“Nothing in his nursery rhymes”: The 1973 cult classic “The Baby,” now on AMC’s Shudder

By on December 20, 2017

Night Flight recently partnered up with Shudder — the AMC Network’s horror streaming channel — and they’ve asked us to curate a guest row of content, and so we turned to our resident expert on ’80s cult horror, our social media editor KJ, who selected four films from their cult horror library.

We had asked members of Night Flight’s community to select the fifth movie you’ll find in our row of five cult horror titles, and the winner is David Cronenberg’s 1977 cult fave Rabid, which we recently wrote about in this previous blog post.

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The poll is now closed, and thanks for voting! By the way, we’re still offering 25% OFF on an annual subscription (regularly just $29.99 for the whole year) to Night Flight Plus (promo code: SHUDDER), and a free month of Shudder (promo code: NIGHTFLIGHT)!

Read more about the sixth movie featured in our now-closed poll, Ted Post’s low-budget cult classic psycho-thriller The Baby (1973) below.

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For our sixth of the six cult horror titles we’re asking the Night Flight community to vote on we have a movie that has been called one of the most disturbing movies in Hollywood history, The Baby.

1960s starlet Anjanette Comer — you may know her from her many TV roles during the 1960s and ’70s or as seductive mortician Aimee Thanatogenous in The Loved One (1965) — plays Ann Gentry, an idealistic L.A. social worker who gets a new assignment, to check in on the infant child of the eccentric and mysterious Wadsworth family.

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Ann — who has her own problems, still suffering from guilt for her responsibility in a car accident that left her husband with a severe brain injury — arrives at the well-kept suburban Wadsworth home to find that the child, known only as “Baby,” is actually a fully-grown 21-year old man.

Baby (played to the hilt by David Manzy, later known as David Mooney) has lived all of his life in diapers, sleeping in a crib, eating in a high-chair and playing in his playpen.

He cannot walk or talk… he merely gurgles like a fussy six-foot toddler.

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Ann suspects that Baby is a normally functioning man trapped and treated like a toddler through psychological torment, punishment, and reward and kept in this infantile state by his domineering chain-smoking hag mother (veteran TV actress Ruth Roman) and his two sexy, oversexed sisters, Germaine and Alba (played by the always great Marianna Hill and Suzanne Zenor, respectively), who are both wickedly mean and act like something out of an updated Cinderella freakshow.

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Or maybe Baby is mentally retarded?: one of the sisters tells Ann “Baby was born backwards, he’s been that way all his life”

This dysfunctional and frankly fucked-in-the-head family heap on the abuse, even jabbing at Baby with an electric cattle prod.

Ann believes that Baby the man-child is being deliberately kept in this cranky infantile state by raspy-voiced matriarch Mrs. Wadsworth as punishment for being the only male family member (she’s been abandoned by three successive fathers of her children and has some pretty wacked-out ideas and perverse maternal instincts).

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Ann is invited to Baby’s demented birthday party — like something out of a Fellini film — but it turns out that the invite is only to set a sinister plot into motion, to dispose of her before she reports back to her bosses.

Her alcoholic drink is spiked and she’s tied up and kept in the family basement, but Baby comes to her aid and helps her escape.

Ann takes Baby to her own house, which she shares with her mother-in-law Judith, and she ends up writing a letter to Mrs. Wadsworth to let her know that she’s going to help Baby grow up to be the man he should be, but when Mrs. Wadsworth and her daughters come to Ann’s house to get baby back, things don’t go as planned, or do they?

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Arriving in theaters in March of 1973, the film’s various too-cute movie poster taglines — “Horror is his formula!,” “Pray you don’t learn the secret of… The Baby,” “Nothing in his nursery rhymes” (that one’s our favorite), “Three Four Close the Door!,” and “There shall be mayhem wherever he goes” — don’t really give you a complete picture.

The Baby was PG-rated, and on its surface it seems like a perfectly sedate little movie until you realize this demented, deranged story just happens to be shot through with scenes of sadism, imprisonment, sexual perversity, and psychological anguish.

Tone-wise, it also reminded us a bit of What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962), and Spider Baby, Jack Hill’s 1968 black comedy horror feature.

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Director Ted Post first began directing in 1950, and by the early 70s, he’d built an impressive résumé comprised mostly of episodic TV shows (including dramas like “Perry Mason,” “The Rifleman,” “Gunsmoke,” and “The Twilight Zone”) and movies like the Clint Eastwood western Hang ‘Em High (1968), and Beneath The Planet Of The Apes (1970).

In 1973, in fact, in addition to The Baby, Post would also direct the Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force and The Harrad Experiment.

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Here he’s working from the screenplay by the film’s co-producer, Abe Polsky, who had written Rebel Rousers — a juvenile delinquent motorcycle gang flick starring Jack Nicholson, Diane Ladd, Bruce Dern, and Harry Dean Stanton — and his fair share of episodic TV, including “Bonanza,” “The Virginian,” and one of Night Flight’s favorite TV shows, “Kung Fu.”

Watch The Baby on AMC’s Shudder, and make sure you check out Night Flight’s curated row on Shudder this month, which will include Cronenberg’s cult classicRabidand five more Night Flight selects./h4>

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.