The Devil Within Her/I Don’t Want To Be Born!, 1975. 6/10

Joan Collins in a horror movie? Relax, here’s Donald Pleasance as the nice doctor Finch. But Joan (Lucy), Ralph Bates as her husband Gino, and Eileen Atkins as Sister Albana are supposed to be Italians. Maybe Lucy’s baby Nicholas’s demonic possession via a spurned dwarf’s curse (that’s George Clayton as Hercules) requires some Catholic flavoring to make it ‘legitimate.’ We see that Sister Albana is not only an Italian nun, but Gino’s sister as well. Mrs. Hyde (Eileen Atkins) is the Carlesi’s housekeeper, and Jill (Janet Key) is the baby’s nurse.

How is it that Hercules has a backdoor to Satan? Shouldn’t he be a gypsy or something? By some cunning type-casting, the suddenly-Italian heroine is a stripper, as is Mandy (Caroline Munro); Tommy (John Steiner) runs the strip club, Hercules is sort of a prop in their acts.

It’s not too unusual to have a movie with two titles (for UK and US release), but three? How about Sharon’s Baby? That would be ok, but as is instantly obvious, no one here is named Sharon.

The premise, however, concerns Lucy’s child. Absurdly, it’s not small like a little Hercules, it’s–too large! Maybe a newborn can’t compare with a toddler’s acting skills; even so, this kid is widely considered as the cuddliest monster ever.

Well, “congratulations…its a boy” Gino is told by the doctor. Lest we forget what sort of movie we’re in, though, it’s mom who has the birthmark (err, baby nail marks on Lucy’s cheek). They bring baby Nicholas home.”we do weigh a ton, don’t we?” He bites Mrs. Hyde.

Gino gets a call from sister sister Albana. Gino goes back to work; Albana comes calling. The Italian accents are bad–I just don’t see the point of having these characters being Italians. Anyway, back home, Lucy welcomes Mandy. First order of business is having a drink “to you and the baby” is the toast; bemoaning her single status, Mandy opines that she’ll have “to bump and grind myself to death.” Hope not.

The baby’s raising hell upstairs–bites the head of a doll. “He frightens me…he hates me!” laments Lucy. Ok, time for the flashback: did she encourage Hercules? Backstage, one memorable night, he comes in, and starts to feel her up. Tommy rescues her (they’d had an affair, after all). The deal is, she’s off to Italy on the morrow “Italy here I come!”

But not before Hercules confronts her with his curse–she’ll have an “evil monster baby!” Sure enough–as we fast forward to the present–Nick’s spitting at Lucy. The nun offers her two cents “it’s always depressing after the excitement.” Grandma could say that, but a nun? Anyway, they get it baptized. Or try to.

It isn’t down with the ritual. “Is there any history of epilepsy in the family?” Asks Finch. No, but Lucy isn’t satisfied “how can you say there’s nothing wrong?!” The plan is medication–it’s like a juvenile delinquent. Finch thinks Lucy needs to see a shrink.

So, they hire a nurse (Jill) to take the pressure off. Lucy wants to tell Gino about the Herculean curse. After a night on the town, they find Jill upset. Seems Nicky gave her the evil eye or something. And gives it to mom (invoking an hallucination of Hercules). Lucy lays it on the line with Mandy “I think it’s possessed by the devil.”

Ah, a complication; seems that her pre-nuptial indescretion with Tommy could mean that he could be the baby-daddy. Meanwhile, Jill takes Nicky to the park in his pram. This time she doesn’t get off so lightly; she leaps into the pond and drowns. All of these attacks are indirect–we never see the kid do anything but stare at his prey. Then they magically get messed up. Very convincing.

Well, Jill has the honor of being discovered as nothing less than a floating corpse. “Accidents get stranger every day” notes the investigating detective. Indeed. He might’ve said the same of strange movies. Albana tells Gino that “Lucy believes that the baby is possessed–of the devil [deh-eh-vail]”. Anyway, she suggests that Gino make tracks to Italy; she’ll look after things on-site.

They pray. I doubt it will help; no way God’s gonna watch this mess. Mrs. Hyde is in charge while Lucy goes out. After throwing out a dead mouse, Mrs. Hyde discovers one stewing in her tea. Hercules is pounding the streets; Lucy skulks about, trying to avoid him. She ducks into the club, where Tommy is nonchalantly watching strippers audition.

He more than ogles her. Across town, Albana looks in on the doctor. Oh, somebody fall out of a tree or something. The street scenes are jaunty, but whenever we get back to the story, numbness sets in. Anyway, here’s a signature line “is it possible that the baby did not want to be born?” That’s actually an interesting query.

