Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Devil Within Her (1975): or, The Little Things Hurt the Most

In case you're not aware of the fact, dear parishioners, the inimitable and irrepressible Emily I. has been hosting a ♥February of Horror Shorties♥ over at her wonderful webstop, Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense (which if you're not already following, I suggest--nay, INSIST!--that you do so right now). In this shortest of months she's been paying tribute to the shortest of killers, be they implacable infants, demonic dwarfs, eeevil elves, or the titular deadly dolls. (I can only assume Malevolent Mannequins and Grumpy Golems are disqualified due to height limits.) Since I have a soft spot in my withered, blackened briquette of a heart for little people of the sinful variety myself, I could not pass the opportunity to throw my own comically tiny hat in the ring.

As luck would have it, Netflix instant offered up a doozy for me, a previously unknown-to-me flick from the seventies that not only boasts the formidable acting talents of Donald Pleasence, Joan Collins, and B-Movie royalty Caroline Munro, but also offers TWO tiny terrors for the price of one! Ladies and gentlemen, hold onto your pram handles for the wild 1975 killer kiddie flick with a difference, The Devil Within Her.

The liquor waited patiently. "Soon," it thought. "Very soon."

We open to find former exotic dancer and socialite Lucy Carlesi (Collins) in the midst of an extremely difficult labor. Thrashing, sweating, and howling like a bear-trapped she-wolf, Lucy writhes under the watchful eye of the world's creepiest OBGYN Dr. Finch (Pleasance, natch), who, try as he might, just can't dislodge the bundle of joy from his patient's uterus. An exasperated nurse sponges the doctor's brow and asks, pointedly, "What's wrong, sir?" To which Dr. Finch replies sagely, "This one...DOESN'T WANT TO BE BORN!"* Which opinion I'm certain went miles toward relaxing the vaginal death-clamp Lucy had on the little tot up to that point, what?

*This line of dialog reflects the film's original title, I Don't Want to Be Born, which I assume was scrapped because nothing in the subsequent story supported the idea that the baby baddie was anything but thrilled with its nativity. Still, that title makes more sense than the official IMDb title of the film, Sharon's Baby--since not only is the mom's name Lucy, but no character named "Sharon" appears anywhere in the film in ANY capacity. A rose by any other name?

Did I say "little" tot? Well, that is perhaps an error. Finally wrenching the infant free with a set of heavy-duty, chrome-plated forceps (*ssshhhhhhhmmmPOP!*), the doc immediately sees what the problem was: the kid's the size of an 18-month-old toddler! Still, all's well that slides shrieking through the Glistening Gates of Life, and with the mother out of danger and the child dutifully decanted, Doc Finch stumbles out into the waiting room to give new father Gino Carlesi (Ralph Bates, veteran of such Hammer horrors as Taste the Blood of Dracula, The Horror of Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde, and Vicar-ious formative influencer Lust for a Vampire**) the good news.

"Banged Joan Collins, did you? Good show, old chap!"
**It is solely Bates' good fortune at having stood next to Yutte Stensgaard at one point in his life that prevents my holding his truly awful Italian accent in this film a cockpunchable offense.

Not so fast, though: as soon as Lucy attempts to nurse her newborn son, the tyke repays her motherly leanings by clawing blood from her face! It appears that in addition to being abnormally large, the baby also possesses the strength of TEN BABIES! Which is still not much, I guess, but hey. The befuddled parents wisely switch over to bottle-feeding and install their child in a truly hideous yellow-and-brown themed nursery. The kid makes his displeasure known by biting the housekeeper Mrs. Hyde hard enough to draw blood, and thereafter trashing the room like a member of Mini Kiss! Shocked that a less-than-month old baby could rip the head off a Raggedy Andy doll and toss the changing table around from the confines of its crib, the parents start looking for explanations.

From JC Penney in 1975: the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Wallpaper Collection

Now this is where things get a little wacky.

