Beware the devil baby, he’s gonna get you…
Joan Collins’ Lucy is cursed by a wee demon in this horror on a “spooky kid”.
The Devil Within Trailer (1975) -Trailer, Blazing Trailers and photos © American International Pictures / Fox-Rank
Today I’m reviewing a film that has more titles than the film’s leading lady’s Dynasty (1981) soap villainess character, Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan had husbands. Yes, it’s one from the multi-talented Joan Collins, here in one of her many Horror 1970s film appearances.
The titles for this film are – in no particular order – I Don’t Want to Be Born, The Devil Within Her, The Monster and Sharon’s Baby (1975), and these being just those titles I discovered in the English language, with god knows how many once you translate the others. Why Sharon? Don’t ask me, but hey ho. (Answers on a postcard…)
I’d therefore advise if after reading my review, you feel the urge to watch this film I suggest instead hunting it down by searching for it using its equally impressive British cast instead. The cast includes Eileen Atkins, Ralph Bates, Donald Pleasence and Caroline Munro.
This horror film is apparently a cult movie, and now a Realweegiemidget favourite in the so bad it’s good category. It’s one that had been on the to watch and review list after hearing just the words (uttered by my Darlin’ Husband) – Joan Collins, 1970s, horror and baby.
However, on watching the film, it was found to be one of those undiscovered gems of 1970s horror cinema, and surprisingly made before The Omen (1976). However, I’d compare it to this film’s sequel Damien: Omen II (1978).
This film also had a fabulously prolific cast with a versatile actress in a leading role (in The Omen sequel, Lee Grant), often shamelessly troped storyline and some “horror” special effects. These often ropey special effects (for both films) – apparently using mannequins – will make you laugh rather than cling onto your viewing partner in fear. Let’s just say, they make that disaster filled scene in The Cassandra Crossing (1976) look like the best film stop motion animation scene ever.
The story starts during the credits where Lucy Carlesi (Joan Collins) is giving birth to her child as the credits run on and on. Lucy’s traumatic childbirth scene – ie Joan thrashing about screaming – appears for most of the credits.
In the labour suite, Dr Finch’s ominous voice says “This one doesn’t want to be born.” Cue a huge pair of forceps. The owner of the voice is Donald Pleasence, and this is as foreboding as he gets. Then all are shocked at the huge size of the newly born infant.
We discover Lucy is blissfully married to Gino Carlesi who is a terribly (dull) wealthy English businessman with Italian roots. Yet he’s as British as they come. The pair living in splendour in a posh bit of London. The pair have a housekeeper, this to give time for Lucy to swan about in her chic 1970s wardrobe.
Their dulcet sounding obstetrician, Dr Finch (Donald Pleasence) advocating the new mother that she doesn’t breastfeed, so what else can you do? After the baby attacks Lucy, she’s a wee bit wary of the baby, so they get a nanny. This giving Lucy even more time to swan about.
The couple’s friends and family come to coo over the baby. Gino’s supportive and heavily Italian accented sister Albana (Eileen Atkins) flies over from Rome. For plot convenience, Albana is also a nun (see where we going). The idea of a flying nun is now riffed by Darlin Husband who was shocked Sally Field was not in this role. But I digress.
Collins’ best buddy is – in what would have been a wey hey hey moment for my dad – the always glamorous (and here add very in front of glamorous) Caroline Munro as Mandy. The wee baby lashes out at everyone and he trashes his room – without leaving his cot – so they ( and we) know he’s not as cute as he looks…
Throughout the film, the baby is then seen to be as evil as Damian Thorne and other spawns of the devil (see The Omen, Damien: Omen II etc) in dispatching death or other evil horrors to anyone in its path. This is carried out in horrific (read fun and imaginative) ways. This to the concern of all, with Lucy in tears and more hysterics from Lucy, when it’s first put down as postnatal depression by the kindly Dr Finch.
This baby’s cull count including killings (of mannequins) by beheading, hanging (followed by the body sliding into a drain), a push (yup, we even see the small infant culprit’s hand) next to a pond followed by drowning and more. Then the camera cuts back to a cute wee baby (with red paint optional on its face and hands or with an evil look at the camera, like it knew its nappy needed to be changed and everyone ignored him). For the squeamish, these scenes are more fun than horror so no need for a cushion.
Why is this an evil spawn you ask yourself… All is revealed with Lucy telling her friend Mandy (Monro) with a tell-all 1970s flashback (yay). The flashback showing Lucy’s pre-marriage life working for a sleazy Cockney stage manager with a villainous moustache, Tommy (John Steiner).
Lucy was an exotic dancer in an entertainment double act before Gino took her away from all that. One night after the show, Lucy is visited by her dance partner, Hercules (George Claydon). Lucy fends off his unwelcome advances and this is not easy despite Hercules being as tall as Peter Dinklage. But Hercules is significantly scarier.
Lucy screams (as only Joan can, and she’s got the CV to prove it). Luckily Lucy is saved by Tommy so she sleeps with him. However, on leaving work that night Hercules confronts Lucy and puts a curse on her saying;
You will have a baby… a monster! An evil monster conceived inside your womb! As big as I am small and possessed by the devil himself!