They is comparing notes on evil, violence. She thinks that the baby’s violence (?!) is an expression of that evil, a “revenge against being born.” My God, is he condescending to her. “If I detect a devil [in the baby] I’ll send for you.” In a trade of quips, she’s got the last word, though; she would make a pretty good doctor, but he wouldn’t be much of a nun.

Here’s Lucy and Tommy hanging out poolside. This guy is a smooth creep, sort of channeling Christopher Walken. “You’re not suggesting that the little bastard’s mine?!” Actually, yeah. So much for their nice get together. Strangely, he wants to see the “spooky baby.”

Of course, it goes nuts on him. A romantic night at home for the more or less happy couple, then? I’d rather see what’s going on at the strip club. Maybe if Gino morphed into Tommy, or lil’ ol’ Nick gave his mum and dad what for. Well, the tyke isn’t a happy camper–it busted out. A toddler runaway now.

By some infant magic, Gino is hung from the nearest tree when he goes in search of his son. It takes Lucy forever to not find him; actually he’s down a manhole cover, and Nick is back in his crib. So, she calls Gino’s office, then Mandy. That girl, unsurprisingly, is sleeping with Tommy. I can already think of a better plot line.

Why does Albana have a bunch of caged rats in the convent? Anyway, Lucy gives her the lowdown on her husband’s disappearance. “Gone like a puff of smoke” Mrs. Hyde says to Albana. More like a sewer rat down the drain. Time to go to the cops. Nick next attacks the good sister.

Finch comes calling. Somebody do something! How about a car crash? Lucy doesn’t want to live with the baby–no problem–he’s missing again in any case. Aha! Here’s something: looking out in the garden, Finch sees Gino’s hand sticking up out of the sewer access; thanks to a handy shovel, the dead arm makes short work of the doctor. Even better (they make a mean shovel over there), his head’s severed.

Lucy starts hallucinating Tommy; I think the point of this is to show that he’s indeed the father. Another good bit follows, as Lucy sees Jill’s corpse floating in the bathtub. Cool, now (ala 1962’s Carnival of Souls) Lucy opens the front door, and there’s cadaverous Albana. All this great stuff has been Lucy’s nightmare; and here I thought the rest of the movie was my nightmare.

Mandy calls from the club. There’s Hercules–but where has he been? The whole plot was his doing, and he’s more or less literally bowed out. Both Gino and Nick are missing; Lucy went to the police, but what of it? Just don’t go into the garden! She hears voices: it’s Hercules, hanging from a tree, with a knife. Sounds more and more like a gaslighting job on her. She hustles inside.

The baby’s at the door, with said knife. Naturally it stabs mom. Albana walks in the front door (she’s not really dead, as opposed to being once dead, or doubly dead). But she’s a bit stupid to go look in on devil boy. The child watches her exorcism commence–and launches a brisk counterattack; still, she’s relentless. At the club, it looks like Hercules is feeling the pain too.

Now baby is happy! He understands Latin. The successful ritual proves that nuns do make nice care-providers as well as exorcists. They understand that devil phase that we all go through. The police arrive, so belatedly, however, that the movie ends before they get in the door.

The last twenty minutes or so really saved this from the dust bin of cinema. And those scenes of genuine horror made me wonder why the gaslighting theme wasn’t further explored. Not to mention that the premise didn’t really work as is.

Why not have Hercules as a major character, and rival to Tommy (he sort of is anyway)? Focus on the club to draw the three of them together. Forget the baby, the husband, the nun and her rats, etc. Hercules curses her by trying to drive her nuts via all the cool hallucinations that make it into the latter part of the movie. She doesn’t know what’s really going on, maybe blames Tommy.

I say this because the actual situation is too absurd to suspend disbelief. The first problem is that the baby is just a baby. That leads to Plan 9 From Outer Space antics that the ‘victims’ have to mess themselves up. They have a string of happy accidents, or injuries that the baby obviously couldn’t have inflicted.

Things just plod along for an hour. That begs a huge of questions; other than Mrs. Hyde, no one seems to mind being attacked, or have bad things happen to them. Why would Jill or Mrs. Hyde want to deal with Nicholas at all? The police have no role, which would make sense–given that a baby couldn’t push an adult into a pond. But they’re not even curious about it.

Because the last part happens so quickly there’s not much time for the police to investigate. But we never see any sluething, even after Lucy’s shown going into a police station.

As mentioned, Mason and Steiner do a lot with their supporting roles; by contrast, it’s difficult to remember much about any of the other performances. Even Pleasance doesn’t show us much, least of all Collins. Not much of interest until we get near the end–then we have a brief though effective stretch of horror.

6/10 overall.

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