILY
Sitting and watching THE BABY for the first time was a bit of a surreal experience for me. Few films have flooded me with so many conflicting emotions. In the course of 84 minutes I was horrified, confused, repulsed, and in the end a bit shell shocked. Exploitation films are meant to manipulate their audiences with disturbing images and subject matter. THE BABY goes one step beyond with its underlying tones of incest and sadism, leaving you to feel like you need a hot shower afterwards.
The story follows social worker Ann Gentry, played by innocent eyed Anjanette Comer, and her experiences with the Wadsworths, a family that could give the cannibal clan from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE a run for their money as one of the sicker families in film history. First off we have Mama Wadsworth, played with slow burn menace by screen veteran Ruth Roman, best know for her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. Next we have her pair of attractive yet “I wouldn’t touch them with a ten foot pole” daughters played by Marianna Hill and Susanne Zenor. And then there is the character of Baby, a twenty year old man who still shits in a diaper, sleeps in a crib and has the mental capabilities of a two year old. Played by television actor David Mooney, Baby simultaneously repulses and tugs at the heart strings…but mostly just repulses.
As Ann gets to know the bunch and her social work duties are put to the test, she soon realizes that Baby’s development is being held hostage by the family for their own perverted reasons. Her fight to make things right ends in a bloody showdown that lifts the film into solid horror territory. It all ends with a twist that will leave viewers slack jawed.
Journeyman director Ted Post didn’t want to make this film. He generally worked on straightforward adventure fair and seemed an odd choice to helm this freak show of a movie. It took a years worth of convincing from writer Abe Polsky to get him to agree to make the picture. Post’s unobtrusive directing style ends up benefiting a film that didn’t require clever camera shots to captivate (or disgust) its audience. Particularly effective is his handling of the family’s individual relationships with Baby. Post layers the film with a subtle sexual undertone that never gets too graphic minus a very disturbing scene with a babysitter.
THE BABY is a true oddity. It’s strange subject matter and disturbing performances keep you watching even when you feel like taking that aforementioned shower at multiple points throughout the film. The flick provides a one of a kind viewing experience that is impossible to forget and its status as a cult classic is well deserved. I don’t imagine Hollywood will be remaking this one anytime soon.
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