In the wake of hugely successful and thoroughly unholy classics such as Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (1973), the horror market was swiftly inundated with a torrent of films focusing on the more cosmic side of terror: witchcraft, possession, and satanic worship. For the most part, these schlocky horror titles were weak, rote affairs – rushed exploitation that failed to capture, or even understand, the unspeakable nature of evil in its purest and most-feared form. But Peter Sasdy’s The Monster is so incredulously wide of the mark that it’s bewildering.
Joan Collins stars as Lucy, a London burlesque dancer who is taking time out from her work after becoming pregnant with her husband, Gino, played by Hammer regular Ralph Bates. Unfortunately, before leaving work, Lucy had rejected the sexual advances of a fellow performer, Hercules (George Claydon), causing him to bestow a curse upon her unborn child. And, sure enough, when the little devil finally hits the scene, the infant immediately sets about attacking his family, destroying his home, and unleashing all manner of cot-rocking, room-shaking, sub-Exorcist shenanigans.
Seeking the help of a Catholic nun (Eileen Atkins) and a local doctor (Donald Pleasence), Lucy searches for solutions, both pragmatic and spiritual, in an effort to free the hefty terror tyke from the demonic control of… Hercules? Satan? To be honest, it doesn’t seem to matter much anyway. Like most of the plot’s more crucial details, the where, why’s, and how’s of the narrative seem to be a source of ambivalence to the writers, in a screenplay that merely staggers from one scene to the next, grasping for motivation and reason at every turn.The Monster, also known as I Don’t Want to Be Born, The Devil Within Her, and Sharon’s Baby (reminder: the mother’s name is ‘Lucy’), is an abject disaster on all fronts. Painfully dated in style, our cast dawdles around ugly locations in uglier fashions, while repetitively recounting their concerns about the demon seed over and again. “He’s a very strong baby” we’re told every other scene. Sasdy’s occasional efforts to shock only serve to elicit laughter, as what is perceived to be frightening in The Monster is, in reality, extremely funny. When the perpetrator of your set-piece murders is mere days old, you’re somewhat limited in your kill creativity, and even further limited in your ability to actually frighten your audience. There’s a reason The Omen’s Damien had a dog.
Even at a scant 95 minutes, The Monster has so little narrative to offer it chooses to pad out the runtime with impromptu travelogues of a gloomy 1970s London. Huge chunks of the movie are eaten up watching the cast simply potter around the concrete confines of Piccadilly and Oxford St. The intention appears to be to add a bit of homespun exotica to the proceedings. But, with all of its rusted cars and perpetually grey skies, it’s all so completely uninviting. In both its interior and exterior photography, The Monster presents a stark visual account of yesterday’s London – and frankly, you can keep it.
The Monster is deserving of its disastrous reputation. No one would argue against it being a schlocky, scare-free horror film. But while there are many terrible and tawdry entries in the pantheon of horror - it’s practically an occupational hazard for fans of the genre - The Monster is so staggeringly bad, so ill-equipped to deliver any effective thrill whatsoever, that it becomes oddly compelling. A cinematic equivalent of a car crash, it’s almost impossible to tear your eyes away as the calamity unspools onto the screen, consistently accelerating toward disaster before reaching terminal velocity with a stunning, nonsensical climax. While The Monster is impossible to recommend as an accomplished feature, it conversely plays incredibly well as a morbid curiosity, and, for all of its flaws, remains required viewing for all die-hard horror aficionados. Just the once.
Network has been more generous to The Monster than the film’s detractors might expect. Along with as crisp a print as you are ever likely to ever get for the film itself, the extras package includes the original theatrical trailer, an alternative title sequence, a selection of new video interviews with crew members, (including director Peter Sasdy), and a light-hearted commentary track featuring Laura Mayne and Adrian Smith of the Second Features podcast. Network’s Blu-ray also employs a fun ‘grindhouse’-style presentation, opening with old-school cinema bumpers and a few ‘70s trailers to help set a suitable mood. A nicely generous package for a modest retail price.
The Monster is out now on Blu-ray from Network.