Release Date(s)1973 (September 25, 2018)
Studio(s)Quintet Productions/Scotia International (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: D
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B-
There’s almost nothing quite as awkward or bizarre as 1973’s The Baby, a film that was partially marketed as a sexploitation thriller, but in actual fact, is an unorthodox piece of horror cinema. The premise: the Wadsworth family harbors an adult man who has been repeatedly abused since childhood and remains infantile, having never been permitted to talk, walk, or do anything on his own. But when a new social worker comes to visit the family and interferes with their torturous ways, things quickly escalate into full-blown hysteria with deadly consequences.
It bears repeating: there’s nothing like The Baby. It’s one of the most unusual films ever to come out of the 1970s, or any decade for that matter. It has the look and feel of a TV movie of the week, which is partly why it feels so shocking. There’s nothing in it that’s overtly horrific or gory, but certain scenes leave you with a sense of needing an immediate shower, as if you’ve been watching something that you’re not allowed to watch. One scene in particular, involving a babysitter and the titular Baby, is bound to leave you with a feeling of total unease.
Looking beyond that, it’s actually a fairly well-made film. It has a lot in common with films like Diabolique in that when you get to the twist ending, you realize you’ve been watching an entirely different film than what you thought you were watching, making you re-evaluate it from the beginning. There are also some zealous performances, particularly from Anjanette Comer as the social worker and Ruth Roman as Mrs. Wadsworth, not to mention David Mooney (billed as David Manzy) as Baby. He really goes for it with his portrayal, and never once do you feel like he’s anything other than what he is. With cinematography by Michael Marguiles (Police Academy) and a score by Gerald Fried (Paths of Glory, I Bury the Living), The Baby is an absurd but entertaining sidestep into an odd world.
The Baby was previously released by Severin Films on Blu-ray in 2014, and now 4 years later, Arrow Video re-releases the film from a high definition transfer provided by Ignite Films from the original 35mm camera negative. Since the film was shot open matte, they have provided viewing options in both 1.78:1 and 1.37:1 aspect ratios. No matter which option you choose, it’s a natural, organic presentation with high levels of detail, nice grain reproduction, and excellent depth. The color palette offers a variety of mostly vintage hues, but bolder primaries do occasionally slip in. Flesh tones are decent, perhaps a little too warm, but black levels are deep with good shadow detail and terrific brightness and contrast levels. It’s also a stable presentation with some leftover damage including scratches and speckling, which is more pronounced in certain areas than others. The audio is provided in English mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a narrow presentation, as to be expected, but it features good dialogue reproduction and plenty of clarity for score and sound effects. There’s no heavy distortion to speak of, but there is some hiss and occasional crackle leftover.
Extras include an audio commentary with film journalist Travis Crawford; A Family Affair, a 6-minute interview with actor Marianna Hill; Nursery Crimes, a 6-minute interview with the nursery paintings creator Stanley Dyrector; Down Will Come Baby: A Retrospective, a 12-minute look back at the film with film professor and podcaster Rebekah McKendry; Tales from the Crib, a 20-minute archival audio interview with director Ted Post; Baby Talk, a 15-minute archival audio interview with actor David Mooney; the film’s original theatrical trailer in HD; and a 24-page insert booklet with the film essay A Boy’s Best Friend is His Mother: The Baby, The Monstrous Mother, and Sickness Within the American Family by Kat Ellinger, as well as restoration details.
There’s no way I can recommend The Baby to just anybody. As Rebekah McKendry states in her interview, it’s not a movie you can just sit down and watch with your loved ones like it’s a normal movie, because it’s not. However, if you’re interested in seeing something truly off-the-wall, then Arrow Video’s presentation of The Baby might have something to offer you.
- Tim Salmons