Below is an essay we wrote when we screened a much worn/loved VHS copy of one of our favorite films, THE BABY. We’re reposting because Nitehawk is screening a 35mm print this weekend which, if we may speak frankly, you’d be a damn fool to miss. It’s honestly one of the best bizarre films you’ll ever see in your life. Trust us…
When an over-eager social worker begins a case that involves a twenty-one year old man-baby, his demented family fights to the death for control over the only male in their lives.
In the wake of the second wave of feminism, The Baby (1973) is part of a select group horror films released in the early part of the 1970s that visualize a cultural fear of women. While some of these films stress the victimization of women searching for power over their lives, as can be seen in the desperate and totalizing acts carried out towards the wives in The Stepford Wives (1975) others, like George A. Romero’s often forgotten Season of the Witch (1972), depict the great lengths bored and unsatisfied housewives will go to fill the lonely days. Extending from giallo, the rise of the early America slasher sub-genre in 1970s movies such as Last House on the Left, Black Christmas, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre essentially eviscerated their female characters while simultaneously spanning the notion of “the final girl”.
Thus is the long standing tradition of women, horror, and social politics in cinema. However, where The Baby differs, and it differs in so many extravagant ways, is that the gender roles are flipped. The women characters – from social worker to sister to mother to mother-in-law – dominate the narrative in that they are strong, powerful, and possess a whole lot of crazy determination. The Baby, in all its glorious weirdness, can read as a cautionary foreshadowing that when the balance of power shifts towards that of women that it must do so in correlation to the regression of men.
Here men are superfluous if even at the heart of the female character’s actions. In the case of “Baby” (he has no other name), his mother and sisters have infantilized him in a desperate attempt to control the only man they can. It’s established early on that the mother (Mrs. Wadsworth) has had three different children by three different husbands all of whom eventually abandoned her. Damaged herself, she goes to great psychological lengths to ensure, by whatever means necessary, that the last remaining male family member never grows up, never leaves, never has the upper-hand. Lest we forget: “Baby” doesn’t walk. “Baby” doesn’t talk. “Baby” doesn’t stand.
The Baby is arguably one of the most bizarre psychological horror movies ever produced and it’s a devilish delight to play a voyeur unto the madness. In addition to the main narrative premise revolving around a grown-up man-baby (and that’s enough!), there’s the molesting babysitter, incest, canned baby screams/laughter, tremendously bad hair, a swinging party, and duplicitous murder…essentially you have one tell of story on your hands. Laughing at this outlandishness while being completely in awe is part of The Baby’s irresistible charms. Bizarre from its very first moment, it descends into utter insanity with a twist ending that amps up the WTF factor exponentially. It’s camp without the pomp, horror without the gore, a bad movie gone awfully good.