Color, 1989, 89 mins. 18 secs.
Directed by Francis Teri
Starring Frank Reeves, Marie Michaels, Gerald Preger, Michael Logan, Janet Sovey, Lisa Petruno, Susan Brodsky, Tim Martin Crouse, Michael Logan, Natasha Roberts, Antoinette Greene
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), 88 Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Elite Entertainment (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Cheap, The Sucklingscuzzy, and definitely memorable, The Suckling is one of the last gasps of latex-heavy '80s horror and a title that left many unsuspecting video rental customers scratching their heads. Essentially it earned a place in the history books as the first monster movie about an aborted baby, though as with the later and more muddled Red Christmas, it's pure shock exploitation rather than any kind of social statement.

In April of 1973, young Rebecca (Petruno), the lone survivor of a massacre that claimed the lives of twelve people, is committed to a mental hospital where she suffers from nightmares within nightmares. In flashback we find out how she was tricked by her conniving boyfriend, Phil (Logan), to visit a ramshackle Brooklyn brothel that doubles as an illegal abortion clinic. There she falls into the clutches of the madam, Big Mama (Michaels), and her assistant, Bertha (Greene), who use a coat hanger to remove the fetus and flush it down the toilet -- where toxic waste quickly turns the remains into a clawed, razor-toothed monster with a deadly umbilical cord. By the time Rebecca wakes up, the building has been encased in an inexplicable sac of biological matter and her offspring is ready to turn the assortment of hookers and johns into dead meat.

Despite the potentially offensive subject matter, The Suckling is so goofy and Troma-esque (complete with rinky-dink piano music) that it never comes close to feeling transgressive (as opposed to, say, Takashi Miike's notorious Imprint or, the most extreme example to date, the uncut version of Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac). The SucklingIt's basically DIY regional horror all the The Sucklingway, with a slew of weird, bitchy characters (including way more diversity than was common for 1990) filling up the running time bickering and wandering around while the monster (whose inventive design is easily the film's strongest point) prowls around and does its business.

Following a 2005 DVD release from Elite with only the trailer as an extra, The Suckling made its Blu-ray debut in 2016 via U.K. label 88 Films, with a simultaneous DVD release. Featuring a 1.78:1 transfer and LPCM English mono track, it obviously improved considerably on past editions and came with a video interview with producer Miljan Llich (7m20s) about how the film was meant to balance entertainment with social commentary about abortion. (Exactly what that commentary is supposed to be is left up to the viewer, apparently.) He also touches on the Brooklyn shoot, the mixture of costume and miniatures to create the monsters and comparisons to his other horror film from the same time, Flesh Eating Mothers. Bonus trailers are also included for Children of the Corn, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Don't Go in the Woods, Mother's Day, Slaughterhouse, Trancers, Splatter University, and Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man.

The SucklingIn 2019, Vinegar Syndrome brought the film back to the U.S. for the first time in years as a dual-format Blu-ray and The SucklingDVD set featuring a new 2K scan from the 16mm original camera negative. The transfer looks fairly similar to the other Blu-ray in the opening scenes but then start to diverge rather dramatically with more balanced whites and greater legibility in darker scenes, as well as more consistent color timing particularly in the final act. It will never be a pretty film to look at thanks to the nature of the production, but this looks authentic to the source and definitely better than anything we've had before. The DTS-HD 2.0 English audio is also about as good as could be expected, with optional English subtitles provided. On the extras front, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Fetus" (13m4s) is an amusing recollection by Fangoria's Michael Gingold, who took the job playing the title monster while going to NYU. One highlight is his story about trying to do the wall-breaking scene, and he even shows off a little promotional memento from the film's release that would look great on anyone's bookshelf. Next up is an interview with director Francis Terhi (12m2s), who chats about his fondness for confined space horror movies like Day of the Dead, his own view on the film's most contentious plot aspect, the film's $50,000 budget (with 20% going to the creature), the creation of the sewer set, and his other career pursuits after this one shot at feature film directing. Also included is an image gallery (2m31s) of production photos, promotional material, video art, and fanzine coverage.


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Reviewed on March 23, 2019.