Review Date: September 4, 2010
Released by: Scorpion Releasing
Release date: September 20, 2011
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
When you look at the rise of films dealing with the devil and with possession in the seventies, the driving force behind nearly all of them seemed to have been a challenge to American normalcy. With the counterculture and all the cultural change of the sixties, the notion of a complacent, content “Nuclear Family” was rapidly becoming passé. The status quo was in question, and films like Rosemary’s Baby
, The Exorcist
and The Omen
sought to use Satan as a force or movement that existed behind the exterior of order. In Rosemary
the baby is the catalyst that unveils urbanity as an imposing mess of oppressive, crumbling walls and duplicitous friendships and relations. In The Exorcist
, the possession of Regan stands to show that not even the loving bonds of family or kindness can defer the evil that lurks within man of a wavering faith. And The Omen
reveals that behind every happy, successful family or institution lies a web of dark secrets that govern our existence. Weighty material, to be sure, but all serve the function of using Satan as this metaphoric symbol of anarchy and peril in what seems to be a just and reasonable world.
The Devil Within Her
tries very much to be the UK’s answer to all three American horror classics, and if you read the synopsis, it seems to fit the bill. A mother gives birth to what she believes to be the spawn of Satan, and one by one the baby makes his powers known. Except here it’s not Satan…it’s a midget with a chip on his shoulder. Seriously. There have certainly been weirder motives in horror, but sometimes you just have to wonder. Italy gave us a Satan worth fearing in its Exorcist rip-off, Beyond the Door
, hell, even Turkey played it straight with Seytan
. But possessive dwarves? Either the Brits have a severely different take on theology than the rest of the world, or someone must have seen a double bill of The Exorcist
and The Sinful Dwarf
in Denmark before penning the script. Ladies and gentleman, Scorpion’s The Devil Within Her
Older films aren’t always known for their brevity, but The Devil Within Her
wastes no time in, erm, conceiving it’s story. The opening frames are of Lucy Carlesi (Joan Collins
, Empire of the Ants
, Fear in the Night
) writhing around on a delivery room bed. The freeze frame on her face reading “The Devil Within Her” (or “I Don’t Want To Be Born” depending on the print) leaves little ambiguity as to what’s happening. The baby is born, but despite what virtually every frame of the wide-eyed, aloof baby would suggest throughout the picture, he’s actually a malicious minion of evil. Upon first holding her progeny, Lucy is fiercely scratched on the cheek. Immediately, she suspects there is something wrong with the child, but well-meaning pediatrician, Dr. Finch (Donald Pleasence
, who else, really?), posits that she merely held him to hard. But no, there is a lot more behind this baby’s actions than that.
Nine months prior, before she met and married the well-off Italian Gino Carlesi (Ralph Bates
, also in Fear in the Night
with Collins among many other Hammer pictures), Lucy was lurid go-go dancer living a wild life of booze and sex. The night the baby was conceived she had had an encounter with a spiteful little person. After her act with the midget Hercules (George Claydon
), she invited him back to her room for a celebratory drink. Things turned awkward when instead the wee man started getting a wee bit excited while rubbing her back. He forcefully moved his hands down onto her breasts, causing Lucy to jump back and call for the stage manager Tommy Morris (John Steiner
). Tommy throws Herc outside and decides to pick up where he left off. Lucy and Tommy make love in her dressing room, and afterwards as Lucy heads home, the midget angrily spews forth a vicious credo: "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!" And that’s just what she did.
The baby continues to keep scratching and harming others, including Gino’s nun sister, Albana (Eileen Atkins
), who comes to visit after Lucy expresses distress at the baby’s perceived evil. He pushes his nurse into a river, puts a dead mouse in his maid’s coffee, and even manages to hang someone else with a noose. Not bad for an immobile little tyke, is it? Lucy tries to deal with it, but whenever she looks at the child all she sees is the midget, smiling and taunting her. It may be a “small” problem, but the repercussions could be huge!
Although Joan Collins certainly takes the proceedings seriously, as a viewer it’s impossible to watch The Devil Within Her
without kind of smiling at the absurdity of it all. I mean, I still can’t even get over how the pitch process for the film might have been (“It’s about a midget scorned, a cautionary tale about not putting out when a dwarf tries to feel you up at a strip club!”). There’s definitely intrigue here from the premise alone, for evil midgets in the cinema there are too few and far between. The cast is also enjoyably accomplished, from Colins, Pleasence and Steiner, and even Caroline Munro who has a few scenes as Lucy’s dancer frienemy. There’s a fairly accomplished beheading that resembles, but predates, The Omen, and there’s a really schmaltzy sex soft focus sex scene between Collins and Bates that keep things interesting. Bad movie fans, there is a lot of notoriety birthed in this one, that’s for sure.
