Social Worker Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer) is assigned a new case involving the slightly unhinged Mrs Wadsworth and her three children. Although her two daughters are not exactly normal it is the youngest member of the family that is the subject of this most bizarre case. Baby, as he has been imaginatively named, seems happy enough, content to gurgle and crawl around the confines of his playpen as infants do. The problem is this child is a fully grown man. It is up to Ann to determine whether or not he is mentally handicapped, or are there more sinister reasons for his underdevelopment?
Directed by Ted Post who worked extensively in television as well as on the big screen (e.g. Magnum Force, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes) The Baby is a macabre horror vaguely reminiscent of David Lynch with strange hidden secrets amidst apparent suburban normality. As with many cult films there are unintentionally humorous scenes lending a kitsch element to the movie. For starters the sight of a grown man in a nappy is comical enough, as is the obvious dubbing of his voice with that of a real baby. None of the actors would be bothering the Oscars podium but Anjanette Comer does enough to convey the complex character, the would be heroine who seeks to release Baby from his wicked family. Suzanne Zenor is a tad wooden whilst Marianna Hill proves a better actress as one half of the female siblings. But it is the performance by Ruth Roman that steals the show. With her cigarette enhanced voice delivering lines with relish she chews the scenery portraying the mother with pantomime style villainy.
There is a dark sadistic tone inherent throughout the film. Along with Baby all the characters are damaged in some way; the social worker has her own problems, grieving for her husband as she and her mother-in-law spend their lonely nights endlessly viewing slides of happier times. Then there is Mrs Wadsworth who maintains a precarious love/hate relationship with her son, walking the line between the two which has affected her sanity. Her daughters are also strangers to normality, the temptress Alba with her sadistic streak and the more complex Germaine who has lesbian leanings and a concealed incestuous desire for her brother. Arguably she is just a woman seeking physical affection from someone, anyone. But in The Baby the rare times in which the characters display emotions physically are in anger. The torture that is wrought upon Baby is nothing short of child abuse. Bearing this in mind the scenes are quite disturbing. To top things off is the twisted finale which takes the film off onto levels of grand guignol-like proportions. It is unexpected but at the same time doesn’t cheat the audience, and is deliciously insane.
The Baby is the definition of cult, completely avoiding mainstream appeal and totally original. More academic critics may claim that the plot is a thinly veiled attack against (and male reaction to) the rise of feminism in the early seventies. Or maybe more accurately male fears of the extremes of female empowerment, dealing as the film does with the metaphorical emasculation of the male lead by dominant female figures. Regardless, the result is one of the weirdest movies to grace the silver screen. Full of performances that range from hammy to plain wooden, dialogue to match and a demented plot that is far from predictable right up to THAT ending – whether it’s a happy one or not is for the viewer to decide. Either way it will linger long in the memory proving that The Baby is a unique never forgotten cinematic experience truly deserving the status of cult classic.