THE BABY (1973) Blu-ray
Director: Ted Post
Arrow Video USA

Just when you thought it was safe to put away the crib, THE BABY drools back onto Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Video.

Social worker Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer, RABBIT RUN) has taken on the strange welfare case of "Baby" (David Manzy, HERBIE RIDES AGAIN), youngest son of Mrs. Wadsworth (Ruth Roman, THE WINDOW). Although he is in his twenties, "Baby" wears diapers, sleeps in a crib, and does not walk or speak other than infant sounds. His two older sisters Germaine (Marianna Hill, MESSIAH OF EVIL) and Alba (Suzanne Zenor, THE WAY WE WERE) are a little short of normal as well. After spending some time with Baby – too much according to her supervisor as well as Mrs. Wadsworth – Ann believes that Baby should be a normal young man but has been kept an infant by a sort of "sick love"; however, Ann's motives for wanting to gain custody of Baby may be equally disturbing.

Inexplicably rated PG, THE BABY is quite a unique seventies film. The melodramatic plot seems destined for a TV movie of the week, but director Ted Post (NIGHTKILL) and writer Abe Polsky (BRUTE CORPS) take it into disturbing territory. Germaine and Alba use Baby to work out their respectively sexual and sadistic frustrations while Ann's connection to Baby is more ambiguous but questionable. Serious performances keep the film from edging over into camp despite a "birthday party of the damned" lit in gels like Visconti's THE DAMNED, but the film edges into slasher territory late in the film and then finishes off with a truly loopy ending. Former starlet Roman is not so much dignified as ballsy in her performance while Hill, so effectively numb as the protagonist of MESSIAH OF EVIL, is wonderfully demented here (she looks like a refugee from a Fellini film during the trippy birthday sequence). Zenor's character is not so subtly rendered as Hill's, but the actress is effective once we fully understand the nature of her character's hang-up. Manzy's performance as "Baby" is hard to assess as he was dubbed by a real baby's voice, but he remains pitiful and affecting without crossing over into tasteless comedy. Beatrice Manley (BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY)is given little to do as Ann's mother-in-law but this is necessitated by plot ambiguities early on. Exploitation favorite Michael Pataki (GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE) has a sleazy supporting performance with a couple funny lines as a suitor to the Wadsworth girls. The cinematography of Michael Margulies (DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY) is colorful and attractive, but is better served by widescreen framing than the open matte transfers have a TV-movie feel to them. The film's most bewildering element is not "Baby" but Gerald Fried's ravishingly beautiful orchestral score (sadly never released on LP or CD).

Released theatrically in the US and UK by Scotia-Barber (HORROR EXPRESS, PSYCHOMANIA), THE BABY was long unavailable on home video until Image Entertainment's open-matte 2000 DVD and VHS – the latter with an isolated music and effects track – followed by Geneon's even more stripped-down 2005 DVD. Severin brought a new HD mastered widescreen transfer to DVD in 2010 that restored the theatrical framing but its color grading was poor, diluting the shadows and sapping the colors of their original intensity, and the 2014 Blu-ray did not improve on those matters. Arrow Video's Blu-ray 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC Blu-ray includes both open matte 1.37:1 and 1.78:1 widescreen encodes of the film that have an improved color grade with deeper blacks and bolder colors; however, they are still not quite as vivid as the old Geneon transfer in which colors really popped from the inky blacks and the clash of red and green gels in the party sequence was more infernal than psychedelic. The LPCM 1.0 mono track sounds great, particularly in regard to Fried's lush score. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.

Arrow carries over the Severin extras "Tales from the Crib" (20:00), archival audio interview with director Ted Post, and "Baby Talk" (14:41), archival audio interview with actor David Mooney, from which some background on the film is derived in the disc's new extras. The audio commentary by film historian Travis Crawford is an involving discussion on what is undoubtedly the "strangest and most perverse American horror film of the 1970s," particularly in eschewing gothic horror tropes in favor of a "subdued, sunny, Southern Californian TV-movie-of-the-week aesthetic." He expands upon the television angle with a lengthy discussion of director Post's beginnings during the golden age of television and how his directing of episodes of RAWHIDE lead to him helming Clint Eastwood's first post-Leone western HANG 'EM HIGH, as well as how his status as a journeyman director did not mean he was just an actors traffic cop (noting his falling out with Eastwood during MAGNUM FORCE, the actor having made his own move to the director's hair with a few efforts in between their two films). Of THE BABY, he notes Post's stated reluctance to do the project, not due to concerns of the perverse aspects but because it might be too depressing, before eventually relenting to writer Polsky's urging. In addition to conveying more factoids from the Post and Manzy interviews, as well as an interview with Hill, he offers up his own counter-interpretation of some of Post's observations on the sexual tension in the script. He is at pains to pin down the target audience of the film, noting that he is not even sure how infantilism and diaper fetishists feel about the film. He spends the climax running down other seventies horror films that were rated PG, and how some of those films likely traumatized young audiences through the handling of their content even without R-level sex, violence, or language (although he does note that a number of these films, including THE BABY, would likely earn an R-rating today on the basis of thematic content). His reaction to the "sick" ending is quite relatable, as is his humorous notion that the script was likely conceived outward from this "punchline."

"A Family Affair" (5:43) is a regrettably brief interview with actress Hill who met Post through Eastwood and credits the director with helping her immensely in understanding her "weird" character, noting that her bizarre actions stem from the fairytale world she has built to inhabit as a means of coping with a crazy mother. "Nursery Crimes" (6:27) is an interview with nursery painting creator Stanley Dyrector (TWO THOUSAND MANIACS!) whose scenes as an actor wound up on the cutting room floor, but he was able to get his name in the credits by suggesting some of his kooky paintings to set dresser Michael Devine (THE CELLAR). He offers up some insight from the set, including the tension between Comer and Roman as the stars of their individual stories within the film, and his reactions to the finished film. "Down Will Come Baby" (12:01) is a retrospective with film professor Rebekah McKendry who discusses the film's misleading but effective marketing which was both sexy and hinted at the fetishistic. She also notes that what drives the narrative is not really the mystery of Baby but the tension he creates within the other characters of this uncharacteristically female-driven film, as well as the character arc of Comer's unreliable narrator. The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (2:45). A reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil is included, but regrettably the collector's booklet featuring new writing by Diabolique Magazine's Kat Ellinger included with the first pressing was not provided for review. (Eric Cotenas)