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The Baby (Ted Post, 1973)

 

Exploitation films donít come much stranger than 1973ís The Baby. Directed by Ted Post, this singularly twisted film positively revels in its own sick absurdity. In it, social worker Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer) takes on a special case, involving the Wadsworth family. No ordinary clan, the familyís four members include a mother (Ruth Roman), two adult daughters, and a twenty one year old son, known only as Baby (David Manzy). Baby suffers from a severe case of arrested development. Despite being fully grown, he sleeps in a crib, communicates only through (hilariously overdubbed) baby gurgles, and cannot walk. Though it is never made completely clear whether nature, nurture, or some combination of the two is responsible for Babyís condition, his case becomes a severe cause for concern for Ann. The early scenes of The Baby, in which Ann gets to know the Wadsworth family, make it completely obvious that his family has no desire to see him grow up. Annís obsessive quest to free Baby from the familyís control comprises the rest of the film.

 

This description, odd as it might seem, does little to communicate the insanity that is The Baby. Less a horror film than an outright freak show, The Baby grows oddly hypnotic in its accumulation of oddity. It begins as something approaching a straight drama, but it never quite stabilizes. Though the audience is left uncertain about the charactersí motivations for most of the filmís run time, it is quite obvious that something unspeakable is bubbling underneath the outwardly pleasant interactions between Ann and the Wadsworths. The off-kilter performances create an uncanny vibe that comes to define the film. Post rarely tries to build suspense, but with a concept this zany, he does not need to. The shocking ending of The Baby is rightfully famed as one of the strangest in cinematic history, and to spoil it would be a disservice, but the sustained build up to that ending, which twists camp into something subtly disturbing, is just as memorable.

 

The Baby is demented enough to stand up brilliantly after forty years. Straddling the lines between horror film, family melodrama, and social message movie, this cult classic is not for the easily offended (its ability to secure a PG rating is baffling). One could stretch to ascribe significance to its central conflict, between an overprotective, possibly harmful, mother and an agent of a nanny state, but it seems wiser still to luxuriate in the overwhelming weirdness that is The Baby.

 

76 

Jeremy Heilman 

07.22.11