Monday, August 13, 2012

Stream a Little Stream: The Baby

I expected to hate TV veteran Ted Post's 1973 horror-thriller, which dares the audience to suspend disbelief with a ferocity as yet untapped. Granted, it has hateable elements; but I was very surprised at its success as a (mostly) well-acted, "John Waters gets serious" freakshow.

 Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer) finds out that several fellow social workers have successively visited the Wadsworth family, which is composed of Mama (Ruth Roman), daughters Germaine and Alba (Marianna Hill and Susanne Zenor), and a twenty-one-year-old son known only as Baby (David Manzy). The only social worker who appeared to be making progress with Baby, who has behaved like an infant all his life thanks to some no-holds-barred negative reinforcement from Mama (who has issues with men and abandonment) and his siblings (Alba uses electric shocks to discourage him from trying to stand), has mysteriously disappeared. Ann scrambles to take over the case. From the moment she meets Baby, who is a caterwauling, repulsive character played with eye-shielding badness by Manzy, she is overcome with affection that borders on possessiveness.  She makes no secret of her determination to help Baby blossom into a fully functioning adult. His family is not amused.

He gets a C for enthusiasm, I guess.

The Wadsworths, with the exception of Baby, are endlessly fun and far more humanized than the usual horror villains.  Mama is a brassy, nicotine-voiced nut who pimp-smacks the crap out of the babysitter when she discovers her letting Baby, um, try to breastfeed (?).  Alba is a bratty, petulant tennis instructor who would have made a great bully in Carrie. Then there's Germaine, my personal favorite. A wonderfully creepy, tonsorially gifted character who enjoys standing at a distance and staring with intense disapproval like the forgotten bride of Dracula, she could easily carry a film on her own.

Are we seeing this party 'do? Germaine rocks.

The Wadsworths eventually try to murder Ann for her efforts, but she escapes from their basement and abducts Baby. The ladies somehow find out where Ann lives (They used those huge books to find people in the seventies, right? Some pages were white and some were yellow.) and invade the house Ann shares with her mother-in-law and, according to some cryptic comments she makes throughout the movie, her husband (as yet unseen, except in photos Ann tearily stares at before bed).

I wish they had made a Golden Girls-esque sitcom with Ruth Roman, Juliet Mills, and Susan Tyrrell.

From this point, the movie starts to twist like a Rold Gold until the genuinely suprising ending.  The discovery of what Ann really wants with Baby made me want to cringe, cackle, and throw a coffee mug at the screen all at once. Despite its neglect of logic and straight-faced tastelessness, The Baby is worth checking out. Grade: B

1 comment:

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