‘In the last ultrasound, the baby looked okay. But since then it’s doubled in size.’
Considering that the iffy remakes of When a Stranger Calls, Prom Night and Black Christmas got theatrical releases, it’s plain someone lost confidence in this redo of Larry Cohen’s smart little ‘killer baby’ picture. It scarcely runs eighty minutes, and slid out direct to DVD – unlike most other remakes, it’s not the first title that comes up when you enter the title in the search function of the IMDb (even the Larry Buchanan film of the same name crops up earlier in the resulting list!). Though it uses a couple of Cohen’s character names and several scenes analogous to his set-pieces (the delivery room massacre, prowling a darkened house), it could as easily be seen as a remake of I Don’t Want to Be Born or Baby Blood – both of which dealt with the relationship between a mother and an evil/possessed/mutant baby, whereas Cohen focused unusually on the father.
Shot in Bulgaria (seldom a good sign) and set in a flat nowheresville America, it’s clumsy where Cohen was concise. The 1975 film opens with the mother’s labour pains and a trip to the hospital then rockets into its absurd but gripping premise, but this spends ten minutes on the sort of creaky set-up Cohen effortlessly leaped over. Lenore (Bijou Phillips), a bright grad student, is pregnant by her partner Frank Davis (James Murray), and the couple are already looking after Frank’s wheelchairbound kid brother in a spacious one-storey house miles away from anywhere. Concerned the baby has grown too much and Lenore is having unusual symptoms, the doctors perform a caesarian section – ignoring Lenore’s complaint ‘there’s something wrong with the baby’. Once the monster baby is born, the film keeps tripping up over itself as if it didn’t have the heart to run with the premise – rather than be an obvious mutant, the Davis baby (Daniel) looks normal most of the time (some CGI claws and teeth which are never mentioned in the script suggest a change of mind in post-production about what the monster should be) and is adored by his mommy, but keeps leaving the cot to kill animals and visitors. The authorities, led by Sergeant Perkins (Owen Teale), are stumped by the four dead hospital staff, but put up with the sulky new mother’s refusal to co-operate as a witness – though several officers and a shrink are among the unwary visitors to the Davis house who get slaughtered. The lacklustre investigation of the massacre contrasts feebly with the total mobilisation of Los Angeles in 1975. Lenore protects her offspring by tidying away the corpses in the basement and the cars in the yard and even lets Daniel suck blood from her breast (Frank doesn’t notice the scars when she distracts him from wondering what’s going on with sex – though we get to see a big scratched nipple close-up).
The wheelchair kid is set up as a possible ‘final victim’ figure, but is never seriously menaced – so we don’t get a scene where Frank’s loyalties are torn by which of his ‘kids’ to protect. The potentially strong theme of the mother caring for her monster offspring never takes hold thank to silly writing and playing. Much is made early on of Lenore’s best friend Marnie (Ty Glaser), who is annoyed when she stops returning her calls and gives up on her studies to become a full-time mother; this sets up a flashback which combines two throwaway lines of possible explanation in the original to reveal that the cause of the trouble is an internet-ordered abortion drug Leonore took early in her pregnancy before deciding to keep the baby. The explanation comes too late to register thematically, but adds a nasty, conservative edge to the whole tale – though the luxury house and loving husband suggest we’re in a movie fantasyland rather than a realworld setting where a struggling grad student might seriously consider a termination. Marnie is punished for being pro-abortion by getting the most gruesome death scene, as a little clawed baby arm rips through her head and out of her big moth. Regular attacks feature folks nosing around the inexplicably unlocked house and the extensive grounds, spotting something odd (lots of animals are killed and left around), then being leaped on by the barely-seen monster and expiring in ridiculous gouts of gore.
We see less of the baby here than in the 1975 film, which was sparing in its use of Rick Baker’s imaginative design: puppetry wasn’t then advanced to the point when a creature like ET was feasible, but Cohen also kept his monster in shadows to sell a concept which could easily come across as laughable (in stills, the baby works less well than in the movie). Here, a CGI-augmented puppet shows up in one brief full-on snarl as Frank lifts the lid of the bin he’s trapped the moppet in, but a different-looking big-eyed mutant is glimpsed in a near-subliminal cut during a nightmare montage. It ends with a weird-looking housefire, and the mother carrying her baby back into the inferno for a quick, unresonant ending. No remakes of It Lives Again and Island of the Alive will be required. It doesn’t even reuse the Bernard Herrmann score. Directed by Josef Rusnak, who made the interesting misfire The Thirteenth Floor and a couple of dtdvd Wesley Snipes vehicles; scripted by James Portolese (one of ten credited producers) and Paul Sopocy (who was attached to the Thundercats project we were all so excited about in 2009).