THE MONSTER [1975]: On Blu-ray 11th September

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Directed by:
Written by: ,
Starring: , , ,

AKA I DON’T WANT TO BE BORN, THE DEVIL WITHIN HER, SHARON’S BABY

UK

AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY. 11TH SEPTEMBER, from NETWORK RELEASING

RUNNING TIME: 96 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera

 

When proud father Gino Carlesi visits his wife Lucy in the hospital, he finds her with bloody scratches on her cheek courtesy of their newborn and rather large son. Told it’s nothing to worry about, they take the newborn, whom they call Nicholas, home. Lucy becomes increasingly fearful about her child, who nor only wrecks his nursery and decapitates a doll but gives a highly unfriendly welcome to any visitor, has convulsions when about to be baptised, grows really quickly and has super strength. Could this be something to do with an incident in her past life as a stripper where she rejected the advances of a dwarf named Hercules who then cursed her, crying: “You will have a baby – a monster, an evil monster conceived inside your womb. As big as I am small and possessed by the devil himself!”

The Monster is a boringly generic title for a film that went under several other monikers, though it was apparently the original name. However, it then went on to be released in the UK as I Don’t Want To Be Born, while in the US it was called The Devil Within Her, which was the UK title of the 1974 Italian horror Chi sei which was titled Beyond The Door in the US. The IMDB curiously lists the film under its Italian title Sharon’s Baby, which is a very odd title indeed seeing as neither the heroine nor anybody else are called Sharon. You can’t really say that it’s not inappropriate for the movie at hand though, which is, quite frankly, pretty terrible. I had a rather good time with The Dark Eyes Of London which Network are releasing simultaneously, and I was quite impressed with it. This disaster I also had a pretty good time with, as one can with bad movies, but there’s nothing impressive in it except for the fine cast who mostly give it their all. Killer babies can be effective horror menaces but they have to be handled carefully otherwise one just laughs, and you may very well be chuckling a great deal the way that this decidedly cute and sometimes bored-looking infant is supposed to be this powerful creature of evil. We’re told that it’s growing rapidly though it always seems to be exactly the same size to us, even though it can apparently reach the neck of an adult who’s standing up, climb a tree, and wield instruments of death. With the central premise totally falling apart, so does the film, which totally lacks any feeling of fear, director Peter Sasby, who made three Hammers notably Hands Of The Ripper which he did a really good job with, barely even seeming to try to bring something to Stanley Price’s [from a story by Nato de Angelis] screenplay which is not only very vague but which may have been for something lasting only an hour, judging by all the filler sequences of characters wandering around central London and getting in and out of cars.

Now, if you’re familiar with my reviews of older films, you’re probably expecting me to give some fascinating and even amusing information on how this botch job came to be and was made, but, astonishingly, I could find hardly any. The Region A Scorpion Releasing disc has two interviews, and I expect the audio commentary on Network’s Region B UK Blu-ray will be enlightening. So let’s jump into the review proper and start- well – at the beginning, which is very strange indeed not to mention probably off putting to some. Why? Because, after the opening shot which has the camera pan out of and away from Lucy’s screaming mouth, the birth that we’re watching seems to be somewhat sexualised [unless it’s my dirty mind, which is possible I suppose] with its cries and moans, while Sasdy’s idea of adding further impact is to rapidly zoom in and out of the light above. “This one don’t want to be born” says one of the nurses. Husband Gino arrives to find out his son has scratched his mother, an act we don’t see, and you’d better get used to this, because there are a lot of acts we don’t see and instead just view the aftermath. It’s possible that the writers remembered the previous years’ It’s Alive with its hideous demon baby who slaughtered all the people in the room it was born in, an act that we also only saw the aftermath of, but such things worked in the Larry Cohn picture because it was well directed and we had a monstrous-looking menace to be scared of; here we just have a normal baby, a baby who we keep hearing is already very large though never looks even a little bit large. Surely some clever trick photography could have been employed to show this, but then nothing’s clever about this movie. Dr. Finch says that the baby may have thought he was being suffocated and acted in self defense, and mother is satisfied with this. But at home he bites his nanny and Lucy, along with her friend Mandy Gregory and Gino’s sister Sister Albana, begin to think that something may seriously be up.

It’s not long before we come to the flashback where we learn that Lucy used to be a nightclub dancer. With hilariously detailed narration, she recounts the beginnings of her woes. Her specialty was a number where she danced with a dwarf named Hercules. One night in her dressing room, her pint-sized dance partner pays her a visit. “I felt awkward,” she tells Mandy, “but I didn’t want to upset him, I knew how sensitive he was. I felt his hand on my neck. I tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. Maybe for an instant I was fascinated. It felt unreal.” Indeed she seems to let him do his thing for a few seconds before she rejects him and he is humiliated. As Lucy leaves the club, Hercules shouts his curse. Now I’m going to tell you right now that we never find out any more about Hercules, even though we do briefly meet him again much later, and on a few occasions his face suddenly appear where Nicholas’s should be in a crass attempt at making the viewer jump. You’d think ,at the very least, we would learn about this spell he’s cast, but all that we find out is that the child is now possessed. By what? Beats me. Though maybe it’s a sound effects person, seeing as Nicholas often makes noises like stones banging around on something metal and police car sirens. Nicholas causes more and more trouble, such as putting a rat in someone’s tea and eventually committing murder, the first being amusing when the victim is standing by a lake in front of the pram and Nicholas’s hand is able to reach out to what seems like several feet away and push her into the water. Elsewhere it’s just hilarious the way that there’s little attempt to make his harmless looking child seem powerful and murderous, even if one appreciates that you can’t direct a baby like you can, say, Harvey Spencer Stephens in The Omen, so lots of footage of the baby getting around and doing bad stuff would have been impossible. However, even just hearing the pitter-patter of little feet running away [or even hands and feet crawling away] from a crime scene or characters wrestling with a doll would have been nice.