All this just days before she marries the hapless Gino. Then nine months later, the baby is born…
Back to the present day, where baby attacks or frightens the housekeeper and the vicar – cue more red paint. Everyone including our mild-mannered Dr Finch now believing this kid more than a wee bit evil. Things come to a head when the doctor suggests genetic testing… so Lucy visits her old stage manager, who comes to visit the “spooky kid”…
There are a lot of similarities to those other child-devil movies, and the film has been compared to Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and others of this ilk. Yet this films stellar British cast makes it more of a British homage to this genre than a ripoff.
This is primarily thanks to our national treasure Donald Pleasence and two future Dames, Joan Collins and Eileen Atkins acting their socks off. This with their convincing and credible acting despite the trope-filled script. This made the film have so much more of an impact than the later ripoffs, even with the many unintentional comic moments.
The characters did seem even more multi-troped than the script. The supporting characters showing many useful attributes. Atkins was not only Gino’s sister but also a nun with a career in animal pathology (as nun’s do?). Tommy was not only a possible father to the baby, he was also Lucy’s old stage manager and at the time of the story sleeping with Mandy.
Mandy was obviously a bit of an airhead with her character repeating Lucys history with her also an exotic dancer who was working and sleeping with Tommy. She also was dancing in a double act with Hercules. But there doesn’t (so far) appear to be a sequel to this film, where there could be (easily).
I adored the 1970s ambience, Collins’ and Monro’s enviably classy and fashionable wardrobe and headgear – with Collins doing her bit for the headscarf industry – both made a striking new mother and aunt. Both looking like they’d just walked out of a salon rather than the more true to life crumpled mess you’d expect.
As usual, the wardrobe was not as trendy for the actors and the supporting stars with one nanny outfit – as Darlin Husband put it – possibly then donated to Wendy Craig’s Nanny TV Series (1981-83). Bates had on average two changes in attire for the entire movie. This is compared to Joan’s constant dress changes for practically every scene.
Bates other wardrobe change is – one I’ll give him Brownie points for – him dressing up as a nun. This film decor exuded seventies design as much as Dorian Gray’s 70s pad in The Secret of Dorian Gray (1970).
Joan Collins gives a credible – make that incredible – performance as Lucy, a new mother who is tormented by her offspring’s apparent deadly behaviour. This giving Joan significantly less time than the others to chew scenery, making Joan perfect for this lead. As chewing scenery has never ever been Joan’s thing.
After seeing in her role in Tales from the Crypt (1972) and reading about her role in Tales That Witness Madness (1973) she elevates another campy script into an unforgettable – and at times riveting – watch. To give her credit, she did make Lucy a sympathetic and tormented character.
It was a nice change for all the other characters to support her plight, as at one point I believed the plot would go down the way to familiar postnatal depression or psychotic mental illness themed storylines. Donald Pleasence’s Doctor was calmer and understanding rather than patronising with his lulling and soothing voice.
Atkins was a joy and was more credible as a woman with Italian roots than her on-screen brother. Her Italian accent was flawless even if it wasn’t particularly relevant in the storyline. Again I was surprised with a lack of the “brought up by different parents” trope with her non-accented brother.
Collins had a wonderful on-screen rapport with her co-stars. With Monro, at one point it’s one for the dads with both actresses apparently in an off screen competition on who can exude breathless sexiness in one line, rather than concern or fear.
Ralph Bates sadly hasn’t much to do until the latter part of the movie, but it’s really Joan’s film. His character was more animated in his love scene with Collins. This scene shot, in that 1970s soft focus, haphazardly weird 1970s way and reminding me of a similar scene in (of all films) the Witchfinder General (1968).
So to sum up, I’d recommend this film, Joan Collins this same year headed the cast in Il richiamo del lupo. This was sadly an Italian Western with Jack Palance and not another horror, despite its English translation of The Call of the Wolf. The film’s English title, The Great Adventure (1975).
But then two years later, it was time for Joan to make another horror movie, (yay) after Joan joined the cast of Empire of the Ants (1977). This I remember as horror and kinda reminiscent of The Swarm (1978) but with ants, ants, ANTS!!!.
The Swarm of course also starred The Omen II‘s always versatile Lee Grant. Grant later wrote her autobiography I Said Yes to Everything. With just one look at Collins equally varied career, it seems Joan Collins should name her next tell-all book “I Said Yes to Everything Else.“
Weeper Rating: 0/10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂🙂 🙂10
Hulk Rating: /10
6th Annual Rule Britannia Blogathon 2019, No 75
This film review was added to A Shroud of Thoughts 6th Annual Rule Britannia Blogathon. Other reviews with this cast include Caroline Munro in Dracula 1972 AD and Starcrash. Joan Collins appears in her blogathon HERE, Dynasty, Star Trek, Quest for Love, The Time of Their Lives, The Cartier Affair and Prime Time Soap Stars in 80s Adverts. Eileen Atkins also starred in The Scapegoat. Donald Pleasence starred in The Black Windmill, The Eagle Has Landed, Halloween and Escape from New York.