Although they both deal with hateful babies intent on destroying their mothers’ lives, there is a world of difference between We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Monster (aka I Don’t Want to Be Born, or The Devil Within Her) (1975). While the former maintained its unsettling power by eschewing any supernatural excuses for the title character’s abysmal behaviour, the latter is pretty much wall-to-wall hocus pocus hokum, with one of the most ludicrous and laughable backstories I’ve ever encountered. How they ever expected anyone to take this rot seriously, let alone find it frightening, is totally beyond me!
The film begins with ‘Lucy’ (Joan Collins), a young woman in the throes of labour, attempting to give birth to a baby that “Doesn’t want to be born!” according to her rather melodramatic doctor (Donald Pleasence). Eventually she manages to push the little blighter out, much to everyone’s relief… but it soon becomes apparent that the new-born is unnaturally large and strong for his age, as evidenced by the way he manages to draw blood after scratching his mother’s face!
Somehow this freaky “bundle of joy” had been born with the strength, cunning, mobility, and malice of a full-grown psychopath… b-b-but how could such a horrific abomination occur, you might wonder? Well, the answer is obvious really: Before marrying her wealthy Italian husband (Ralph Bates, with a wonky accent), Lucy used to work as a dancer in a sleazy strip joint. On the night of her final performance, she was joined in her dressing room by ‘Hercules’ (George Claydon), the oh-so-ironically-named dwarf, who acted as the club’s alleged “comic relief” (he doesn’t actually tell jokes or do anything remotely funny… he’s just a short, dumpy man, mutely mingling with leggy strippers on stage, and the easily-amused audience find this hilarious, for reasons that escape me). As Lucy unwound at her dressing table, he started to massage her neck, then slowly moved his hands down to grope her breasts… she shrugged him off and shrieked, attracting the attention of the passing stage manager ‘Tommy’ (John Steiner), who burst into the room and ordered Hercules to leave, before taking the opportunity to seduce Lucy himself. As she made her post-coital exit from the club, Hercules appeared and cursed her with these spine-chilling words: “You will have a baby… a monster! An evil monster conceived inside your womb! As big as I am small, and possessed by the Devil himself!” Dun-dun-dun!
After I’d stop laughing, I was left to wonder how and where Hercules gained the power to dish out such powerful curses. Are we simply expected to believe that dwarves are inherently magick, in the same way we’re expected to believe that dwarves are inherently hilarious? And if he really is that powerful a practitioner of The Dark Arts, then why does he have such a crappy, demeaning day-job? And why does he wear such boring jumpers? And why doesn’t he have a girlfriend of his own to feel up already? Sadly, that hex is the only line of dialogue he has, and no one else ever bothers to question him about his shenanigans, so he must forever remain an enigma. A petty, pervy, pissy enigma. It’s not as if she even did anything particularly cruel or hurtful to him… all she did was object when he tried to molest her, and cause him a brief bit of embarrassment. He didn’t lose his job, or get beaten up, or even get his face slapped… yet four innocent people end up being viciously murdered, all because he decided to act like a butt-hurt little jerk-off. Tch!
Luckily for Lucy, her sister-in-law (Eileen Atkins, also with an “Italian” accent) just so happens to be a genuflecting, crucifix-carrying, wimple-wearing nun, straight outta the convent. The baby cries up a storm in her presence, and throws a fit at its Christening, so it doesn’t take long for the Sister to become convinced that her nephew might be in need of a holy intervention… although I have to say, she’s rather tardy when it comes to taking any real, decisive action on that front. Considering how quickly and easily she “exorcises” the demon in the end, you have to wonder why she didn’t try it sooner… preferably before the rambunctious little rugrat had murdered her own brother! Did it take that long for her to recharge her Bible? Or did she just have a really bad case of jetlag? Oy…
Fun fact: The cute, kindly midwife in the opening scenes was played by Floella Benjamin… who I still think of as “the woman who used to present Play School”, but apparently she’s a Baroness with an OBE now! Lummy.