Director: Peter Sasdy
Scorpion Releasing

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 brunette 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) proclaims, “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, HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN) does everything he can, even calling on his sister, a nun named Albana (Eileen Atkins, EQUUS), 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 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 exclaim 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 coming out of Hollywood during 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 of her resume), she proves to be a good scream queen and even does some brief nudity during her obligatory stint 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 named Mandy Gregory (though her voice was redubbed), 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 (from Hammer’s VAMPIRE LOVERS and DRACULA A.D. 1972) is the doomed young nanny. The groovy, instantly dated but hard to forget score is by Australian-born Ron Grainer, best known for creating the BBC’s “Doctor Who” TV theme tune, as well as masterfully scoring the 1971 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 issued the film on DVD for the first time in 2011; they’re now revisiting it on Blu-ray in a transfer taken from a new scan of the original interpositive. Starting off with the AIP “sky” logo, the film is presented uncut in 1080p HD in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and it looks fantastic. Colors are bold, textures look great, and black levels are nice and inky. With impressive flesh tones, the image has excellent clarity and detail, and when grain is on display, it’s perfectly filmic. The audio is available in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that delivers the film’s dialogue, music and sound effects admirably. No subtitle options are available on the disc.

You have the option of watching the film in “Katrina’s Nightmare Theater” mode, as hosted by Katarina Leigh Waters (originally found on the previous DVD). In footage shot inside a real theater, Katarina briefly introduces the film with an amusing spoof, and then shares some facts (with a couple of errors) about its cast and director (she also closes the film). With her incredible good looks (she notes her resemblance to the 1970s era Caroline Munro) and lovely British accent, she’s not at all condescending towards the film, which is a breath of fresh air. Also picked up from the previous DVD is an interview with actor John Steiner (15:50). In good spirits here, Steiner mentions that the film was titled “The Baby” when he was hired for it, how he thought Joan Collins was radiantly beautiful, and he 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.

New to this Blu-ray is an interview with Caroline Munro (27:56) who starts off by discussing her early modeling days and eventually landing a role as an extra in CASINO ROYALE (1967). The featurette focuses mainly on THE DEVIL WITHIN HER, as she admits she took the rather small role since she liked the idea of working with Collins (she found her “delightful”) and Pleasance (and she also liked director Sasdy very much). Munro has nice things to stay about her co-stars (even the ones she shared no scenes with), talks about her character and the script, and mentions how she and Sasdy got around the nudity which was initially requested of her (working with Christopher Lee in DRACULA A.D. 1972 and Paul Naschy in HOWL OF THE DEVIL are other subjects touched upon). Munro also does a brief introduction for the film when you don’t watch it in “Katrina’s Nightmare Theater” mode. The original AIP theatrical trailer (actually, a one-minute TV spot) is included, as are trailers for HUMONGOUS, SILENT SCREAM, DEATH SHIP and THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW. The Blu-ray’s cover is reversible (with the British title and poster art on the opposite side). (George R. Reis)