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Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Stranger Within

Another movie in the monster baby vein, was The Stranger Within (TSW). This was also a made-for-TV movie, shown on Oct. 1, 1974 on ABC. Normally, television movies are not part of this study, but this one was included because of its affinity to the previous film, It's Alive (which did have a theatrical release). TSW was written by Richard Matheson, a major light in the realm of sci-fi writing. Barbara Eden stars (looking much like Jeanie). George Grizzard co-stars as her husband.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Ann breaks the news to her husband David that she's pregnant. He's shocked and dismayed as he got a vasectomy three years ago. Ann had a bad miscarriage back then, and it was deemed dangerous for her to get pregnant, so David had a vasectomy. They get several more medical tests to check things out. All the tests concur. David cannot be the father, and Ann is, indeed pregnant. The central third of the movie focuses on the question of trust and infidelity (or not). Through all this, Ann acts strangely. She craves lots of salt. She drinks volumes of coffee. She disappears for long walks in the California hills. She likes the house very cold. Sometimes, she is very rude and snippy to David, but later apologizes. She speed reads books, eventually able to absorb the knowledge by merely stroking the covers. They talk of aborting the baby, but every time they set out to the hospital, Ann gets too sick for the operation. Their friend Bob tries hypnosis. Under hypnosis, Ann tells of becoming impregnated by a beam from a space ship while she was in the hills. As the voice of the baby, she talks of a home planet that is cold and has orange seas. David, Bob and friends have a hard time believing any of it. Dr. Klein isn't so sure it's far fetched. Ann's body has undergone "impossible" biological changes. Blood type changed, body temperature stabilized 10 degrees cooler, etc. Ann runs away to the hills. In a remote lake cabin, she gives birth to the baby boy. She walks back, baby in arms, and is joined by many other women, also with babies in their arms. They come to a tall tree with a bright point of light in it. Smoke swirls up, Wind blows, the sound of rocket engines roar, and the women and babies are gone. David sees Ann's latest painting. It's of an alien landscape with dual star suns and an orange sea. He realizes she and the baby have been taken. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Richard Matheson is a good story teller. He took the basic premise behind "Rosemary's Baby" ('68) and recast it as a sci-fi instead of an occult story.

Cultural Connection
Abortion Again -- As mentioned in the previous film review, the underlying theme deals with abortion. Legal for only a year, since Roe v Wade, abortion is bandied about as if it were a long-standing accepted elective surgery. Contrasting with this, is the baby's fighting back. It doesn't want to be aborted. In this film, the baby wins.

It Takes a Village -- There is a good deal of similarity in premise between TSW and John Wyndham's Village of the Damned ('60). In both, aliens impregnate earth women who produce special human-alien hybrid children. Wyndham's story deals with the crop of kids as they are school age and discovering who they are. Matheson focuses more on the pregnancy period.

Bad Babies -- Rosemary's Baby imagined a single strange baby (the Anti-Christ). It's Alive ('74) suggested that there might be multiple bad-babies being born. TSW ends with the reality that many women were impregnated (apparently at the same time). Bad babies galore!

They're After Our Women -- Many other sci-fi films have suggested that aliens, for some reason, want earth women. Of course, the young men of earth can see why -- they're the young and shapely women. Some films hint at the aliens want earth women as breeding stock. Some films were overt -- such as Mars Needs Women ('67). This is the old tribal theme: an outsider tribe has come to steal OUR women. Matheson rakes over the ancient ground, but still manages to give it a creep spin.

Speedy Hypnotism -- The fact that hypnotism is employed as a route to the truth, smacks of a later New Age flavor. Note how quickly Bob is able to hypnotize Ann the second time. "Watch the pendulum…" blamo, she's under. Ann was very very sensitive to hypnotism. AND, there was little screen time to waste on the process.

Avocado Green! -- For those who lived through the 70s, take note of the kitchen in Ann and David's house. Avocado Green appliances! Dark wood! This was the 70s. Avocado green, burn orange and harvest gold, were THE coolest colors ever -- in the marketing mind. Throw in dark brown wood and some faux-hammered metal trim and woohoo baby, you've got that 70s look.

Bottom line? TSW is a fairly well done film for a TV movie. Yes, the budget is small, so the sets are few and somewhat claustrophobic -- as the TV camera favors. The acting is reasonable. Things are slow for the first half, as the fidelity issue is only dabbled in, with little tension. Once the notion of immaculate conception via aliens was made, the movie rushes along to it's roughly drawn conclusion. If the monster baby sub-genre interests you, TSW is online for viewing (YouTube), so one needn't spend money looking for a VHS tape. ---

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