GORE IN THE STORE
THE MONSTER ***
Directed by Peter Sasdy.
Starring Joan Collins, Donald Pleasence, Ralph Bates, Eileen Atkins, Caroline Munro, Hilary Mason, John Steiner.
Horror, UK, 94 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray via Network on 11th October 2021.
A year before devil babies became popular again with mainstream audiences, thanks to THE OMEN becoming 1976’s unlikely summer blockbuster, there was THE MONSTER a.k.a. I DONT WANT TO BE BORN, a British production featuring a cast of familiar faces all trying to take it all so seriously that you can't help but find it hilarious.
The movie begins with a sweaty Lucy Carlesi (Joan Collins) looking up at the camera grunting and moaning. However, this is not the conception of the beast but the birth and seeing as horror icon Donald Pleasence is playing the doctor and giving his opinions on the operation in the same dry way Donald Pleasence delivers every bit of dialogue you can see why Lucy is frightened. Baby is not playing ball, though, and is refusing to come out, forcing Dr. Pleasence – or Dr. Finch, as his character is called – to bring out the fierce-looking pliers and give baby a really big tug to help him on his way.
Eventually, baby gives in and decides to come out, giving his parents endless joy, except he doesn’t. Lucy and her husband Gino (Ralph Bates, the most English of English actors putting on a comedy Italian accent) name the baby Nicholas (or Nick – do you see?) and immediately don’t like him as little Nicky has rather sharp nails and can apparently bench press quite a bit as he regularly trashes his nursery. None of this we actually see because it’s the 1970s and practical effects haven’t quite caught up so most of this is happening off-camera, or an out-of-scale arm protrudes from the pram like the giant baby out of BRAINDEAD. Either way, it doesn’t really add anything terrifying because you can’t see it and so you can only assume this is what has happened or otherwise the Carlesi’s have had burglars who have exited the room extremely quickly and left the baby in his cot.
But Lucy is not convinced, either by what is happening with her child or by her husband’s cod-Italian accent, a situation that isn’t helped by the arrival of Sister Albana (Eileen Atkins), a nun who is also Gino’s literal sister and whose accent is even more ridiculous. Naturally, she suspects that all is not well with baby Nicky and consults with Dr. Finch in a sort-of science-v-religion battle of wits that weirdly produces more sexual chemistry between the two actors than is present in any scene featuring Joan Collins and the various men she has slept with. Oh yes, husband Gino is not the only suspect here as when Dr. Finch wishes to investigate the family histories of the parents it is revealed that Lucy may have had a bit of fun with her old nightclub owner boss Tommy (John Steiner), who employed her when she was a stripper.
Turns out, though, that Nicky’s apparent rage and freakish strength come from a curse put on Lucy after she spurned the advances of a dwarf who worked in her strip club. No, this is not the plot from some obscure Italian ROSEMARY’S BABY knock-off – although the accents might be a bit more authentic if it were – but a serious occult horror movie from the director of TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA and starring some very high-profile names of the era, and so freaky dwarf curses it is. Someone call Sister Albana…
Needless to say, THE MONSTER is an absolute hoot, albeit an unintentional one because by the standards of THE EXORCIST and THE OMEN – the two better known occult/Satan movies that were released either side of it – it isn’t actually very good. Putting the absurd plot to one side, the performances are hilariously all over the place, from Joan Collins playing it straight but giving far too many dramatic soap opera head shakes as she screams at the other actors about her baby, to the Ralph Bates/Eileen Atkins parody accents, and then to John Steiner and Hilary Mason (as Nicky’s nanny Mrs. Hyde, who doesn’t really seem to like her job very much) ‘acting’ like they are stereotypes in a sitcom about to face off with Sid James or Ronnie Barker over a garden fence dispute. Even the usually sparkling Caroline Munro doesn’t really have much to do and just floats her way through her short scenes with very little impact, leaving the ever-dependable Donald Pleasence to supply the dry wit and old-fashioned charm, which he does admirably for such a ludicrous movie, but he isn’t really in it enough to lend it the amount of weight it needs to be taken more seriously.
But you cannot say that this movie is not enjoyable because those of us in the know – i.e. hardcore genre fans – are all too aware that this kind of unintentional comedy gold doesn’t get nearly enough attention when it does appear and gets casually written off by those not attuned to its appeal, of which there is plenty. There is lots of nudity, which you would expect for a movie set around a strip club in 1975 London, and the gore content is surprisingly high for a British movie from that time, although – as previously stated – given the limitations of the special effects how do you create scenes of an evil baby attacking people? The simple answer is you don’t, and that is where THE MONSTER’s key flaw lies as once you accept the stupid story and the borderline offensive performances there isn’t a whole lot else there to terrify or surprise you.
However, such hilarity is now on a shiny Blu-ray disc for you to enjoy or to show your friends who don’t believe you when you tell them you have a film where Joan Collins – yes, glamourous Joan Collins from DYNASTY and the Snickers ads – gets cursed by an angry dwarf and gives birth to Satan. Extras come in the form of interviews with crew members who thought they were making something a bit more arty than they actually were, an audio commentary from the cult Second Features podcast team, alternative title cards, trailer and a collector’s booklet featuring writing by British movie expert Adrian Smith, so you can piece together a picture of how this movie came to be, should you wish to go down that particular rabbit hole. Otherwise, simply enjoy watching the cream of 1970s British talent slumming it in a dumb movie that could possibly be one of the most enjoyably bizarre things you will ever see. For maximum enjoyment, double-feature it with Network’s Blu-ray of DEATH LINE – from 1972 and also featuring Donald Pleasence in perhaps his most brilliantly off-the-wall performance – for an evening of stiff upper-lipped Britishness trying to compete with the American grindhouses for gruelling terror – you won’t regret it.