There’s a half hearted try at some philosophical discussion when Sister Albana consults with Dr. Finch. For some reason the doctor takes her theory of possession in his stride and agrees to hospitalise the baby for observation while Gino takes Lucy on holiday, but instead Lucy is harassed by her old boss and lover Tommy who wonders if he could be Nicholas’s father, John Steiner essaying one of his very best villain roles; he’s wonderfully slimy, sleazy and arrogant. “So we go to have a look at the little baby first”? he asks when inside Lucy’s house. “First”? Lucy asks. “Well we’ve got the house to ourselves, haven’t we”? replies Tommy. When Tommy leans in close to see if there is a family resemblance, Nicholas gives him a bloody nose. This amuses Lucy and, for the first time, she looks at her child with affection. Now in a typical horror film you’d expect this guy to get a particularly memorable death scene which we rather enjoy watching because he’s so unpleasant. But this isn’t a typical horror film, and Sasdy, Price and De Angelis are clearly above that sort of thing. As a replacement for some scenes that really do appear to be missing, they hit upon the idea of filling out the running time with lots and lots of footage of Westminster and Oxford Street while Sasdy puts the zoom lens to good use – mind you, he employs it so often in this film that it almost gives it a European feel of the time which isn’t unappealing. I love London and like seeing familiar places the way they were decades ago, but all this just seems like padding, as does the way that, whenever one character goes somewhere, we just have to see him or her getting in and out of their car. At least we get a lot of funky music from composer Ron Grainer to listen to in these scenes, though elsewhere it seems ludicrously inappropriate. And then we get possibly the least exciting exorcism put on film.

Said exorcism brings up some questions such as; how does a nun [who’s also a research scientist] know how to perform exorcisms? I know that she’s supposed to be an Old World Italian Catholic nun, but surely the rite should be performed by an English priest who specialises in such matters? For some reason Eileen Atkins [Sister Albana] and sometime Hammer star Ralph Bates [Gino] were asked to try their hands at Italian accents. Though generally good performers, Italian accents are clearly not their forte and we’re left wondering why their characters were made Italian in the first place, it makes hardly any difference to the plot. Caroline Munro is also in this as Mandy, but is dubbed by somebody else who was presumably able to do a better My Fair Lady-style cockney accent – though what’s funnier is when Mandy’s in bed with a boyfriend and we can easily see sticky pads over Munro’s breasts; I assume that she refused to appear fully nude and it was too late to recast her. Despite getting a sex scene with Bates and playing an ex-stripper to whom we flash back to, we never get to see ‘much’ of Collins, but we do linger on some nude dancers elsewhere in what up to then has seemed to be a ‘PG’ state of affairs. Later on we get a rather good decapitation by spade that’s the grisly highpoint of the proceedings; both staging and special effects come through in what presumably must have been the scene that the BBFC required editing of on the film’s theatrical release in the UK, though it’s still hard to see why it had to be cut. But Collins is very good, her somewhat heightened dramatic style of acting perfect for her role here. Donald Pleasance is on restrained form as Finch; in fact I’d say that Pleasance is possibly bored, but because he’s such an interesting performer to watch even bored Pleasance is quite unique. Hilary Mason from Don’t Look Now is another cast member who treats the material as if it’s of some quality. I guess that proves their professionalism, but just think how easy it would have been to ham it up? I love Vincent Price, but he’d have treated it all as a lark. And in a way the committed acting just makes this film funnier.

Sasdy and cinematographer Kenneth Talbot employ deep focus in a couple of shots, but for the most part Sasdy seems a bit lost in the present day as opposed to the past where the majority of his more successful products for both cinema and TV took place. The Monster is really quite hard to summarise. It doesn’t actually do an awful lot, it often just sort of sits there, yet it does definitely succeed in keeping boredom at bay, which is certainly something I suppose. Despite my dislike of the current creative bankruptcy that’s led to every other horror film getting a remake [The Lost Boys noooooo!], I’d like to see a modern remake of this that either went to town on the absurdity angle or which, more interestingly, made it frightening. That would undeniably be something of a challenge, but it could be achieved with really good filmmaking. The Monster isn’t a good film by any stretch of the imagination, but lovers of movies of the ‘so bad it’s good’ variety really need to check it out. The  picture quality is fabulous on Network’s Blu-ray.

Rating: ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

 

SPECIAL FEATURES:

Brand-new interviews with director Peter Sasdy, editor Keith Palmer continuity supervisor Renée Glynne and wardrobe supervisor Brenda Dabbs
Brand-new audio commentary from the cult Second Features podcast team
Theatrical trailer
Alternative I Don’t Want to be Born titles] Image gallery
Limited edition booklet written by Adrian Smith

About Dr Lenera 3098 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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