DVD Reviews: ‘The Baby,’ ‘Bloody Birthday’ & ‘Nightmares’

Two of these old exploitation DVDs from Severin earn are forgotten classics. Which one is crap?

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

No matter how many movies you watch, it seems like there’s always something else to discover: something wonderful, something trashy, or just plain something completely alien to you. For those kinds of situations we have companies like Severin, which this week releases not one but three horror films from their apparently well-stocked vaults, each of them about some seriously screwed up children. There are two ‘Must Sees’ in this bunch and one little oddity that’s for genre fans only. Let’s take a quick look at the DVDs for The Baby, Bloody Birthday and Nightmares.

 

THE BABY (dir. Ted Post, 1973)

 

First we take a trip back to 1973, a time when ‘retarded’ was evidently a clinical term. You see, Anjanette Comer stars as a social worker assigned to a most peculiar case: ‘Baby,’ a grown man stuck in an infantile state. He crawls around in diapers, he sleeps in a crib, he can’t talk or walk. But is his condition genuine or has he been abused into it by a misandrist stepmother (Strangers on a Train’s Ruth Roman) and two sadistic half-sisters (Marianna Hill and Susanne Zenor)? The Baby takes place in one of the more twisted corners of John Waters-ville, with puerile trash cohabitating with Lifetime Original Movie melodrama and the occasional murder or two. That John Waters didn’t make this is beside the point. Director Ted Post has an unusually strong pedigree for this kind of thing (he also directed Magnum Force and Hang ‘Em High), and his straight-faced take on the exploitative material instills the film with a wholly unexpected poignancy, especially the incredible ending which questions whether any adult can care for a helpless innocent without taking advantage. The Baby is a fantastically weird film, and the DVD offers a rock-solid transfer (especially given the film’s pedigree and age), and offers a smattering of interviews to boot.

Crave Online Review (Film): 7.5/10

Crave Online Review (DVD): 8.5/10

 

BLOODY BIRTHDAY (dir. Ed Hunt, 1981)

 

Kids are scary. Horror movies have known this for decades, but of late they’ve been downgraded to mere ‘spooky’ status, witnessing supernatural events or hanging about in dimly lit hallways singing nursery rhymes for no particular reason. The kids in Bloody Birthday would eat those kids for breakfast, maybe even literally. Director Ed Hunt tells the story of a three little kids born on the same day during a solar eclipse that, thanks to the power of astrology, has robbed them of their conscience. Over the course of the film they commit a series of shocking murders, some out of opportunity and some to exact base revenge on the parents and peers who annoy them. These days a movie with a ‘killer kid’ angle would probably downplay the sicker thrills in an attempt to avoid controversy, but Bloody Birthday is a blood and breast-filled slasher, including an early nude scene from MTV’s Downtown Julie Brown. But most shocking of all is the fact that Bloody Birthday is really, really, really good. A cast of interesting characters (including a particularly malevolent young Billy Jayne of Just One of the Guys fame) and a consistently ratcheted level of suspense makeBloody Birthday a genuine treat, and it’s as smart as it is scary. More interviews accompany this baby, which has the best transfer of all Severin’s releases this week, along with a featurette on the history of slasher movies.

Crave Online Rating (Film): 8.5/10

Crave Online Rating (DVD): 9/10

 

NIGHTMARES (dir. John D. Lamond, 1980)

 

The weakest DVD release this week – by far – still isn’t a total wash. Hell Night’s Jenny Neumann stars as Helen Selleck, whose feeble childhood attempts to curb her mother’s adultery inadvertently led to a couple of tragic deaths. Blaming herself and placing an unhealthy stigma on sexuality, Helen grows up to be an introverted aspiring actress who earns herself a small role in a hit play. The bodies start piling up and the movie goes through some of the old Psycho motions to make you question who the killer really is, but it’s obvious from frame one and the movie suffers as a result. Frankly, Nightmares is kind of a mess. It’s not sure if it’s a proper giallo or a cheesy backstage slasher or an old-fashioned psychothriller, and director Lamond’s crazy stylizations – while sometimes genuinely amazing (it has one of the best ‘going mad’ sequences I’ve ever seen) – ultimately turn the movie into an unfocused miasma of horror clichés. The film’s saving grace, a sneering, all-powerful theater critic who inspires greater terror than all the murders put together, unfortunately falls apart as soon as he’s revealed to be a mincing, predatory homosexual. It was a different time, perhaps, but the development no less ugly. The transfer also takes on a weird digital video quality despite being filmed on respectable 35mm. Nightmares is accompanied by a director’s commentary from John D. Lamond and a reel of his trailers.

Crave Online Rating (Film): 4.5/10

Crave Online Rating (DVD): 5/10