After “Rosemary’s Baby” came along in 1968, it opened up a whole world of movies with evil kids. Famously there was “The Omen,” but not-so-famously there was today’s film which features one mean little baby. It’s title sounds like it should be in that little curtained off, “adults only” corner of your local video store…but it’s a horror movie. It’s 1975’s “The Devil Within Her.”
The film begins with Lucy Calesi (Joan Collins) in the middle of giving birth. The scene is actually one of the most uncomfortable moments of the whole film, as Collins’ gasping from the pains of childbirth actually comes across as more orgasmic in nature. During the delivery, Dr. Finch (Donald Pleasence) comments that the child doesn’t seem to want to be born. Who can blame him…I mean, if there’s one thing that the movies have taught us it’s that it’s never a good sign when Donald Pleasence is your doctor. The original UK title of the film is “I Don’t Want to be Born.”
The child does end up being born, but before his father, Gino (Ralph Bates), can make it in to see him, he’s already causing trouble. The baby manages to scratch a huge gash in Lucy’s face with his nubby little fingernails. Troubles continue when they get the baby home. He tries to bite off the finger of their housemaid, Mrs. Hyde (Hilary Mason)…with his gums, no less. Later, during a visit by Lucy’s friend Mandy (Caroline Munro), they find that the infant has somehow managed to trash his room. Since this is the 70’s and there needs to be a religious element to any horror movie, Gino’s sister (Eileen Atkins) is conveniently a nun who seems to sense that something might be wrong with the baby.
Meanwhile, Lucy is troubled by memories of a strange incident that occurred shortly before she married Gino. Before her marriage to the wealthy Italian, she was a stripper in a strange act that involved a dwarf named Hercules (George Claydon). One night, Hercules tries to get a bit too cozy with Lucy in her dressing room…she is disgusted by him and sends him away. After that, she sleeps with the producer of the show, Tommy (John Steiner). Later, on her way out of the club, Hercules pops out and screams that she will have a baby “possesed by the devil himself.” I guess that could shake someone up. Remembering all this prompts Lucy to visit Tommy, fearing the baby may actually be his.
But more crazy things keep happening with the baby. In one scene he grabs his nursemaid’s hair and holds her head under the water while she tries to give him a bath. Later, while on a walk in the park, he manages to reach out of his baby buggy (presumably with Mr. Fantastic style stretching arms) and shove the nurse into a lake where her head splits against a rock…killing her. But both the doctor and the nun are on the case, doing various tests to try and determine what is wrong. Soon, Sister Albana decides that she must perform an exorcism…but how many will die before she succeeds?
I’m sure the filmmakers were completely serious about what they were doing, but the end result is wonderfully goofy. I mean, not only does this baby manage to bite without teeth and reach far enough to push a grown woman when he can’t even sit up…but apparently he also is able to climb trees and fashion nooses. Even factoring in demonic possession…come on!
The only word I can think of describe the over-acting in this film is “epic.” Joan Collins’ performance goes in a million different directions, and often the completely wrong way…that opening scene is just the start. One moment she’s calmly sippin’ drinks with Caroline Munro, a few seconds later she’s flailing around like a maniac. On the other end of the extreme, Donald Pleasence seems to be asleep through much of the film.
As you may have guessed, all this comes together to make a so-bad-it’s-good movie. It’s a strangely misguided response to other supernatural horror films of the late 60’s and early 70’s.