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Baby Blood (1990)

A low-budget French gore film, in the spirit of early David Cronenberg (Shivers, 1975, Rabid, 1976) and early Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case, 1982, Brain Damage, 1987), less ferociously intellectual than the former but mercifully less misogynist than the latter. A rubber tentacle is imported to France inside an African lion and explodes forth to take up residence in the womb of Yanka (Emanuelle Escourrou), a gap-toothed circus girl. Pregnant and depressed, with the voice of her unnatural fetus giving her instructions, Yanka flees the circus and has a variety of sleazy adventures in down-market locales as she adopts a variety of part-time jobs from waitress to taxi driver. She is driven, in a semi-echo of Ms .45 (1980), to kill a series of obnoxious males who cross her path, and drinks their blood to help her child develop. Finally giving birth to a normal baby who promptly transforms into a monstrosity by sloughing off its human shape, she loses the creature on a bus filled with drunken and abusive rugby players whose loutish behaviour prompts her to induce a fatal crash from which only the monster emerges.

A very black comedy which stands as a refreshingly vile alternative to the hip and wholesome Look Who's Talking (1989) in the voice-over infant stakes, this suffers from a slow start and two separate dispensible prologues, but really takes off down its own twisted path when the heroine enters into her bizarre symbiotic relationship. Highly enthusiastic in its application of grotesque grand guignol gore effects and pleasantly demented in its nasty humour, Baby Blood is maybe the only French film to feature a point-of-view shot of a knife repeatedly stabbing into the crotch of a lecher's Y-fronts, an ambulance attendant being blown up with oxygen and exploding, a tentacled creature ripping apart a bus driver's head, multiple head-crushings, and a trip inside the heroine's body to peek at her beating heart. While most American splatter pictures make sacrifices at the altar of misguided realism, Robak here enthusiastically embraces the rubber-and-ketchup school of ridiculousness, concentrating on achieving a weird and unsettling effect rather than blowing the whole special effects budget on lighting a few production stills well enough to get them on the cover of Fangoria and neglecting to photograph the effects properly when it comes to getting the footage for use in the film.

The circus sequence, with its moth-eaten animals and grimy cages, could be read as a tatty parody of Jean-Jacques Beneix's glitzy Roselyne et les Lions (1988) and the passionate but grubby Escourrou is vaguely in the tradition of the same director's Betty Blue (1986), but Robak is notably uninterested in (or financially unable to join) the style-as-substance young French cinema typified by bandes dessinées buffs Beneix, Luc Besson or Leos Carax. He neglects the Parisien poverty chic that has typified French bizarro cinema from Franju and Godard onwards in favour of smelly provincial settings, where squalid and teeming apartments are not lit with an ethereal blue and the brutal sex is not air-brushed into magazine lay-out glossiness. Baby Blood ends too abruptly, with the engaging Escourrou, whose committed performance anchors the wildness to a potent human story, simply killing off herself on the spur of the moment, and not all of the cast are up to the demands of the darkly witty script, but this is nevertheless a relishably grotty trifle, flamboyantly mean-spirited with a sly and sneaky gallic trace of wit.

First Published In: Eyeball (issue unknown)

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