Color, 1972, 84m.
Directed by Ted Post
Starring Ruth Roman, Anjanette Comer, Marianne Hill, Suzanne Zenor, David Manzy, Michael Pataki, Tod Andrews
Severin (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Image, Geneon (US R1 NTSC)
One of the sickest movies ever blessed with a PG rating, The Baby offers more insanity per minute than anything you'd ever see at a multiplex today. Boosted by a surprisingly good performance by Ruth Roman (best known as the leading lady of such films as Strangers on a Train), this twisted little gem may have limited appeal but certainly delivers the goods for those in the right frame of mind.
Kindly social worker Ann Gentry (The Loved One's Comer) becomes intrigued by the case of Baby (Manzy), a full grown young man whose suffocating mother (Roman) and sisters Germaine and Alba (Medium Cool's Hill and Catch-22's Zenor) have kept him in a state of mental infancy, even forbidding him from learning to walk. Ann devotes most of her time to Baby, much to the consternation of her boss -- who points out that the last social worker to take on Baby disappeared without a trace. Still grieving from her husband's debilitation in a car accident, Ann finds herself growing more attached to Baby and concerned for his welfare, while Roman and company sink deeper into insanity and ignite a violent showdown.
Despite the film's obvious low budget (Baby's crying is dubbed unconvincingly with the sound of a real infant) and frequent lapses in taste (Ann's visit to a class for the mentally handicapped), The Baby remains compelling viewing and has aged quite well. Stanley Kubrick's first composer, Gerald Fried (who also scored several horror classics including I Bury the Living), contributes a poignant and haunting score, while Comer makes a reasonably sympathetic central character... though her pronunciation of the word "cost" is unintentionally hilarious. Best of all, the unexpected twist ending is unforgettable and absolutely depraved.
The Baby was an early title on VHS sporting one of the creepiest oversized clamshell boxes in the format's history, with "Uncensored Version!" emblazoned across the front. Actually the film was never cut theatrically, so all video versions have been the same despite confusion from the original press materials originally stating a running time of 102 minutes. A surprisingly decent DVD release was released in 2000 by Image Entertainment, featuring an open matte presentation that exposed loads of excessive headroom and gave it the feeling of a '70s made-for-TV movie gone very, very wrong. Apart from some very damaged opening credits and two iffy reels, it was a good shot for its time with good color saturation and two notable bonus features never replicated anywhere else: the wildly melodramatic Spanish dub track and an isolated music and effects track, the only way Fried's score has ever been made available without dialogue. After that license lapsed, the film (along with some other titles from TV Matters like The House of Seven Corpses) was reissued as a bare bones, bargain basement title from Pioneer's Geneon line, but that also went out of circulation after a couple of years.
Surprisingly, The Baby changed course on its downward spiral in video history thanks to Severin, who brought it back to DVD in 2011 with an even more robust Blu-ray in 2014. Transferred from the original negative, this anamorphic transfer is practically spotless and features much richer detail than before. Colors are a bit more naturalistic than the loud, saturated palette of the Image version, and the restoration of the theatrical framing gives the film a more intense, off-kilter atmosphere than the TV-style framing of prior discs. As with their release of Bloody Birthday, it's also brighter than before so if you want that full gloomy '70s ambience, you want to adjust your TV a little. There's only one video extra, but it's a killer: the wild original theatrical trailer, uncovered and presented on video for the first time. This nutty piece of promotion is almost worth the sticker price by itself. You also get an audio phone interview with director Ted Post, a TV and movie vet from titles like Magnum Force, The Harrad Experiment, and Beneath the Planet of the Apes, who talks about being pursued by the screenwriter to do the film, his reluctance over the negative aura of the original story, and his approach to the characters. Actor David Mooney (credited as "David Manzy" on the film), who plays Baby, also has a phone interview; now a high school teacher (whose students have uncovered his thespian past), he has good memories of working on the film and, most interestingly, discusses the possibly intentional animosity on the set between Roman and Comer that contributed to their onscreen tension. The DVD is rounded out with bonus trailers for titles like In the Folds of the Flesh, Psychomania, and Horror Express, but their absence on the Blu-ray isn't anything significant. A pretty killer special edition for a film that will still leave even the most jaded cineaste slack jawed in disbelief.