Over afternoon cocktails and cigs with her BFF Mandy (Munro, looking SMOKIN' HAWT as usual), Lucy relates via ponderously voiced-over flashback some strange events that occurred just before she left England to marry Gino in Italy. Lucy used to be a showgirl before Gino made a (more-or-less) honest woman of her, and regularly brought in the crowds shakin' her money-maker(s) while sharing the stage with her partner Hercules--A DWARF. To give you an idea of the level of sensual artistry we're talking about here, check out Lucy and Hercules in full regalia, giving the people what they want:

In the Jingle Jangle mornin', he comes murderin' you...
SASSY, isn't it?

On the night of her farewell performance, Lucy is bidding adieu to Hercules, when the Little Person starts getting Big Ideas of a sexual nature. These he acts upon, feeling up Dame Collins with his dexterous little hands. She admits that, "Maybe, for an instant, I was fascinated!" and thus indulges Hercules so far as to cup a bit of side-boob. When the novelty of tiny fingers wears thin, she rejects the little Lothario with extreme prejudice and banishes him from the fleshy delights of her undercarriage for good. Then she promptly invites club owner Tommy (John Holmes-lookalike and Sleaziest Man in Britain 1974 finalist John Steiner) into her un-dressing room for a little slap-and-tickle before she's off the market in Rome.

Lucy's a bit of a slut, you see.

Open for Business
 As might be predicted, Hercules does NOT take this well. When Lucy stumbles in a drunken, post-coital stupor from the club for the last time, the dwarf steps out of the shadows and pronounces this curse: "You will have a baby--a monster that grows in your womb! As big as I am small, and possessed by the Devil himself!"

Which explains a lot, you'll agree.

Only Lucy seems to forget her story immediately upon telling it, and begins searching instead for a genetic explanation for the baby's giantism and muscular prowess. Since she and Gino obviously come from pure upper-crust breeding stock, she settles on the only scientifically plausible hypothesis: the baby is Tommy's, and thus she has to find out what genetic abnormalities her former lover may have planted when he strewed his seditious seed in her fertile gynecological garden. Because that will help, somehow.

" I says to the bird, 'Weasel? I fought it were a bluddy paintbrush!' HAW-HAW!
Anyway, that's when they slapped the cuffs on."

Of course the child is no genetic freak, but is actually supercharged with the awesome power of a sexually frustrated dwarf--because Little People can do that, apparently. As Lucy, Gino, and Gino's sister Albana (Eileen Atkins)--who is actually Sister Albana, a nun--try to figure out what (the fuck) is wrong with the baby, this pre-verbal Pazuzu goes on a horrific, adorable rampage. He wrestles a priest, trashes his room a few more times, bloodies Tommy's nose, drowns two expendable extras, drops a dead rat in Mrs. Hyde's tea, and somehow learns to tie a noose and sharpens a shovel blade to razor-keenness! All without his parents ever quite catching on! Though to be fair, being rich AND English AND parents in the 1970s, they do both seem to stay drunk most of the time.

They're all there, thank God.

There's so much to talk about with this movie, I'll never encompass it all--but here are a few things that made me happier than they should have. For one, we never actually see the baby in full-on It's Alive rampage mode--we only see the tragic, hilarious consequences, which I found even more satisfying than an animatronic tot could possibly have been. Joan Collins overacts as much here as she did in any full season of Dynasty, emoting with such emphatic projection you can almost see the spittle fly. Director Peter Sasdy's TV career focus comes through as well, since the movie often feels like a made-for-TV affair--though a rather lengthy sex scene between Gino and Lucy late in the game gives the lie to that presumption. The director does manage a rather disturbing nightmare sequence though, and if you can't appreciate little touches like Lucy periodically hallucinating Hercules in the crib instead of her child, well, all I can say is you must be made of stone.

The movie does raise some unanswerable questions however. We never figure out exactly how Hercules was able to command the powers of Satan, or if in fact he was in league with the devil at all. For all we see, his curse's efficacy might simply be the result of some dread power Little People have tamed that we full-sized folk could never harness. For his part, Hercules seems to have forgotten all about his curse, returning to work at Tommy's club where he gets to cavort nightly among half-clad Cockney girls; nice work if you can get it, so long as no Italian nuns who minored in Dwarfen Exorcism at St. Olaf's Cloister and Finishing school take it in their heads to start fighting your mojo.

