Jump-rope rhyme: Appellate Judge Becker / B.F. Skinner / They both laughed at / The Devil Within Her
Pray for the Devil within Her…Before It Preys on You!
When people hear the name Joan Collins, they immediately think, Dynasty, forgetting that the actress was nearly 50 when she took on her iconic Alexis Carrington role and had had a decades-long career prior.
Of course, Collins herself might prefer that you believe she sprung from Zeus's head like fur-swathed Athena and landed feet-first at Denver Carrington; most of her earlier work consisted of cheesy horror and exploitation films, a good portion barely released prior to her wildly popular '80s soap villainy.
From the bowels of the forbidden Collins files comes The Devil Within Her—catchy title, but it doesn't make much sense. It suggests a Rosemary's Baby scenario about a woman pregnant with a Satan baby, but for most of the film, the devil's actually outside her and in a crib. I guess it's preferable to the aka titles: I Don't Want to Be Born and Sharon's Baby, the latter wholly remarkable since Collins' character is named Lucy.
Anyway, we open with Lucy having a tough time giving birth. "This one doesn't want to be born," her doctor (the great Donald Pleasance) smirks before pulling out a pair of forceps and yanking the reluctant fetus out of its mom like an overeager traffic agent putting the boot on an illegally parked car.
Baby Nicholas is a big 'un. He's also ornery—he puts deep scratches on his mother's face while only a few hours old. He also trashes his room before he's old enough to turn over on his own, and when he's upset, he wails—like the DEVIL!
While Lucy's Italian husband, Gino (Ralph Bates, Taste the Blood of Dracula) is fairly glib about their ever-expanding bundle of misery, Lucy's frightened. It seems that before she was married, Lucy was an ecdysiast—you know, stripper—and a bit of a tart. Her casual nudity and free-wheeling sluttishness attracted the attention of Hercules (George Claydon, Berserk), a dancing dwarf.
He tries to make her; she spurns him, and is so upset that it takes her a full three minutes to recover and sleep with the sleazy club owner, Tommy (John Steiner, Salon Kitty).
Offended, Hercules goes the Rumplestiltskin route, doing what dwarves have been doing for centuries: He goes after her first born, but instead of demanding parenting rights, he puts a curse on the yet-to-be-conceived little bugger, a terrible fate that Gino's sister, Sister Albana (she's an Italian nun), succinctly summarizes: "He'z pozzessed by the DAY-vil!"
Sure enough, our soul-sucked neo-nate is soon on a killing spree—not a hide-in-the-sewer-and-bite killing spree, like the It's Alive babies; baby Nicholas uses shovels and nooses to accomplish his nefarious shenanigans, or uses an unusually hammy hand to push people to their doom.
He also occasionally morphs into Hercules, so maybe it's the wicked little person actually carrying out the mayhem through some sort of astral projection.
Or, he really is Satan.
It's never really clear why Hercules has supernatural powers; maybe it's just a dwarf thing. The little guy himself suggests that he is, in fact, Satan, but why would Satan come to Earth as a dancing dwarf in a grindhouse? Wouldn't he be hanging out with Anton LaVey or the Manson girls or Criswell or someone?
Director Peter Sasdy (Hands of the Ripper) serves up this lurid and ludicrous concoction with enough outlandish elements that this really should be a camp classic; somehow, it just never hits the notes of delirium to make this a bad-movie must-see. You'd think that with a wicked dwarf, a distraught, overemoting heroine, a lethal baby, a stern and prescient Italian nun (played by the acclaimed and decidedly not-Italian British actress Eileen Atkins), and some fairly gory pre-slasher era kills, The Devil Within Her would be a fascinating atrocity, but the film is needlessly padded and spends too much time with characters fretting over little Satan while he does things like smack people in the face or make guttural growling sounds. Scenes that should pop with suspense or camp value—such as the ill-advised decision to baptize Satan Jr.—end up feeling a little too restrained.
Even though we never see Collins' stripper actually strip—she and Hercules do some weird gypsy routine that seems based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame—the actress does offer a finger-on-the-pause-button glimpse of nudity in a gratuitous scene in which she and Bates have sex, a scene far less gratuitous than the one in which Lucy visits Tommy while he's auditioning new strippers. "I wish I could lure you back" he murmurs to the 42-year-old new mother while buxom 20-year-olds whirl around in the buff.
While Collins and Atkins get to do colorful things like give birth while wearing full make up (Collins), strip (Collins), perform an exorcism (Atkins), and scream (both), B-movie vets Bates, Pleasance, Steiner, and Caroline Munro (Maniac) are wasted in largely thankless roles.
This iteration of The Devil Within Her comes to us from Scorpion as part of "Katarina's Nightmare Theater." Katarina is Katarina Leigh Waters, a former wrestler, not to be confused with Maria Kanellis, the former wrestler who's hosting her own line of B-movie DVDs for Code Red, "Maria's B-Movie Mayhem." Katarina does some amusing and informative intro and outro stuff and hawks other films in her series, including Final Exam and Humungous. The disc also includes an interview with John Steiner, who talks about his career as an exploitation star in the '70s. Picture and audio are pretty good given the age and quality of the film.
Satan is always guilty, and Joan Collins has made a career of it, so…
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Scorpion Releasing
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