JULY 14, 2012
Maybe someday a horror movie will find a couple trying some new procedure in order to have a child and things will go perfectly well for them in that department, but they'll be menaced by bears or something on the way home. Until then, we have movies like The Unborn, which plays out almost exactly as you might expect it will as soon as you know a. the setup and b. that it's a horror movie.
However, the devil's in the details, and thanks to some inspired bits of insanity (all in the 3rd act, sadly) and a few bit parts played by future stars, this one manages to squeak past security and land in "worth a look" territory. I should also stress that just about every movie I've seen that is similar (It's Alive II, Blessed, even Godsend kind of fits) I've only seen because of HMAD, so maybe you're not as privy to the "If you don't make a kid the normal way it'll kill you" sub-genre and thus will be more surprised by its chain of events. But to me it was all pretty paint by numbers, plus the guy who runs the clinic is James Karen, so you know something's up because he's the one who screwed over the similarly "nice normal family" in Poltergeist.
Unfortunately the baby takes a while to be born, and the movie isn't all that exciting until that point. Brooke Adams as the mom starts to experience mood swings and such, but for the most part it's just TV movie-esque melodrama... until she tears her cat apart with her bare hands and then talks to it as if it's just sleeping, at which point she decides the cat just wants its mouse toy and tears the house apart looking for it. It's a major turning point for the flick, which just tosses in more weirdness from there - the apex being when, apropos of nothing and never addressed, a little person rolls out on a skateboard, smiles at Adams, and then rolls away. I've seen a lot of weird stuff over the years but that one's for the record books, in my opinion.
The mutant baby is also pretty awesome - the design is cool and he's pretty vicious, stabbing a dude in the eye with a knitting needle and causing a car wreck later on. And he's the only one who gets some play, as Adams goes into the lab and, in a somewhat disturbing setpiece, shoots the makeshift embryos that are holding a bunch of others. Mutant or not, it's just weird seeing little babies being shot and exploding in gory fashion. And then consider that it's the "action" highlight of the movie!
One thing about the movie that could have helped is a stronger role for the husband. He disappears for most of it (business trip), and while I get the need to isolate Adams for when she starts to suspect something is amiss, we never get his take on events, reducing him to a glorified extra, basically. Other characters come and go with alarming frequency; she meets someone in passing and suddenly they might as well be best friends, and another character seems to switch from villain to hero out of nowhere. It's a short film, so I can't help but wonder if they had a 1:45 or so version of the movie and then cut it down to 80 since it'd just be another 25 minutes until we got to the mutant baby.
Lisa Kudrow, however, was probably never intended to be in the movie more. Sporting brunette locks and a very perky demeanor, she pops up in one of her first roles as a nurse in the clinic - her entire role is showing the husband to the room where he must produce a sperm sample. It's always amusing to see future stars in bit roles like this, and this one's an all time classic considering the circumstances. I also delighted at seeing Kathy Griffin as one of the teachers at the "natural" Lamaze type class Adams attends, which has its own creepy agenda as well. Not that I'm a fan of hers - on the contrary, I was delighted because her character is smacked around with a hammer. If only it were Whitney...
Speaking of her character, the movie seems to have a very conservative slant. Our villains are lesbians and scientists, abortions have horrific results, etc. I'm not sure if it's intentional or not, but it definitely feels like it was written by FOX News interns at times. Even Adams' character is old-fashioned; things are fine when she's just sitting at home being a mom, but when she attempts to further her career by going on a talk show, horrible things happen. OK, we get it! Nothing should have changed since the 1930s!
When I attempted to find any background info on the flick (I was not successful) I discovered that a sequel was made a few years later, although it seems to be "in name only" as the only name in cast OR crew that returned was producer Roger Corman (though I can assume it was about the same experimental lab, at least). Director Rodman Flender went on to make the underrated Idle Hands, and screenwriters John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris have worked on a number of huge movies, including T3 and David Fincher's The Game. Not too shabby for all this talent to come out of a goofy little movie like this.
What say you?