With all the rip-offs of William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST that came out of Europe, the Brits too got on the bandwagon with I DON’T WANT TO BE BORN (released in the U.S. as THE DEVIL WITHIN HER, which ironically is the U.K. title for the Italian possession picture, BEYOND THE DOOR). But THE DEVIL WITHIN HER (which is henceforth what I will refer to it as) also apes ROSEMARY’S BABY and Larry Cohen’s more recent IT’S ALIVE, with the results being an all-star guilty pleasure campfest from a former Hammer director.
In London, hot housewife Lucy Carlesi (Joan Collins, TALES FROM THE CRYPT) is having a difficult labor, so much so that in the delivery room, Dr. Finch (Donald Pleasence, RAW MEAT) exclaims, “This one doesn’t want to be born.” Lucy does successfully give birth to a very healthy and hefty boy, but he has a nasty habit of biting, clawing and punching folks, and also shrieks fiercely when about to be baptized or if a session of praying is occurring downstairs. Lucy’s loyal husband, Italian businessman Gino (Ralph Bates, THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN) does everything he can, even calling on his sister, a nun named Albana (Eileen Atkins), who later takes it upon herself to perform an exorcism on the terrible tyke. Lucy fears that her monstrous baby is a direct result of her shameful past: she was a former nightclub showgirl (ahem, stripper) who had a hex put on upon her by a pudgy performing dwarf named Hercules (George Claydon, BERSERK) after she refused his groping dressing room advances.
The script is admittedly lame (the cause of all the heartache is a supernatural(?) jester-garbed dwarf, looking like a refuge from Men Without Hats’ 1980s “Safety Dance” video), and although director Sasdy (who had previously helmed the Hammer masterpieces TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA and HANDS OF THE RIPPER, as well as the excellent DOOMWATCH) does succeed with more than a few suspenseful shocks (there’s an impressive decapitation), the set-ups of the infant’s attacks (shown as a series of consequential scrapes or bites, where the victim will exlaim something like, "he bit me!") are about as convincing as something you’d see in a “Benny Hill” skit (the baby’s hand is seen pushing a woman into a lake from his carriage). As a whole, it's a perfect example of why by this point in time, many British horror films commercially and critically failed and compared unfavorably with the competition out of Hollywood by the mid 1970s. But looking at THE DEVIL WITHIN HER again in the present (thoroughly captivated by it and enjoying it for what it is), none of that really matters, and the “guilty pleasure” aspect of it is why I see myself revisiting it more so than the well-respected, but overexposed likes of THE EXORCIST or THE OMEN.
Although Joan Collins probably wants to forget this one (like most of the 1970s roles she wants to leave off her resume), she proves to be a good scream queen and even does some brief nudity during her obligatory roll in the sack with Bates. The idea of former Hammer leading man Bates playing a heavily-accented Italian almost seems as preposterous as Robin Askwith playing an American in TOWER OF EVIL, but he actually gets away with it, unlike Atkins (a highly respected thesp who rarely does exploitation pictures) whose pronunciation of “devil” is bound to induce some belly laughs. Pleasence, who even by this time had done so many of these types of films, is good and quite understated as the family physician baffled by the hellish newborn. Caroline Munro (AT THE EARTH’S CORE) plays Lucy’s sister, another sexy nightclub dancer (though her voice was re-dubbed), John Steiner (a British actor better known for his long career in Italy) is the sleazy nightclub owner who once had a fling with Lisa, Hilary Mason (DON’T LOOK NOW) is the snooty housekeeper who finds a dead mouse in her tea cup and Janet Key (VAMPIRE LOVERS, DRACULA A.D. 1972) is the doomed young nanny. The groovy, instantly dated but hard to forget score is by Australian-born Ron Grainier, best known for creating the BBC’s “Doctor Who” TV theme tune, as well as masterfully scoring the science fiction classic, THE OMEGA MAN.
Also known as THE MONSTER and SHARON’S BABY (who the hell is Sharon?), THE DEVIL WITHIN HER was released here by American International Pictures in 1976, and they frequently paired it on drive-in bills with such other favorites as SQUIRM and THEY CAME FROM WITHIN (aka SHIVERS). For a long time, the film was part of a grouping of British Rank Organization titles, with home video rights owned by MGM. But those rights have since lapsed, and Scorpion Releasing is now issuing the film on DVD using MGM’s master (the Lion’s logo can still be found before and after the presentation). The film is presented uncut in a widescreen 1.78:1 transfer with anamorphic enhancement, and looks quite good. Grain is apparent and can be extreme at times, but colors are more than solid, contrast levels are excellent and dirt, debris and other blemishes are practically nonexistent. The English mono audio is also in good shape.
THE DEVIL WITHIN HER is one of the inaugural DVD titles in Scorpion’s “Katrina’s Nightmare Theater” series, hosted by Katarina Leigh Waters (a former WWE Diva, and current star of Impact Wrestling). In footage shot inside a real theater, Katarina briefly introduces the film with an amusing short spoof on it, and then shares some facts about its cast and director (she also closes the film, along with a series of clips from various trailers, and there’s actually a few surprises in terms of upcoming DVD titles). With her beautiful brunette appearance (she notes her resemblance to the 1970s era Caroline Munro) and lovely British accent, she’s not at all condescending towards the film and her optional segment (the movie can be played without it) is good enough for one to welcome further titles in this promising new DVD series. Actor John Steiner is in good spirits for a video interview that lasts over 15 minutes long. Steiner mentions that the film was titled “The Baby” when he was hired for it, how he thought Joan Collins was radiantly beautiful, and touches upon whatever else he can remember about it (a number of his Italian cult appearances are also addressed during the interview). Retired from acting for over 20 years now, Steiner is currently involved in real estate. The original AIP theatrical trailer is included, as are trailers for other upcoming “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” titles (NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT, FINAL EXAM, HUMUNGOUS, HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW, HUMAN EXPERIMENTS and THE PYX). (George R. Reis)
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