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I Don’t Want To Be Born

I have a shocking confession to make: I don’t own many movies featuring dwarves. When our fearless leader Keith suggested submitting a review to the little people roundtable, I was forced to confront this deficiency. A couple of my kung fu flicks might feature cameos by short actors, and sure I’ve got the Weng Weng spy epics, but those are already well served by reviews here. Willow? Too obvious. Seven Dwarfs to the Rescue? Too awful — and given the venerable members of the B-Masters, one that’s quite possibly been covered elsewhere. So I have been forced to fall back on a movie from my home country of Great Britain’s 1970s, one which resides variously under the titles The Monster, I Don’t Want To Be Born, Sharon’s Baby* and A Colossal Bag Of Concentrated Suck (one of these might not be real).

* the kind of attention to detail that made this film such a joy is summed up in the fact that there’s nobody in the movie called Sharon.

The film concerns Lucy Carlesi (venerated soap icon Joan Collins), a former cabaret dancer of some sort, currently attempting to give birth to her first baby. It’s not going well, causing the attending physician Dr. Finch (Donald Pleasence!) to observe “this one doesn’t want to be born!” I have to admit, if the first sight to greet me was creepy-looking Donald Pleasence in a surgeon’s mask I might be a bit reticent too. So our credits play out over Finch and the nurse attempting to forcibly drag the baby from Lucy’s womb. We know this is a difficult process because of the exaggerated zoom effect director Peter Sasdy throws in as Lucy’s POV. This would be a tense scene except for the jazzy lounge music serving as a theme, which surprisingly comes from the baton of Doctor Who composer Ron Grainer.

Anyway, the baby is eventually born whether he wants to be or not, much to the delight of Lucy’s husband Gino (Ralph Bates). Bates, as you probably know, was the guy Hammer tried to break in the 1970s as the next Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee. It wasn’t an overwhelming success, probably because Bates never had the charisma of those two legends, but also because he was saddled with fairly indifferent material. Of his Hammer work there’s some good (Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde) and a fair amount of bad (everything else).

Here, Bates plays an Italian businessman. Cue a performance that escaped from sitcom-land, when some wacky ne’er do well is trying to pass himself off as an Italian count or the Pope or something by going “Pizza! Spaghetti! Chianti!” in a patently false accent. Anyway, Finch tells Gino that his baby is healthy and unusually large. They discuss the baby’s name, Nicholas. “I want-a call-a him good EE-taliano name-a,” explains Gino, “but Loosee, she insist-a! Polpetini! Arrivaderci!” Something like that anyway. Incidentally, the pretty black nurse in this scene is none other than Floella Benjamin, who will be known to my fellow Brits (at least old ones like me) as a popular children’s TV presenter.

Things don’t stay idyllic for very long: after hearing a piercing scream, Finch and Gino race into Lucy’s room to find that she has apparently been bitten by the ba… the baby… OK. I’d wanted to get to the end of the review before addressing this, but honestly I can’t. It’s just too ridiculous not to get out of the way up front. We’re in familiar Rosemary’s Baby/Exorcist/Omen territory here, except that instead of a Satanic pregnancy, the Devil’s child or a possessed young girl, what we have here is… a killer baby.

And not just any baby, but a completely benign, affable-looking baby. Every time the wee tyke is supposed to attack, there’ll be a shot of someone leaning over the cot, an off-camera scream, the victim staggering back somehow bloodied, and then a cut to the little fella in his knitted mittens and hat. His expression, far from being sinister, seems to say “don’t look at me; I’m a baby. I still get praise for shitting myself.”

As soon as Lucy and Gino get the baby home, he attacks the housekeeper Mrs. Hyde (Hilary Mason, who’s been in everything from The Six Wives of Henry VIII to Robot Jox), and breast feeding is out of the question. Nicholas is also quite upset in the company of Gino’s sister, Albana, who’s a genuine Sister Albana in that she’s a nun (Eileen Atkins). Increasingly concerned, Lucy confides in her best friend, another cabaret artiste named Mandy. Mandy is played by the goddess in human form that is Caroline Munro, though for some reason her pleasant London accent has been overdubbed by someone else with a slightly different London accent. I’d question the reasons for this some more, but I’m still reeling from the FUCKING KILLER BABY!

