The Devil Within Her (1975)

JANUARY 10, 2013


I am seriously considering writing a book about 70s Exorcist knockoffs and wannabes, because with each one I watch I find myself more and more fascinated by the fact that so many were made (and also that Exorcist II's batshittery may be the result of a creative team more concerned with competing with these things than with following up the original). Hell, this one confuses right off the bat; Netflix has it as The Devil Within Her, but the Wikipedia page goes under its original title of I Don't Want To Be Born and the IMDb goes with Sharon's Baby, the least interesting and sort of misleading to boot.

Sure, there's some Rosemary in there, but it would be more like a sequel since the baby is born in the opening scenes. No, this is a cross between Exorcist and It's Alive, featuring a baby that will bite or tear at anyone who gets close, and can only be saved by a 3rd act exorcism. Sadly, we don't see the baby actually do these things - someone will lean in and then there will be a cut to another character as we hear a pained cry, and then suddenly the victim will have blood on their face. "He did that on purpose!" they'll say, and then we'll move on, never actually getting to see a little baby inflict violence. Hilariously, the baby they got is clearly under duress for most of its shots, so we're led to believe it just bit a guy or something when it's clearly just sort of confused or in need of a nap. It's like the rats in Rats - the visuals never quite match up to the dialogue with regards to how much danger the "villain" poses, and thus we just have to take their word for it or use our imaginations.

As these things go, it's not quite as insane as I thought it would be - in fact I kept getting the sneaking suspicion that they thought this was a serious horror movie (the Wikipedia backed me up!), as the more exploitative elements were rather subdued compared to a Manitou or Beyond The Door. The body count is rather high, but without the ability to see the baby doing anything, they're all rather tame, like a whodunit slasher movie where the killer doesn't have a costume - all closeups and such. One character is beheaded near the end, and all I could think was "how is the baby getting that shovel up so high?" - not only do you have to use your imagination to know that the baby is evil, you also have to use it to provide the comedy that those other flicks offer in spades.

Hell, even Donald Pleasence isn't as whacked out as I'd like. He gets in one great line (might be a little off, but it's basically "I thought today would be boring, but here I am talking about mysticism with an Italian nun."), but otherwise this is one of his unfortunate "normal" roles, and he's not in it all that much to boot. Most of the upfront silliness is given to the villain, a pervy dwarf who curses Joan Collins after she spurns his advances, which is why she has an evil baby. If I'm not mistaken, he's actually possessing the tyke - they cut in shots of his face over the baby's on occasion in order to hammer home what is happening, but being a 1970s Exorcist wannabe you can be assured that the specifics are a little vague.

Plus, it seems like director Peter Sasdy (of Stone Tape fame! Also the far more satisfying Hands Of The Ripper) is more interested in showing off London - establishing shots are frequent and overlong, and no one goes anywhere without a shot or two of them walking down the street or whatever. Big Ben makes an obligatory appearance, and a few other familiar sites pop up more often than, say, an actual shot of a murderous baby (come on! Even a damn hand puppet would have been acceptable!). Again, the body count is decent, but the scenes themselves rarely have any buildup, and what comes between them isn't nutty enough to really elevate this into "Holy shit!" territory - lot of filler, lot of not-funny conversations, etc. In other words, it often plays out like a real dramatic horror film, except it's about a horny dwarf cursing an ex-stripper so that her baby decapitates dudes with shovels. So, no.

What a cast though, huh? Collins and Pleasence would be enough to satisfy, but Hammer regular Ralph Bates plays Collins' husband, and Caroline Munro plays Collins' best friend who helps her out in the movie's first half but then largely disappears until she shows up again, now sleeping with the guy Collins used to bang - a sleazy strip club owner played by John Steiner. Steiner would go on to appear in Shock, which is also known as a sequel to Beyond The Door - both of those films involved similar subject matter, so that's kind of a fun little bit of trivia. Oh, and the guy playing the dwarf was one of the Oompa Loompas, so he had a knack for being terrifying, I guess.

Thus, it's not without its charms and merits, but I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed that I only felt my jaw drop 2-3 times during its 95 minute runtime. After seeing the trailer at the New Bev a while back (before Beyond The Door, I think) and seeing Pleasence in the cast I truly thought this would be the Citizen Kane of batshit 70s supernatural movies, but it's more of an entry level film in that wonderful sub-genre.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. I love this movie, but it's probably more about my love of Collins - and especially 70s-era Collins where she did everything from appearing in Italian sex comedies and poliziotti to The Stud and The Bitch, to Amicus anthologies to fighting giant ants for Bert I. Gordon. All the while looking amazing....


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