Tuesday, July 22, 2014

THE BABY (Blu-ray)

One of the weirder mainstream movies from a decade packed with weird mainstream movies, director Ted Post's THE BABY (1973) is an offbeat and often disturbing thriller, released last week on Blu-ray disc from Severin Films. As I reviewed the standard DVD edition a couple years ago, I'll be repeating most of that here, with the new technical specs of this HD upgrade below.

Ann, an  attractive young social worker (Anjanette Comer, NETHERWORLD) is assigned (at her request, as it turns out) to a very unusual case - that of the Wadsworth family. Specifically, the only male member of the Wadsworth clan: Baby, a 25 year-old man with the mental capacity of an infant, who cannot walk, nor talk, and sleeps in an over-sized crib. Baby's mother (Ruth Roman, THE KILLING KIND) and his sisters (Marianna Hill and Susanne Zenor) resent the social worker's intrusion into their lives and her insinuations that they are deliberately preventing the manchild from developing mentally and physically (and of course, they are), and before long, decide that she has to go, so they can continue to care for Baby as they see fit. But Ann has plans of her own for Baby.... 

Director Ted Post was an odd choice for THE BABY, as he was best-known as a journeyman contract director, efficient but unimaginative. The sort of guy you'd hire for a Clint Eastwood Western (HANG 'EM HIGH), Chuck Norris potboiler (GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK), franchise sequel (MAGNUM FORCE, BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES) or network TV episode. Something like THE BABY, with its emotionally sick and abusive characters, implied incest, graphic violence, and unexpected twist ending, would seem to be far outside his comfort zone. Still, he does a fine job, allowing the cast to breathe life into their character roles, and keeping everything moving at a solid pace. The lack of intrusive directorial "style" actually benefits the film, as everything is shot and edited in a straightforward, natural manner, without swooping, shaky camerawork, dutch angles, flashcuts or slo-mo. Post doesn't need any tricks - he just tells the story.

Ruth Roman as the Wadsworth matriarch, is astounding. With an acting career dating all the way back into Hollywood's Golden Age, and classics like STRANGERS ON A TRAIN on her resume, Roman brings surprising weight to her role as the sinisterly overprotective mother and manages a nuanced, layered performance that makes Ma Wadsworth more than a stock B-movie battleaxe. Hill and Zenor, are also very good as Baby's sexy grown sisters.The script is intelligently structured and culminates in a final twist that I doubt you'll see coming. It's completely logical, though.

The new Blu-ray from Severin Films is a slight upgrade visually from the previously-released DVD. The 1080p HD, 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is solid and reasonably sharp, with only minimal evidence of print damage/debris. Overall, a decent presentation, if not spectacular. Likewise, the 2.0 Mono audio. Extras include audio interviews with director Ted Post and actor David "Baby" Mooney, and the theatrical trailer.

For fans of the offbeat and unusual, THE BABY is worth checking out. It's a well-crafted film with great performances (especially by Roman) and a pure early-70s aesthetic. It's not for everyone, though. Recommended.