While Mandy is at the house, the baby — oh God this is so ridiculous — ‘the baby’ goes crazy and wrecks his room. Distressed, Lucy tells a lengthy tale of her last night at the club where they both worked. Lucy’s act, which seemed to involve being dressed as a gypsy and not removing any clothing, was a smash hit with the rich sheiks and businessmen in the audience. Her act routine involved a hunchbacked dwarf, but again not in an apparently seedy way. I guess my idea of debauched 70s nightclub life is a little distorted. Anyway, the dwarf, Hercules (George Claydon) makes a pass at Lucy backstage, but she’s repulsed. Also she’s in the middle of a torrid affair with the club owner Tommy (John Steiner). Hercules, who doesn’t take rejection well, curses Lucy, telling her she’ll have a baby that will be possessed by the Devil. It’ll also be a giant, as big as he is small. The baby, irritatingly, remains resolutely normal-sized.

And thus the movie progresses with all the required beats. At Nicky’s christening the baby goes berserk, demonstrated by the actor playing the priest faux-struggling and waving the little shawl-wrapped bundle about like a rugby ball. Since the child is clearly, ha, out of control, Dr. Finch recommends a course of sedation and a live-in nurse (Janet Key). Before long the baby is trying to drown the nurse in the bath, and when that doesn’t work he manages to shove her onto rocks in a river. While sitting in his pram. Seriously.

While Lucy has horrible visions of the baby with Hercules’ face (realised by making poor George Claydon dress up as a baby and lie in a cot), Nicky is screaming with rage every time Sister Albana prays, or somehow teleporting dead mice into Mrs. Hyde’s tea. Lucy is still clinging to the idea that there may be a rational, scientific explanation for Nicky’s behaviour, and goes to see Tommy in case he has a family history of killer-baby disease. Y’see, Lucy was still sleeping with Tommy around the time she got pregnant, because I guess he couldn’t resist her gypsy-dancing-with-a-dwarf routine. Tommy turns out to be an unrepentant cad who is now sleeping with Mandy. Lucy meets him at the club where he’s auditioning strippers, which does allow the requisite bit of nudity into the film. Tommy is unimpressed, trying to convince Lucy to return to the stage. The gypsy/dwarf number was apparently such a hit that things have never been the same without it. With his charms failing to work on Lucy, Tommy demands to see the baby for himself. This doesn’t go too well when the little fella punches Tommy in the face.

With this violent bruiser of a child in the house, nerves are strained, so Gino convinces Finch to admit the baby to hospital while he takes Lucy on a therapeutic holiday. Nicky however has other ideas, luring Gino to the garden, slipping a noose around his neck and then dragging him several feet off the ground before hiding the body. A baby does all this, you understand. I feel it needs repeating.

So now with Gino missing Lucy really goes to pieces. Finch, convinced by Sister Albana that there may indeed be Satanic forces at work, goes to the house and finds what appears to be Gino’s decomposed body. Which is impressive given that he only disappeared the previous morning. Nicky doesn’t take too kindly to the discovery and beheads Finch with a garden spade. With everything spiralling out of control, Nicky finally attacks and kills Lucy. Sister Albana’s only option is to perform an exorcism, which has the added effect of causing Hercules to collapse and die mid-performance at the club.

Oy.

So I suppose the first thing to say about I Don’t Want To Be Born is that there’s nothing particularly inept about it, at least compared to other British horror cheapies of this era. Peter Sasdy was a decent TV and film director, working for Hammer among others. The cast are mostly solid, Ralph Bates’ mama-mia accent aside. Even Joan Collins, an actress who I largely can’t stand, isn’t terrible. This film was made during that period of her career she seems eager to forget, between the early ingénue days and the TV mega-stardom of Dynasty. This was the time Collins moved between TV guest slots and parts in crummy horror films, whether it was being attacked by super-enlarged footage of insects in Empire of the Ants or getting molested by a tree in Tales That Witness Madness. Caroline Munro isn’t in the movie nearly enough, but she does get to wear a basque and stockings, which is very welcome.

The problem here though — and it’s an insurmountable one — is this is a movie about a killer baby. I wish I could elaborate on that more, but every time I try to express my thoughts in a coherent fashion I just want to write KILLER BABY KILLER BABY KILLER BABY! Cinema is the medium of the imagination, and in the hands of a talented filmmaker anything is possible. So I suppose there may be a way to make a genuinely frightening, disturbing film about a killer baby. Sadly, this is not it. I don’t even LIKE babies and I think the little chap is cute. Does he want a lil’ dagger, does he? Yes, oosa cute ickle killer baby, yes you are…

Release year: 1975 | Country: England | Starring: Joan Collins, Eileen Atkins, Ralph Bates, Donald Pleasence, Caroline Munro, Hilary Mason, John Steiner, Janet Key, George Claydon | Screenplay: Stanley Price (screenplay) | Director: Peter Sasdy | Cinematography: Kenneth Talbot | Music: Ron Grainer | Producers: Nato De Angeles, Norma Corney | Alternate titles: The Monster, Sharon’s Baby

12 thoughts on “I Don’t Want To Be Born”

  1. Thanks, Dave. Throughout this roundtable I’ve been waiting for a writer to come along with the courage to confront those most horrible and fearsome of all little people. (By which I mean babies.) Nicely done.

