||Ever since Ray Bradbury wrote the short story The Small Assassin, with its concept of a baby turned into a killer turning on its parents, you might have expected there would be a host of movies cashing in on this premise, but no, not really. Rosemary's Baby may have "his father's eyes", but we bow out before he gets violent, The Baby was actually a fully-grown man, and Damien in The Omen doesn't remain a baby for long for when he unleashes the mayhem on his fellow cast members. Only really It's Alive, from Larry Cohen, embraced the concept of a killer infant, and that was actually a bloodthirsty monster.
However, we're forgetting a British entry into this tiny subgenre, a film that went under a number of titles in its distribution life though is probably best known as I Don't Want to Be Born, its UK title. Unless you're in North America, whereupon you may know it as The Devil Within Her. And Network has released it under the title The Monster, which is about as generic as it gets, unless you use its shooting title The Baby, which had already been used. So it gets confusing if you try to keep track of all these names, which in many cases were a canny trick played on audiences to get them to watch - and pay for - the same film at the cinema more than once.
I Don't Want to Be Born had another distinction: it was supposedly the worst British horror film ever made. Now since that proclamation we have had Lesbian Vampire Killers, which doesn't have anything like the number of laughs that the seventies flick does, or indeed any laughs at all, a drawback for a comedy, which makes the Joan Collins-starrer look a lot better than it did, and any number of pluckily cobbled together shockers on no budget that litter YouTube post-the James Corden non-classic could prove more of a test to the patience than the over the top absurdity of what director Peter Sasdy conjured up for Joanie to get stuck into.
Behind the scenes, there were warning signs I Don't Want to Be Born was not going to turn out as intended - basically, as a cash-in on the Satanic horror genre proliferating across the Atlantic with The Exorcist at the top of the tree. It was shot in London, but originally with Italian money, which demanded the necessity of a strong Italian element to the script, meaning Ralph Bates, as Mr Joan, had to struggle with an Italian accent throughout as he was supposed to be from Rome now. As if that were not bad enough, Eileen Atkins, the respected Shakespearean thespian, had to play his sister as a nun with even more of a cartoon accent than Ralph did (much talk of "The Day-vil!").
Sister Eileen recognises there's something supernaturally awry with baby Nicholas, but what can she do about it? Er, apart from an exorcism, of course, which instead of happening as soon as she realised, makes up the grand finale so we could be treated to a bunch of The Omen-style novelty demises orchestrated by the terrible tot in the meantime. Joan played an ex-stripper who didn't take her clothes off and had somehow, by refusing the advances of an overamorous dwarf performer who had gotten the wrong end of the stick, incurred his Satanic wrath which saw the baby cursed. Visually, this meant the actor playing the dwarf, George Claydon, was seen in cutaways lying in the pram or crib.
Convincing didn't enter into it, but hilarity did, especially if you entertained a sense if the absurd at the sight of such scenes as the baby being taken to Black Park (home of Hammer films... uh-oh) by its nanny and pushing her into the lake where she hit her head and drowned. Quite how it achieved this was something of a mystery, but achieve it the crazed baby did, and was just warming up; alarm bells should have rung when it was biting and scratching anyone who came near, and smashed up its bedroom into the bargain, sort of a cross between Emu of Rod Hull fame and Keith Moon at his most out of control. Not that the child gets drunk, though almost everyone else seems to judging by the amount of booze that gets put away by the characters.
Dear old Donald Pleasance was there for a few days' work too, as the doctor who delivered Nicholas ("This one doesn't want to be born!") and dispenses cups of tea and supposed wisdom that you cannot psychoanalyse a baby a couple of weeks' old. Said youngling does nothing in closeup but look, well, just like a baby, oblivious to the insanity that was going on in his name, which makes the concept of it slaughtering anyone who stumbles into his path absolutely sidesplitting: imagine a baby wielding a spade to chop off someone's head and you have an idea of what this was like, the kids' comic strip Sweeney Toddler, basically, only this was intended seriously. With the money running out halfway through, it was a troubled production, and more obviously the work of the man who brought us The Lonely Lady than the promising talent at end of days Hammer (check out how many times padding is implemented here, buying Christmas presents, having a shag, ogling Caroline Munro, etc). One of the finest examples of bad taste the British cinema ever blessed us with.
[The Monster is on Blu-ray and DVD 11 October 2021 from Network.
Click here to buy from the Network website.]