Spaghetti western title changes are bad enough, but the horror genre is just as evil in its intentions. The Monster or I Don’t Want to Be Born or even Sharon’s Baby is a tense and well-realised horror from director Peter Sasdy. Its electric guitar riffs and screams from a birthing mother that opens the film is cold cut perfection. But from there it spirals out of control. What seems sterilised and safe is turned against an audience, and Sasdy’s intentions are well-meaning, dangerous, and interesting. It is how he bridges these thoughts and creative ideas into an unsuspecting audience that proves rather futile because it means depending on the range of a supporting cast to carry an odd story of evil babies and Italian penchants.
Where The Monster succeeds is in its leading characters. Joan Collins’ role as Lucy Carlesi is magnificent. A strong performance from her and some understated work from Donald Pleasence as Dr. Finch mark The Monster as a fine bit of horror. The dialogue he delivers feels light and conversational. The joys of childbirth are countered rather nicely in the minds of an audience, but the film powers on through as a sudden burst of joy. It is not until the happy husband crashes into the hospital room that audiences first encounter the sinister, strange horrors. Where these horrors would work if in the hands of another, stronger character, they are weak and wrought by Ralph Bates. He is an unconvincing draw, but his work with Sasdy on Taste the Blood of Dracula must have inspired something.
Horror in this evolutionary period was rife with countless faces whose names never stuck. The Monster has the reverse problem. With such grand name value, it is fascinating to see why it has slumped to the bottom of the horror pile. Perhaps it was eclipsed by the Hammer Horror generation, and that is a sad shame. Features like The Monster and I, Monster are not just similar in name, but in quality too. For all the wobbly performances, there is an excellent value to The Monster, whose iconography and styling oozes that independent British spirit. Eileen Atkins and Carolien Munro feature briefly also, their work here a mere footnote to the fantastic careers they each had. But that is the sad reality of The Monster, a strong horror piece that is overlooked for all the others that released around it.
Wonderfully revamped for the next generation, there is hope that The Monster will rise again. Rise it shall. A strong piece of the horror genre whose notes of tension and variety borrow from the features before it. Sasdy is an experienced director in the chair for this well-cast feature, one that deploys the same few bumps and bruises as the first few scenes. Its lack of variety in the literal horrors will limit its reach, but the character-driven shock value of the piece is a delightful example of frightful terrors, envious characters and terrified leads. It is all the horror genre at the time could offer, and it is still far more frightful than the modern outings that followed it, pursued the notes it hit and latched itself to.