"Is it-a hott in-a here, or is it just-a ME?"

Horror-wise, The Devil Within Her touches on several raw socio-cultural nerves--young parents' fears that something might be wrong with their baby, the age-old Otherness of the Differently Sized, the battle between medicine and religion, and the wages of past sin repaid in the present. It also provides buxom showgirls, costumed dwarf dancing, baby on the rampage, and Joan Collins shedding her top and swallowing the scenery whole. One could ask for more, I suppose--but that would just be greedy.

So what are you waiting for? Get to Netflix Instant and queue this one up. You'll be glad you did. 2.75 thumbs. And thanks to Emily I.--everyone's favorite Horror Shorty! ;) --for being my dwarf-addiction enabler!

"Yay! Breastfeeding time!"

A few more photos from The Devil Within Her (1975): 

"All right, it's true--I've been hitting the bottle."
"I must break you."
"I'm afraid I'll be home late, my dear. I have some reports to sodomize. What?"
Sister Albana goes merkin-shopping.
Bedside lamp, or death ray?
Everyone's crazy 'bout a sharp-dressed dwarf
"OMG Vicar! Put it away!"


Joe Monster said...

"the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Wallpaper Collection"

Yellow Wallpaper-Reference Cat sees what you did there.

Hilarious review, Vicar! This film seems to dwarf others in sheer kookiness!

Luis said...

This movie has not one but two alternate titles:
"The Monster"
"I Don't Want to be Born"
You can see the whole film (with some slight edits for nudity) on Youtube.

Samuel Wilson said...

It was a TCM Underground movie a few months ago and a staggering experience at such an hour. An epic of misplaced accents (the nun was worse than her brother, I thought) and the supernatural power of little people. Its redeeming quality is its fodder for your keyboard, Vicar.

Emily said...

Goodness I should know better than to read your posts at work. I can only justify my stifled giggles to superiors by attributing them to gas. That's awkward.

You really made me see how, in many ways, The Devil Within Her is the most empowering film made for shorties. I mean, all you have to be is a sexually frustrated dwarf and you can COMMAND SATAN TO POSSESS A BABY! It's beautiful.

Also, here's a thought: perhaps "Sharon" was Hercules' real name? Eh?

Thanks so much again for joining the shorty party. You are an honorary guest, and I don't just say that so that you come over to hang up the decorations we can't reach.

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Joe--thanks, and good catch. I try to educate as well as entertain. ;)

@Luis--thanks for the added info! If any readers don't have Netflix, they should definitely head to Youtube instead for a dose of magical dwarfy goodness.

@Samuel--I can only assume Robert Osbourne did not introduce that one! ;) Though to be honest, I'd love to hear him try. You're right, Eileen Atkins' accent was as bad as or worse than Bates', but if I'd gone down all the byroads of discussion with this flick, the post would have been at least twice as long. And thanks so much for the kind words! It really means a lot.

@Emily--You wouldn't be the first to claim my talents gave you gas. ;) And as for the possible title mystery solution, hmm..."Hercules Sharon"? He didn't *look* Jewish!

And I'm proud to be an honorary Shorty. I think I'll try it out tonight and see if I've been conferred the power to curse the unborn and feel up Joan Collins. And I'll hang your decorations for you anytime!*

(*Not a euphemism. Probably.)

Kale said...

For the Vicar, I tried to paste it in the comment but its not letting me

The Vicar of VHS said...

Oh man, Kale, nightmare fuel! That's going on tumblr STAT! :D

Emily said...

Love it!

Best Movies said...

The Vicar, thank you! Great review! I'll watch The Devil Within Her tonight :)

venoms5 said...

This one was on cable a few years ago under the DEVIL WITHIN HER title. At the time, I assumed it was BEYOND THE DOOR that would be showing, but turned out to be this schlocky Brit flick, instead. Carlton released it in the UK in a box set under THE MONSTER title with HANDS OF THE RIPPER and another great goofball movie, THE UNCANNY, an anthology with Peter Cushing and Ray Milland about killer cats.

Movies on my Mind said...

Great stuff

Related Posts with Thumbnails