Unborn, The (1991)
Release Date: March 29th, 1991 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Rodman Flender Actors: Brooke Adams, Jeff Hayenga, James Karen, K Callan, Jane Cameron, Kathy Griffin, Wendy Kamenoff, Janice Kent, Rick Podell, Lisa Kudrow
orrowing liberally from “Rosemary’s Baby” (and mimicking some of the visual strategies in “Child’s Play” and “It’s Alive”), “The Unborn” nevertheless retains its own unique sense of horror, steeped in effective paranoia and genetic conspiracies. While many of its scare tactics end up producing the opposite effect – laughter – after an intriguing build, the film manages a consistent atmosphere of dread with its subject matter, gore, and setting. Plus, this obscure little thriller features early roles from Lisa Kudrow as a receptionist and Kathy Griffin as a Lamaze instructor.
After years of unsuccessful attempts at getting pregnant, Virginia Marshall (Brooke Adams) and her husband Brad (Jeff Hayenga) turn to the highly reputable Dr. Meyerling (James Karen). With the revolutionary new techniques developed by the skillful scientist, Virginia soon becomes an expectant mother. But her dream becomes a nightmare when she begins experiencing delusions, paranoia, and the unnerving realization that there is something entirely unnatural about her baby…
Apparently, just like in “Rosemary’s Baby,” a mother’s love knows no boundaries – even when the child is a bloodthirsty, homicidal, mutant superbaby. The comparisons don’t stop with Virginia’s change of heart toward her killer kid, however, as loving husband Brad is involved with the creepy Human Genome Project advocate Dr. Meyerling – exactly like John Cassavetes’ counterpart Guy, who participated in a devilish cult in the aforementioned Roman Polanski classic. Aside from very obvious, similar themes, even the subplots – such as a fellow patient who catches on to the doctor’s genetic experimentations and winds up comatose before she can talk it over with Virginia – mirrors Polanski’s far superior horror epic.
The eeriness of an alien creature growing inside of the unsuspecting heroin is occasionally genuine, further amplified by her frequent isolation, nightmares, and familial estrangement. Her history of depression, breakdowns, a revolting rash, and disquieting music (periodically replaced with jazzier, badly out-of-place rock beats) also aid in the film’s frights, but, unfortunately, too much of it is unintentionally hilarious. A particularly grizzly moment in which one of Meyerling’s victims stabs her own swollen belly with a butcher knife, along with several other choice bits of foreshadowing, are all recklessly abandoned once the glistening plastic infant is finally revealed. The terror of the setup and the creepiness of the characters succumb to unavoidable chuckles. It’s hard not to laugh at such a pathetic prop.
Famous schlock movie producer Roger Corman said he intended for “The Unborn” to be “’Rosemary’s Baby’ meets Cronenberg’s ‘The Fly.’” He was also playing off the successes of prenatal shockers and possessed children slashers that sprung up during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Ironically, all of the projects used for inspiration were infinitely more affecting and memorable – although “The Unborn” did spawn a very unnoted sequel in 1994.
– The Massie Twins