“He could have killed you upstairs. You why he didn’t? He knows you’re his father!”
A baby is born and immediately murders everyone in the operating room. It’s got fangs and claws, and now it’s not only the run from the police, but from the father too.
My heart breaks and it breaks, even with a scene where the baby kills a milkman.
Larry Cohen paints a picture here of traditional masculinity stubbornly, and dangerously, refusing to evolve with the times. This is a story about a man terrified that he’s lost his dominant role in society and refusing to accept both his mistakes and the future.
The husband, Frank, immediately disowns the child (‘he’s not related to us’) and takes agency away from his wife (referring to himself as doctor Frankenstein), and proceeds to hunt it down against his family’s wishes. It is clear that it is his flaws that have created the monster, not his wife (as is so often done in horror films). Frank will hunt done and kill what he subconsciously deems entirely as a failure on his part as the man of the house. He will destroy any evidence of his impotence.
But Cohen does something wonderful here (besides letting a killer baby movie actually be quite funny in addition to having serious high-minded concerns. There’s a scene where a bunch of cops take out their guns and descend upon what turns out to be a normal harmless baby on a picnic blanket, and it’s delightful.). He generates sympathy in the monster by never letting the audience forget that it is indeed a frightened, lonely baby. As Frank’s behaviour grows more violent, Cohen subtly pushes the audience to go against him, to make him the antagonist. And it all comes to a head when he’s given a rifle and heads into the sewers with the police. It seems like the film is going down a road of pure rage, of fear – perhaps even on Frank’s side of the gender politics.
Which makes it all the more surprising and fantastic when it doesn’t.
In a climactic moment of responsibility and sympathy, I actually broke down and cried. During a mutant baby film, would you believe it? But that’s because I figured out Cohen’s secret. He doesn’t just make genre movies – he makes tragedies.
Now, the resolution to all of this powerful stuff feels quite rushed and doesn’t entirely emotionally satisfy (and sets it up unnecessarily for a sequel in a fashion that seems a bit antithetical to the character-driven drama), but this is still a damn good film.