Color, 1975, 95m.<
Directed by Peter Sasdy
Starring Joan Collins, Ralph Bates, Eileen Atkins, Caroline Munro, Donald Pleasence, Hilary Mason, John Steiner
Scorpion (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Carlton (UK R2 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
Lucy Carlesi (Collins) is having a baby, as we see in histrionic detail over the opening credits. However, something's amiss right away as the newborn lashes out at its new mom; since this is a '70s horror film, you can bet it's only going to get worse from there. Indeed, Lucy - who's apparently retired or at least on maternity leave from her gig as one of those movie strippers who stay fully clothed - doesn't get much support from her twit husband (Hammer regular Bates, wrestling with a hilarious Italian accent), and to make matters worse, her nun sister-in-law (Atkins, with an even funnier accent) tells her that the bundle of joy Lucy delivered is actually some sort of hellspawn bent on mangling everyone around it. Blood flies, the family doctor (Pleasence, of course) can't explain a thing, Lucy's stripper friend Mandy (Munro, dubbed for what wouldn't be the last time in her career) shows off her cleavage and teeth, and soon the awful truth comes to light: Lucy spurned her former nightclub dance partner, a creepy dwarf, and now he's possessing her baby. What can a helpless stripper mom do?
At the time of this film's release, director Peter Sasdy was one of the most promising of the new stable of British horror directors. He had just come off a trio of Hammer's best films during its autumn years (Taste the Blood of Dracula, Hands of the Ripper and Countess Dracula), and he'd also delivered one heck of a TV ghost story with the Nigel Kneale-scripted The Stone Tape. Granted, his two non-Hammer features, Doomwatch and Nothing but the Night had their flaws, but they remain fascinating experiments all the same. However, something obviously snapped here as the film goes way past full-tilt insanity in the first few minutes an d never looks back. From here it was just a long, weird, spiral for Sasdy back to TV until 1983 when he finally begat one of the most lovably ridiculous Hollywood films of all time, The Lonely Lady. Leading lady Joan Collins also headed the same direction, though her camp destination proved to be far more lucrative on TV's Dynasty; the rest of the overqualified cast also went on to bigger and better things (well, except for Bates, RIP), including some familiar faces on the sidelines like John Steiner (before he headed off to Tinto Brass and Dario Argento) and the always busy character actress Hilary Mason (Don't Look Now and Dolls). Also entertaining in all the wrong ways is the brash, very '70s music score by TV composer Ron Grainer (most famous for co-writing the theme for Doctor Who), who also dabbled on the big screen with the classically funky The Omega Man and The Assassination Bureau.
Despite popping in and out of video stores during the VHS era with great regularity, The Devil Within Her took its sweet time getting delivered to American DVD. Fortunately Scorpion's release turns out to be far from stillborn thanks to a solid, colorful anamorphic transfer thankfully presented at 1.66:1, with more information visible at the top and bottom than what was seen on American prints. It's also one of the first titles in the label's "Katarina's Nightmare Theater" line, which features the wrestling star and horror hostess offering amusing but surprisingly respectful, trivia-packed, and witty wraparounds for the feature; her noted resemblance to the film's co-star, Caroline Munro, is a definite plus as well. Current Hollywood real estate agent John Steiner also appears here for his second video interview (after his ribald chat on the special edition of Caligula) in which he covers everything from Joan Collins' glamorous star quality to his back-and-forth career between England and Italy. Unlike the bare bones UK disc, this also includes the US theatrical trailer as well as several bonus horror previews including The Pyx, Final Exam, Humongous, Nothing but the Night, and Human Experiments.