  2. Yeah, down with babies!

    I saw this last year under the name The Devil Within Her. Man, this movie is whacked.

    I think the explanation for the baby being able to kill and maim so easily is that the dwarf’s possessing it and giving it his strength and agility and ability to walk upright and strong pimp hand and so on. I think that also explains the dreams Joan has, and the ending.

    I rather liked it (sometimes for its quality, sometimes for its ridiculousness), all things considered, but while I love Caroline’s outfit at the club, I hate that the movie teased me with topless Caroline and did not deliver. I kept waiting for gravity to do its damn job and pull down that sheet, but alas, it was not meant to be.

  3. “teased me with topless Caroline and did not deliver” — isn’t that basically a summary of every Caroline Munro movie?

    Also, “strong pimp hand” needs to be a kungfu technique

  4. Rev., yeah, that’s the theory, but the hopeless way in which they sell it (or rather don’t) left me reeling. It’s the wonderful quick cuts back to the baby that killed me every time.

    As for the Caroline Munro topless shot, even knowing that she never did nudity, I did wonder briefly if there might be a quick flash in the scene when she’s in bed with John Steiner. And indeed the sheet does work its way off… to reveal a large patch of hastily-applied sticking plaster. Another fine bit of attention to detail from Mr Sasdy.

  5. I thought the original IT’S ALIVE was a pretty good KIiller Baby movie. In a truly just world, John Ryan would at least have been nominated for a Oscar for his performance as the guilt-ridden father.

  6. This sounds like a rip-off of Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Small Assassin” first published in 1946. When it was filmed for “The Ray Bradbury Theatre” they were able to get around the cute-baby syndrome by doing close ups of the baby’s eyes filmed in slow motion to suggest the sinister intent. Bradbury suggests that along with childhood innocence comes childhood amorality.

  7. Keith: See, most of her movies I knew she’d never do it: the Sinbad one, Maniac, etc. This one…she’s working in a burlesque club/strip joint, and I figured she was too classy for it but DAMN was I hoping.

    Dave T: Yeah, I was watching very intently for it, and the almost-reveal just killed me.

    I’d normally be embarrassed to admit that sort of thing, but I have no shame when it comes to Caroline Munro. I’d love to meet her someday, but I have a feeling she’d wonder who let the drooling, incoherent retard loose. Same thing with Salma Hayek.

    I’d be worried about it happening if I met Michelle Yeoh, but I think her radiance would have me doing my best Major Toht impression before I could act the fool.

  8. I thought maybe Maniac

    This reminds me of a conversation I had with former TC writer Scott Adams about why we get such a joy out of nudity in movies, how we’ll watch intently for a half second flash of bare bosom or other uncovered human part when we could just watch the trillion hours of porn freely available on the internet. But there’s that thrill of discovery, and the fact that nudity in a regular movie is like a special easter egg, while nudity in porn is just nudity.

  9. Keith: especially in these days of no-nudity clauses and steamy sex scenes when participants never remove their underwear.

    Rev: Caroline Munro in real life is just super, super nice. When I met her she clocked immediately that I’d never been to a Hammer event before and instantly managed to put me at my ease, then had a nice chat with me about Dracula A.D. 1972. And told me she liked my from-that-moment-on favourite shirt.

  10. Well, now I’m spectacularly jealous of Dave. Thanks a bunch, chum.

    *wanders off grumbling*

  11. I have a built-in problem with “It’s Alive” that has nothing to do with the quality of it. Maybe it’s mainly because I’m not a parent, but that “parental instinct overcoming everything else” (or whatever you want to call it) theme of “It’s Alive” just doesn’t work for me. All I see is a baby committing a lot of killings! So any story of this kind where the baby is the “bad guy,” period, is kind of all right with me.

  12. I see what Bill Culbertson means about THE SMALL ASSASSIN. It might be less true if both stories didn’t have the doctor who performed the delivery coming to the rescue, or trying to.

    While reading this review (especially the part where he takes on his father’s face for a moment), I kept thinking of that cartoon where Bugs Bunny accidentally adopts the bank robber disguised as an infant!

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