Unfortunately, for all the unintentional laughs and absurdity, there’s a lot of uneventful mediocrity, too. The casting and handling of the baby is the film’s biggest weakness. For one, with his giant, innocent eyes, he proves to be the least fearsome villain in horror history. Okay, maybe he’s second to the rabbits in Night of the Lepus
, but it’s close. The movie gets into a really bad habit of having an actor react in pain or smear blood on their face after the baby comes in contact with him or her, but then when it cuts to the baby it is just happily sitting there without any sense of purpose. I realize it is tough to criticize a baby for not taking direction, but never once is it even remotely believable that this little baby could be evil. Even when they get the baby to cry at the end during the requisite exorcism, it’s more a whimper from having a full diaper than one of divine torment. When the baby is required to do anything other than lie there, it is memorably doubled by a midget stand-in, most notably in the scene where the baby in carriage is somehow able to have the heft to push a grown woman hard enough into a rock for her to lose consciousness and drown. The shot of the little midget hands doing the act is priceless, yes, but too much of the movie just has too little going on for it to hold interest throughout.
Despite having a fine cast, the film really doesn’t invest any money into the other areas that you’d think would be a given. The aforementioned exorcism is particularly anemic. No pyrotechnics, floating beds, crumbling walls or hurtled objects. All we get is a crib being lightly shook back and forth as the nun slogs through her Latin. More often than not the film is happy to just show us outcomes rather than the more interesting process of how it’s done. We hear a terrible rustling upstairs, but when we get to the room it is all in disarray and the baby lies still. We see the dead mouse in the coffee, but there’s no build up as to how it got there. Stuff like that. The Devil Within Her
is a lazy movie.
In my experience with bad movies, the “good” ones, Troll 2
, Howling II
, The Corpse Eaters
and Nightmare City
, among many others, are good because they have energy. That energy may be totally off-base or ludicrous, but it’s entertaining. The Devil Within Her
has flashes of sheer lunacy, but more often than not the direction by Peter Sasdy (Taste the Blood of Dracula
, Razzie winner for The Lonely Lady
) is mostly that of indifference. Still, as a horror fan who thinks he’s seen it all, it’s still tough not to recommend a movie where a midget fondles and curses the child of a go-go dancer.
Scorpion Releasing has done an excellent job with this progressive, anamorphic transfer. It has a colorful vibrancy, from all the primaries in the baby’s room to that lush London grass outside during the drowning sequence. Black levels, which is so often the issue for catalog releases from smaller distributors, are very solid, without any milky greys or extra noise in the shadows. It’s a grainy film, but the grain presented is a filmic, natural one, and there’s enough bitrate allotted to the proceedings that there are no added artifacts as a result. There are some white specs here and there throughout, but on the whole the print is clean and free of any scratches or print damage. While the transfer is not quite as sharp as Scorpion’s work on Final Exam
, it’s still very accomplished and another old film transferred right. Great job.
It’s a mono only mix, but it actually exhibits a fair amount of depth. There’s range to the piece, from the dialogue to the spirited jazz soundtrack. Usually for old mono movies, when you get those quick, high notes that a jazz score would lend, the track tends to sound shrill or thin, but not here. The Devil Within Her
sounds solid, if not quite heavenly.
The Devil Within Her
, along with Final Exam
, is the first to debut the “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” format, wherein former WWE Diva Katarina Leigh Waters hosts an intro and extro for the film in question in a sort of Elivra manner. While I applauded the approach in Final Exam
, I thought the execution left a little to be desired. Thankfully here, though, Katarina seems both more comfortable and more interested in the material, and ends up “delivering” some good laughs and insight into the film. She has fun in a well-staged baby room scenario at the start, and points out some amusing and glaring flaws in the film’s logic later on. I’m looking forward to seeing how this feature progresses through the rest of the line, but if it’s more like this throughout then it’s definitely a fun way to watch these films.
There’s also a fairly lengthy interview with actor cum realtor John Steiner. He talks about his early career and how he had no shame in simply wanting to work. He does amusingly talk about one film that he had to decline, though! He also talks about The Devil Within Her
specifically, as well as working on some of his other notable pictures like Caligula
and Salon Kitty
with Tinto Brass. He also kind of has a thing for Ms. Collins, but really, who doesn’t!? The only other extra is a suitably overwrought trailer that shamelessly asserts “Not since Rosemary’s Baby
…The Devil Within Her
!” Lastly, for those anal enough to not want the “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” banner at the top of their DVD, Scorpion has included the original art on the reverse side of the cover sleeve.
It may have a lazy directorial style with non-existent special effects and cost-cuttingly bland death sequences, but The Devil Within Her
is still a movie about a midget who possesses the baby of a whore dancer he tried to molest. I don’t get to write that every day, and you won’t see too many movies like that, either. If you don’t mind slogging through some lackluster direction, there’s enough absurdity in the script and the performances by accomplished actors to make this enjoyable for bad movie buffs. Scorpion has done another bang up job on the sound and picture quality of this release, and the enjoyable “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” play method gives the disc enough personality to make it worth a watch. The power of Christ certainly shouldn’t compel you to pick this up, hell, even Willow probably wouldn’t, but fans of the perverse may want to pick up this baby.
Movie - C
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B
Supplements - B-
- Running time - 1 hour 34 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- Optional "Katarina's Nightmare Theater" hosting format
- Interview with John Steiner
- Theatrical trailer
- Reversible cover