Tuesday, January 24, 2012

and it's back to work!

and so we return for another week in what will hopefully be a more consistent run here at the Third Row.

During that downtime of trying to get things back up and running over the last few months, several questions emerged as far as how to improve the content here. ...well, beyond there actually being some to begin with.

While these general entries on news and wrap-ups have been nice, they do seem to be missing out on part of what this blog was started to do - review and spread the word about some of the weirder shit out there in film. The kinds of things where, unless you're actively digging, you don't get to hear as much about them, if at all.

With this in mind, we're going back into the radioactive sections of the cinematic salt mines to try and bring up some more mutants to show you all. These plan to be especially interesting since most of these even I haven't seen before sitting down to write about them.

So we're all getting something out of this (...beyond the inevitable regret later.)

Anyway...with that in mind, here we go


No doubt we're all familiar with the old saying about imitation as the sincerest form of flattery. There's certainly some truth to this phrase, of course. If something gets aped by enough people, it's cause it was seen as good enough the first time to follow the example of.

...of course, this doesn't always assume the imitator will be as good as the original. In fact, more often than not, it will likely completely miss what made the original good and instead just serve as an example of how not to do it...

...assuming it's remembered anyway.

Which brings us to this week's film.

In the aftermath of the smash success of William Friedkin's The Exorcist in '73, we inevitably saw, as big successes tend to do, a metric crapton of knockoffs and cash-ins on the occult horror genre. Yes, metric crapton is a technical term. They don't recognize it as a form of measurement in the US, but take my word for it.

In the midst of this, in 1975, came this rather curious mess. A film that I haven't rightly named yet because I'm not sure which name to call it by (as of my last check, I count four titles.)

In starting, I should probably identify it by the title that first made me curious. As a general rule, I try to learn more about a film before I let myself get interested, but in this case, it was really hard not to be sold right off the bat. How often can you find a movie with the title 'I Don't Want To Be Born'?
...no. Really. That actually is one of the titles it was marketed under.
This film has also, over the years, been marketed under the titles 'Sharon's Baby', 'The Monster', and 'The Devil Within Her' (the latter proves rather interesting as this was also used as an alternate name for another failed occult horror film a year prior called 'Beyond the Door'.)

Title number two on that list is also part of where my misconceptions about what this movie would be lifting from came from. I mean, yes, riding the Exorcist gravy train was inevitable for the time period, but with an alternate title like this and a plotline involving a baby possessed by the devil, one would inevitably expect the movie to be also riding the coat tails of Polanski's Rosemary's Baby.

To their credit, it wasn't an RB knockoff...
...in turn however, the resemblance to Ray Bradbury's short story 'The Small Assassin' raised eyebrows at several points (which is kind of sad since the first time I read the story, I felt like it could honestly make a great short movie.)

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

To sum up the movie for those who haven't seen it, heard of it, and who may likely have no interest in seeing it for yourselves, let's try and sum this up.

The movie follows British couple Lucy and Gino Carlesi . The movie begins with Lucy giving birth. The birth itself doesn't appear to be going well. By 'not going well' I mean that 'guest star' Donald Pleasance describes it as "It's like he doesn't want to be born." Why this element is brought up in the movie isn't really clear. I mean, it's discussed in passing in a scene or two, but it never really seems to amount to anything.

There is certainly something up with the child, however. As we learn in a flashback, the baby itself has been cursed by a dwarf.

Exhibit A, ladies and gentlemen.

...I'm gonna let that sit for a second before I explain.

...OK? We good?

OK. Now, to explain, early in the movie, we learn that Lucy (played by Joan Collins), prior to meeting her husband, worked as a dancer in a British club. The nature of the dancing seems to vary from whether it's full on stripping, or just some still-dressed burlesque dancing...largely dependent on how much of a sleazy bastard they want her former boss (John Steiner) to be. Anyway, in flashback, we learn that, alongside the numerous women in various phases of undress, one of Lucy's costars was a dwarf named Hercules (George Claydon, who spends much of this movie looking downright uncomfortable to be there.) It turns out Hercules had a thing for Lucy...and by a thing, I mean we find out Lucy just seemed to be a magnetic for lecherous guys back in the day. In this case leading to quite possibly the only film where one will ever see Joan Collins being groped by a dwarf. However, Lucy is a principled woman (she's already sleeping with the boss,) so she turns Hercules down.
Bowing out gracefully, he proceeds to curse her in probably one of the most straightforward, if lackluster ways possible, transcribed for your
(Note: To properly maintain effect, the line must be said all in one breath with no breaks.)

Now, despite the fact that Hercules appears to have NO occult credentials beyond the fact that he's a dwarf, which this movie seems to believe is enough, his curse DOES somehow come to pass. Little baby Nicholas is seen as bigger and heavier than most babies...and possessed of a tendency for physical violence (within a day, the child is somehow able to rake his fingers across Lucy's face and draw blood, for just one example.)

Maybe this is just me talking, but if this

Can do this
There's a distinct possibility you probably had it coming

As far as the baby's concerned, I want to clarify something. As you can see, this baby looks perfectly normal. It's not like this is 'It's Alive' where the baby is a fanged, clawed monster that can slaughter anything that comes near it. In fact, most of what it does happens, almost comically, off screen. In fact, the only times we get any sort of confirmation the baby has any stake beyond the ending come either
a) when the child is confronted with Christian elements (primarily Sister Albana, a nun and Gino's own sister, whose presence induces Nicholas to not only cry, but summon a sound I'm sure they meant to sound evil, but really sounds more like applause.)
b) During a few select moments, usually when Lucy's watching, when the baby turns into Hercules. In fact, the movie seems to suggest that, with a few exceptions, the baby does seem to channel him whenever he's about to kill someone.
Also, whenever Nicholas 'turns into' Hercules, he's wearing the same outfit.
Leading to moments like this:

Which looks better
or 2?

