The 1970s must have been an amazing time to make movies. The studio system was breaking down, allowing more independent cinema to get made. The censorship inherent within the Hays Code was destroyed, allowing for more freedom of expression. Money was pouring in from all corners. Grindhouse cinemas were willing to play any kind of movie at all hours of the day and night with willing patrons flowing through their doors. This allowed all sorts of imaginative, wonderful, and terrible films to be made and find an audience.
Made in 1973, The Baby is a film so bizarre it defies categorization. It stars Anjanette Comer as Ann Gentry, a a social worker dealing with feelings of guilt and trauma over the recent auto accident involving her husband. Her new case involves the mysterious and eccentric Wadsworth family, the youngest of which is a 21-year-old male named Baby (David Mooney), who behaves and is treated like a small toddler. He wears baby clothes and a diaper. He eats from a bottle and spends most of his day in an oversized crib. He is abused at regularly intervals (we see him shocked with a cattle prod and there is more than a hint of regular incest). Ann takes a thorough interest in the case and visits regularly. Soon, she begins to think that Baby may be capable of more than the Wadsworths believe. Eventually, she believes that he might be a perfectly healthy adult male who through abuse and negative reinforcement only acts like a child.
That’s the basic outline of a story that could either be a really chilling psychological horror or a really fun bit of camp. Director Ted Post steers the film somewhere in the middle of those two roads making it not work as either. What’s left is a film that is incredibly odd, but also quite dull.
Ruth Roman looks and plays the matriarch of the family, Mrs. Wadsworth like Faye Dunaway’s understudy in Mommie Dearest (a full eight years before that film was made). Germaine Wadsworth (Marianna Hill) is calculatingly cold. Alba (Suzanne Zenor), the youngest daughter, looks like your typical '70s B-movie sex pot. She’s blonde, busty, and tends to wear tight red shorts and short skirts. But in this movie there is hardly anyone for her to seduce. You might think she’s there for the audience to look at but the camera never lingers. All of which makes her feel like she’s in the wrong movie. I can’t say David Mooney does a great job as Baby as it's a really bizarre performance, but he certainly gives it his all. Apparently, he made all sorts of baby noises on set, but his voice was later dubbed by actual babies cooing and crying, which makes it all the more unsettling.
Ann continues to visit and attempt to prove that Baby is capable of more than the family lets him. Once when Mrs. Wadsworth is gone, she plays ball with him and tries to get him to stand up and take a few steps. When Mrs. Wadsworth finds this out, she complains to Ann’s boss who takes her off the case. A phone call and an apology later and all is presumably forgiven. But when Ann comes to Baby’s birthday party, she is tied up and tortured. When she escapes, she essentially kidnaps Baby and taunts the Wadsworths by sending them pictures of him standing and doing other adult like things.
This is where the horror aspects of the story kick in and where I’ll leave out any more spoilers except to say it does have a very '70s horror-movie surprise ending.
Ted Post made movies like Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Magnum Force (the Dirty Harry sequel), and Nightkill. His films were often successful at the box office, but panned by critics. He was not known for being a particularly stylish filmmaker. This journeyman aspect is on full display here. It is filmed flatly with mostly straightforward shots, which doesn’t help the film with the boring factor. There is so much ridiculousness going on in the plot that The Baby should have been magnificently terrible, but it winds up being more of a chore to sit through.
Arrow Video has remastered the audio and video of The Baby from the original 35 mm film.It was shot in both open matte and full frame, both of which are presented here (with a 1.78:1 and 1.37:1 aspect ratio, respectively). It looks as good as it ever will. I didn’t notice any debris or scratches. Colors and blacks are fine. As noted, it's not a particularly stylish film but it was shot and lit adequately and Arrow has done a good job of presenting that.
Extras include a new audio commentary by Travis Crawford and new interviews with Marianna Hill and Stanley Dyrector. It has a new retrospective with film professor Rebekah McKendry and archival interviews with David Mooney and Ted Post. Kat Ellinger attempts to paint the film as a socially conscious horror film that says something meaningful about the American family in her essay in the full-color booklet that comes with the movie, but I’m not convinced.
The Baby is a film I can’t really recommend on any critical level. I can’t even recommend it as a bonkers horror film with camp value. It is too dull for that. I will say if you are a fan of oddball '70s films then this is worth a watch just for the absurdity of its plot. Arrow Video has given it a nice new transfer and loaded the disks with good extras.