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31 Days of Horror: ‘The Baby’ – A forgotten gem with a great, unexpected ending

31 Days of Horror: ‘The Baby’ – A forgotten gem with a great, unexpected ending

The Baby
Directed by Ted Post
Written by Aby Polsky
USA, 1973

Shocking and unsettling in breaking a number social taboos, this forgotten gem centres on the kind of dysfunctional family seldom depicted on screen. The Baby is a politically-incorrect pseudo horror film about motherly love gone horribly wrong.

Our story follows a recently widowed social worker (Anjanette Comer) who investigates a strange case of child abuse and discovers a grown man (David Manzy) has been held in a state of infantile his entire life. The grown man still behaves like a baby, dressed in diapers, unable to speak and under the full dependance and care of a mother and her two teenage daughters. The social worker becomes increasingly obsessed with Baby, fearful for his well being under the manipulative, psychotically abusive family who control and torture him for their own benefit.

Ted Post’s The Baby is surely one of the most unusual camp classics ever made. Before Dogtooth and Bad Boy Bubby, Baby ranked as one of the most mature yet bizarre PG rated cult films of the 70’s, featuring such controversial themes as incest, pedophilia, sadomasochism, drug use and more. For a film that, on the surface, appears to be a made-for-TV movie-of-the-week, Baby is much more, an exploration of violence in suburbia, sexual obsession, and social decay which masterfully avoids exploitation and successfully creates sympathy for its titular character.
Ted Post (Magnum Force, Beneath the Planet of the Apes) does a wonderful job creating one of the genre’s most perverse pictures with his no-frills direction. Aside from having a great script, The Baby also benefits from a cast full of cult movie favourites. Ruth Roman (a respected Hollywood leading lady in the 50s(before moving on to a series of exploitation films), steals the show here with her moderate theatrics as the hideous matriarch Mrs. Wadsworth. Anjanette Comer gives her character a welcome vulnerable appeal as Baby’s persistently frustrated case worker. Meanwhile Marianna Hill and Suzanne Zenor hold up their end of the film’s odd charm. But perhaps most impressive is David Mooney who is great in the title role as Baby, a 30-something man with the mind of a child. His scenes could be played for cheap laughs but instead, we the audience find ourselves generally concerned for his mental and physical heath.

Perhaps the film’s greatest virtue, however, is its unexpected ending, which forces us to reconsider everything that came before. The ending is so bizarre and disturbing, it’s widely heralded as one of the best surprise twists in cinema history, making The Baby a gutsy film that completely avoids mainstream appeal.

Some cinephiles accuse the plot of being an attack against the rise of feminism in the early seventies and man’s fear of the extremes of female empowerment. The metaphorical emasculation of the male lead by dominant female figures is present, but there is much more to consider. The Baby in short is simply a disturbing look at a family that isolates their children from society to extremes. It’s a unique cinematic experience, something to be seen and something you’ll never forget.