Schlock & Awe: THE DEVIL WITHIN HER
by Kyle Anderson on September 25, 2013
Evil little kids are certainly nothing new to horror films. Pre-pubescent terror goes all the way back to things like The Bad Seed and Village of the Damned. With Roman Polanski’s masterpiece, Rosemary’s Baby, a new and even younger breed of murderous child movie was ushered into the public consciousness: the evil BABY movie. All make, model, and serial number of these movies where a woman carries and gives birth to the literal spawn of Satan were produced in the early ’70s to capitalize on the worldwide phenomenon of demon newborns, and pretty much all of them are stupid. It’s a baby! How could babies be scary? While most of these films dealt with it in terms of the baby having psychic powers, one movie, 1975’s The Devil Within Her, actually has a super strong, violent baby who punches people. I… I really wish this movie was fake.
As with a number of horror films that are dumb, The Devil Within Her was released under a number of different titles, including the evocative I Don’t Want to Be Born, the incredibly boring The Monster, and my personal favorite, Sharon’s Baby. Why is that one my favorite? Because the character who has the baby (played by renowned ice queen Joan Collins) is very clearly named “Lucy.” Lucy; not Sharon. There are, in fact, no characters, nor any members of the cast or crew, named “Sharon.” It’s nothing more than an example of studios wanting to capitalize on the success of another movie and not even bothering to get the name of the movie’s lead right. Lucy’s Baby would have been just as exploitative as Sharon’s Baby and actually been pertinent to the goddamn film.
Directed by horror film and British television stalwart Peter Sasdy, the film plays like a who’s who of English scary-movie titans. Besides Collins, we have Donald Pleasance, Ralph Bates, and the lovely Caroline Munro, whom I don’t believe ever uttered a line of dialogue in any movie that wasn’t dubbed by another actress. Joining them are Eileen Atkins, a very calm and put-upon little baby, and a creepy, lecherous dwarf. The more I describe this movie, the more I realize it sounds made up. I swear it is not. This is a real movie with a script and shots and editing and music, and I watched it, you guys. I watched this whole thing.
The film opens with Joan Collins (Lucy, lest we forget) having a whole lot of trouble giving birth. Her doctor, Donald Pleasance, makes note that the child doesn’t seem to want to be born. It is, of course, born and is very large, a 12-pounder, much bigger than a child that had been produced by Joan Collins or her comically rich Italian husband, Gino (played by Ralph Bates) should be. The very first thing the baby, Nicholas, does upon being held by his mother is to attack her, drawing blood. When they take him home, he, somehow, is able to get out of his crib, ransack the place, then return to his crib before his parents are ever able to see it happen.
Gino’s sister, a Roman Catholic nun (Eileen Atkins), arrives in London to visit and to continue her veterinary work (question mark). She senses a very strange aura around the child, which makes sense given that he does evil things like drown his nanny and put rats in the housekeeper’s tea. Whenever she gets close, he screams bloody murder. He doesn’t like crosses, apparently. She consults with Dr. Pleasance and the two have a conversation about the nature of science versus religion, which is much too well-acted a scene to be in this stupid movie.
There is a reason why the child is evil and strong and violent: he’s cursed by a vengeful dwarf. Before Lucy was an Italian person’s bride, she was a stripper at a rather seedy club with a dwarf emcee named Hercules. Hercules really wanted to have sex with Lucy and made it known by coming up behind her and rubbing himself on her, like any gentleman would. When she spurns him in favor of the skeevy club owner, Hercules places a curse upon her womb, destining her to bear the devil’s offspring, “as big as I am small,” and with an inherent hate for its mother. Good job, Herc. From this point forward, there are rapid edits of the actor playing Hercules in the crib acting like the baby and causing Joan Collins to scream.
As the film goes on, the baby picks off more and more people one by one in various horrible ways, including hanging his father from a tree and decapitating Donald Pleasance with a shovel. What I really don’t understand (apart from how this movie got made) is what exactly the kid’s problem was. The actual Hercules is shown throughout the movie, seeming perfectly pleasant and cheerful and never once mentioning the horrible curse he laid upon the woman he tried to rape. So, if the baby was unaffiliated with the dwarf after the initial cursing, why does Joan Collins see Hercules when she looks at the baby? And why would he not have wanted to be born? Surely the offspring of Lucifer would rather enjoy being born and getting to wreak things akin to havoc.
The stupidest part of the whole dumb movie is the way they try to depict this small, cute infant committing heinous crimes: the filmic art of showing nothing. Someone will lean into the crib and off-screen we’ll hear the sound of the baby hitting or whatever, then there’ll be a recoiling shot of the person grabbing their face or arm, then a shot of the baby looking as calm and peaceful as ever. Occasionally, we’ll get a clearly-adult hand pushing or swinging, but mostly it’s all just suggested because they didn’t have a puppet baby or want to use a small actor even though the whole crux of the idiotic story is that a small person was behind it AND is used several times in place of the baby for shock. Let me tell ya: trying to make it look like a baby swings a shovel or climbs a tree and lowers a noose without ever seeing the baby is IN-EF-FECTIVE.
The Devil Within Her is just such a weird and ridiculous concept, handled in a haphazard and inept manner that yielded nothing but giggles out of me. If you want a good, derisive chuckle, then feel free to give it a watch, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.