In true horror movie fashion, most of the cast remain oblivious to Nicholas's evil, often falling into their predictable roles - Ralph Bates (as Gino) is the loving father who can't seem to see his child as evil, Joan Collins half-sees it, but doesn't really seem to do anything for it, Donald Pleasance is the classic 'rational science' guy who's doomed to die just because he's not gonna see it coming. In fact, Eileen Atkins's Sister Albana seems to be the only person who knows what's what, which is why she seems to be the only one to take any action (in a finale that screams that it was harvested from The Exorcist.)

Though to be fair, casting the devil out
WAS seen as a valid parenting technique during the mid-70s.

Anyway, much of the baby's killing spree is, as said, done off camera, what few onscreen antics we do see being carried out by Claydon dressed as a child (in arguably the creepiest part of the movie.) As a result, over the course of the movie, we see the cast being lured to their deaths by some bizarre giggling after which they're taken out by someone off-camera. I can kind of see why, to a degree...I mean it WOULD be hard to take the site of people being murdered by a baby seriously (even less so a dwarf dressed like a baby) but really, the fault there lies less in the filmmakers and more in the concept itself.

Is this the most embarrassing death in a horror film?
Perhaps not, but it sure makes a strong bid for it.

To that end, the execution in general doesn't help here either. With a good cast and director, a weak idea can still manage to pass for watchable. Unfortunately, this film doesn't really seem to capture any of the three. Most of the cast are largely just there for the paycheck and mostly just reading their lines off without much effort (Hilary Mason as the couple's nanny/housekeeper is particularly bad at this.) Overall, only two of the cast members in this actually do feel like they're making an attempt...and of those, only one really seems to succeed. Donald Pleasance, in a shift from many of his standard roles, actually manages to come across as warm in this movie...of course, that's also largely thanks to the lack of performances by much of the supporting cast. The one other attempt at effort coming from Bates as Gino, who proves that the British rule about accents DOES have its exceptions, care of an Italian accent that feels strangely reminscient of Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat voice.

In trying to figure out how to sum this up...several hours later, about the best thing I can think to say about the problem with this movie is...it doesn't seem to add up at all. I don't mean it doesn't make sense. It's pretty easy to parse out the plot to. Nor do I mean I'm automatically opposed to the idea of a film with its own warped sense of logic (Hell, some films it's great, such as the Adam West Batman movie, where Batman has the deductive skills of Sherlock Holmes dropping acid.) The problem here is just...there's no real reason for the entire premise to be happening. In a setting that is otherwise free of any occult presence, the idea that one dwarf was miffed that he only got to second base (and a very half-hearted second base at that) and, summarily, would be able to cast a curse on the spot in a single exclamation: a curse that, with no sort of ritual or offering, cursed a woman to bearing a child that would be channel to himself and the Devil.
How badly off is the Devil in this movie that he is able to respond to such a request on relatively short notice without the dwarf appearing to make any offer on his end of things? It makes Satan seem like a failed actor who takes bit gigs on third-rate television shows cause he's THAT desperate for any sort of work.
This almost sounds less like something from a modern day horror
story and more from a fairy tale...though I'd like to believe even a fairy tale would do a bit better than "But alas, because the princess would not let the dwarf do more than clumsily fondle her breasts, due to her own tawdry affair with the local prince, he placed a sinister curse on her."
...it just feels like a really weird place to start a story from.
Also, the writers don't even seem to know how far they want this curse to go. After the dwarf lays it, it never appears on his part again, despite his receiving more screen time than was probably needed. In fact, after that flashback, we get almost no indication he's ever done anything occult or unsavory for the rest of the movie. It isn't until the very end of the movie that an attempt is made to reconcile this plot thread, but in the end all it really accomplishes is ripping off a better class of movie and properly showing Claydon's apparent agony at being in this film.

Here we see him being brought back
after another failed attempt to escape.

I know some would argue I'm expecting too much of this, and that I should tell myself it's just a movie...but the problem is, most other bad movies, I can at least make out some semblance of logic. It's usually sporadic and badly done, but there's at least more of a sense of method to it. This is one of those rare cases of a bad film where I can almost picture the writer responding to questions with "Just cause."
Whether this is because this was just a completely mishandled storyline, or maybe this script got run through a thresher during production, I don't know. If anyone can fill me in, by all means do so...but as it stands, the finished product just sounds like it got rolled out in five minutes and was followed by the statement "If we hurry, we can still make happy hour."

On a plus, there is some nice unintentional comedy (for an example, see the image below, placed at the bottom for the spoiler-sensitive.) But overall, unless you're keen for a mess of a movie that manages to misfire almost every cylinder, but sometimes timing itself just right to get a few laughs at just how bizarre it gets, you're not likely to get anything else of note from this film...
...unless maybe you have a thing for Collins. If that's the case, then you might find some benefit in this afterall, since the film does manage to find a few excuses to show her in her underwear (just realize if you are one of the people in that camp, you will have to deal with some creepy dwarf presence in one of them.)

Not there just yet, but just keep reminding yourself
a baby channeling a dwarf's strength is doing this.
It won't make it any less ridiculous, but it MIGHT
make it funnier.

With this, things seem to be getting back on track. Please join us again next week when we reach into the horrific grab-bag of worldwide cinematic insanity the web has to offer.
Just remember, after this week, we can still go further downhill.

...aaaand NOW for the prime spoiler

and in two swings of a shovel, this baby manages
to accomplish what it would later take
Michael Meyers six movies to accomplish.
Sad, really.

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