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A woman gives birth to a baby, but this is no ordinary little tyke. The child is seemingly possessed by the spirit of a freak dwarf who the mother once spurned. Cue a spate of strange deaths, the one common factor being the presence of a baby in pram at the scene... Written by
Well stone me, what a farce. I actually enjoyed this film.
It certainly is, as somebody a long time ago said, a game of three halves. The first half hour or so is laughably bad, and had me chuckling throughout. Then the tone shifts slightly and you find yourself actually getting vaguely interested into what on Earth's going on and where it could all possibly be leading. And then the last thirty minutes are genuinely disturbing, with some rather scary bits in there and a few set pieces that you won't have seen coming. All in all, rather absorbing.
The plot itself sounds like something cobbled together from "The Exorcist" and "The Omen" (despite the latter film being released the year after, but stay with me). Joan Collins (?!) plays a woman (good show) who's given birth to an "evil" child, who spends the film apparently viciously assaulting people whilst those of the religious faith find it all terribly intriguing. The scenes of the aforementioned child attacking people are usually quite laughable, usually comprising of somebody leaning close to it, recoiling in horror clutching their cheek and moaning "It bit me!", followed by a shot of a not particularly frightening little child looking frankly bewildered at the fact that he's in a film. Ah ha, but the baby has "Surprising strength for his age," we are told, so that's all right then.
The rationale for all this, given to us as a flashback about 10-15 minutes in, is one of the funniest bits of the film. Joan's character used to be a stripper, and performed her acts with a small dancing midget who apparently fancied her like mad. On her last day of work, the midget toddles along to her dressing room and tries to feel her up, whereupon she screams and a spiv wanders in and tells the midget to get lost. The midget toddles away again and Joan and the spiv (her old boyfriend, and manager of the strip club) begin to make out, Joan switching from "horror-struck and upset" to "giggly and horny" in the space of three seconds. The whole scene looks like it was shot in one take, and is played so languidly to defy belief. Later that evening, as Joan leaves the club, the midget leaps out at her from the shadows and rather improbably cries "You shall have a devil child!!!" before scampering off again.
Quite why Joan (recounting the story to a bored-witless Caroline Munro) should assume that this is the only explanation for why her child has anger-management problems I have no idea. And quite why she turns out to be right is even more startling. Soon she starts seeing the baby transform into the very same gurning midget in the blink of an eye, and most of the deaths are accompanied by such supremely seminal camera work depicting the hands of the midget (hmm, now there's a title for a Hammer... "Hands of the Midget") groping around and punching people.
And this is just the basic premise of the story, all given within the first twenty minutes. From then on it's a whirlwind of the good and the bad. For the former we have Donald Pleasence giving a superbly understated performance as the doctor whom everybody seems to be seeking advice from (he actually seems like a doctor, somebody the makers had hired out from a surgery to appear in the film rather than just an actor, and it works wonderfully). The spiv, though a complete bounder, has a few amusing lines - "Said you'd come to me so I could cheer you up. I've got another six Irish jokes since we last met." Joan Collins, despite being a bit wooden at the beginning, actually gets better as the film progresses. And I was positively delighted by a cameo from Stanley Lebor, better known as lovable Howard in "Ever Decreasing Circles" (and, hurrah, a sitcom actor who actually survives the film - that's a rarity in the 70s). And then there's Pleasence with "I thought today was going to be normal routine, I didn't think I'd be discussing mysticism with an Italian nun." And then there's the laughably bad bits, including the rather shaky ground surrounding the "Midgets are evil" thing, the most unconvincing birth scene ever, in which Joan looks more as though she's being orally pleasured than having a child, and the gratuitous stripper scenes peppered about every so often which don't serve to do anything much at all ("Am I boring you?") In fact, various scenes of steamy romance and general sauciness seem to be chucked in just to give the film a higher rating - that's the only reason I can think of for a rather touching courting scene between Joan and blank-faced husband Ralph Bates (nice accent, Ralph) being followed up by the two of them having sweaty, fumbling sex whilst the melodious seedy music that we've been subjected to throughout the entire duration reaches a new low. And eyebrows will raise when you glance at the credits and see that this entire musical travesty (it really just sounds like porn music, I'm sorry) was composed by Ron Grainer, the man who composed the "Doctor Who" theme tune. Go Ron. You do your funky thang.
But yes, to sum it all up, "The Monster" (where "I Don't Want to be Born" comes from I have no idea, as it's not the title on the print) is at times a rather lopsided affair which manages to actually remain consistently entertaining throughout, whether by accident or by design. It's probably all a matter of taste, and maybe I just ended up liking it as it was nowhere near as bad as I thought it'd be, but it's a rather fun feature that does end on a few shocks. 7/10
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