Terror Cult: Demon Spawn
We’ve discussed the horrors of family before on Terror Cult, but there’s something uniquely disturbing about the entire concept of bringing a child into the world. Aside from the myriad horrible things that could go wrong in the process of actually rearing a child, the biological process of germinating and whelping an infant is likewise terrifying and gross, particularly for women. You’re basically allowing yourself (or your loved one) to become the host for a slimy alien beansprout creature that will live in your gut for almost a year, slowly growing and draining your body of all its resources, and then eventually exploding out of you, like that chest monster in Alien, in an operatic shower of blood, fecal matter, and unidentifiable biowaste. Pretty disgusting.
Appropriately, the disgustingness of the pregnancy and birth processes, and the attendant anxieties of parenthood, have been tapped many times by filmmakers wanting to make you feel uncomfortable and filled with nameless, existential dread. Horror films about childbearing gone wrong have been a genre unto themselves ever since the late ‘60s, when people’s views on domesticity were just starting to curdle. Usually movies like this are about women wittingly or unwittingly giving birth to Satan. Sometimes, though, the babies are merely deformed, malicious, or latently psychopathic. (Or cursed. By sexually frustrated dwarves.)
The following films offer a sampling of this genre, which also arguably includes movies like The Orphan or Case 39 that deal with evil children murdering their original families and going rogue. There are also a few movies about roving bands of evil children, like the Children of the Corn movies, which are much less closely tied to fears about parental responsibility and/or afterbirth. The following films deal pretty much exclusively with harrowing pregnancies and demonic infants, and they’re concentrated mainly during the ‘70s, when the subgenre enjoyed its greatest popularity.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Rosemary’s Baby is the quintessential scary pregnancy movie, and arguably the best one ever made. Directed by Roman Polanski and starring Woody Allen’s doe-eyed former ladyfriend Mia Farrow in the title role, Rosemary’s Baby tells the story of a couple who move into an apartment complex and become pregnant. The pregnancy goes south fast, and buckling under the weight of horrible abdominal pains, shocking cravings for blood and raw meat, and general wariness of their incredibly suspicious neighbors, Rosemary becomes obsessed with the fear that her pregnancy is being controlled by witchcraft. The best part of the movie is probably Ruth Gordon, of Harold and Maude, playing a nosey, rouge-caked Satanic neighbor, but her much-needed comic relief is only a counterpoint to the film’s uncanny flair for building up slow-burning anxiety and dread.
It’s Alive (1974)
Directed by cult favorite Larry Cohen, whose other notable credits include the equally hilarious and fantastic The Stuff and Q: The Winged Serpent, It’s Alive opens with a harrowing hospital scene wherein a mutant baby, fresh from its mother’s birth canal, rockets through an entire maternity ward leaving a trail of death, blood smears, and capsized bedpans in its wake. The ensuing media frenzy and police hunt comprise the rest of the film, which needless to say also involves plenty of gratuitous bloodshed. Larry Cohen is known for making entertaining genre movies on a shoestring budget, and like most of his other work, It’s Alive is also remarkable for having a remarkably well-thought-out and nuanced take on its hokey subject matter. It was remade by less formidable forces in 2008, but the original is the one that really holds water.
The Devil Within Her (1975)
Ganking one of several titles haphazardly applied to an Italian Rosemary knockoff released the year prior, The Devil Within Her is an incredibly weird and confusing British movie that, for some reason, stars Joan Collins. Joan plays a middle class housewife and recent mother who is dismayed, following her baby’s birth, by a series of inexplicable killings and disappearances of people close to her. As you were probably already suspecting, this all turns out to be the result of a curse placed on Joan by an enraged magical dwarf who was upset that she wouldn’t have sex with him. Really. Thanks to the curse, Joan’s baby is now evil and bloodthirsty, and will stop at nothing to destroy everyone Joan cares about and ruin her life forever. It may occur to you, reading this description, that the movie is sort of unfairly prejudiced against little people, but rest assured, it’s still not as bad as Little Cigars.
The Omen (1976)
Starring “Serious Actor” Gregory Peck, The Omen was the first in a pretty successful series of movies during the ‘70s and early ‘80s about the rise of the Antichrist. After his newborn first child ostensibly dies on the operating table, Gregory, in the role of a U.S. Ambassador to Rome, furtively accepts a replacement baby from a shifty Catholic priest in order to avoid freaking out his wife. Gregory’s wife ends up being way more freaked out in the long term, however, when it starts to become gradually apparent that the baby they are raising is a scary, demonic creature bent on world domination. The Omen is pretty languidly paced by modern standards and can seem slow, but as long as you’re capable of getting yourself into an adequately paranoid, Catholic mindset ahead of time, it really rewards attention.
To the Devil, a Daughter (1976)
Yet another installment from Britain, this time courtesy of notoriously sexy and bloody Hammer studios, To the Devil stars Christopher Lee as an eerily suave Satanic priest, and German sexpot Nastassja Kinski in her first starring role ever. Nastassja plays Catherine, a seemingly innocent and virginal nun who gets caught up in a nefarious plot by Lee and his attendant Satanic sycophants to – you guessed it – bring about the birth of the Antichrist. The movie has many striking sequences, and Nastassja gets naked plenty, but the centerpiece of the film is a bizarrely erotic fantasy sequence wherein a bloody, froglike devil baby mounts her and crawls inside her uterus through her vagina. Sexy!
Baby Blood (1990)
Baby Blood is a French gore film that was originally released in North America on VHS, in a heavily recut version titled The Evil Within. I remember this because I rented it once from the video store and it had this really amazing shot-on-video intro with a fake horror host in a fright wig trying to get me to mail order T-shirts with the North American distributor’s logo on them. Arguably a nostalgia throwback, Baby Blood isn’t literally about a lady who’s pregnant with Satan, but instead (because it’s French) about some weird, post-God, Existential symbol of chaos and destruction or something. All I really remember is that the opening sequence involved lots of stock footage of volcanoes going off while the baby did a hokey Cryptkeeper voiceover about the nature of evil and the ubiquity of violence, etc.
The story concerns a woman with an abusive husband who becomes supernaturally impregnated with a strange demonic creature that telepathically demands to constantly be fed human blood. The uncut version was released by Anchor Bay several years post-VHS, and although I haven’t watched them back-to-back, I’m pretty sure the DVD cut mainly includes more nakedness than the VHS version, which excised a lot of footage of the preggers female protagonist crawling around nude and caked with blood, plus another really weird scene where this guy is having sex with her and the baby tries to chew his penis off.