John Bruni reviews The Suckling

The Suckling 89 min., 1990
Written by Francis Teri
Directed by Francis Teri
Language: English
My rating: ★★★

What happens when the fetus survives the abortion?

* * *

One would think that a movie with a topic as controversial as abortion that the director would be pretty heavy-handed with the moral of the story.  There is surprisingly little preaching to be found here, as it seems that Francis Neri’s primary intention is to entertain with one of the most ridiculous villains in horror history.  (Well, it’s hard to top the killer couch in THE SLEEPING CAR, but . . . .)

To set the tone, we start out with a statement before the credits even roll.  The filmmakers make the outrageous claim that this is based on actual events that took place in the 1970’s.  Maybe someone who doesn’t know anything about this movie going in would buy that, but chances are, they read the back of the DVD case.  They know what they’re getting into.

We start with a young woman sleeping.  A mysterious man dressed as a doctor emerges from the shadows and sticks her with a hypodermic needle.  Then, he proceeds to put the uncovered needle into the pocket of his lab coat, which is exactly what any responsible doctor (or clearly-thinking individual) would do . . . .  Anyway, he takes her to the hospital, where she starts tripping out.  She imagines seeing a bare-chested nurse covered in blood and carrying around an axe, for example.  Then, she gets taken into the OR, where the surgeon starts cutting into her belly and—THEN SHE WAKES UP!  That’s right, it was just a dream.  Rattled, she goes to her medicine cabinet, and just as she closes it up, she sees the strange doctor in the reflection of the mirror just as he slits her throat and—THEN SHE WAKES UP!

Well, kind of.  It seems she’s stuck in this loop of really bad dreams because she’s locked away in a loony bin.  A couple of doctors peer in at her, and one of them asks who she is.  The older doctor says that she was the only one who survived the whorehouse/abortion clinic massacre.  He then proceeds to tell us this story, based on police reports.

As silly as it seems, the loop of nightmares is actually kind of clever, especially when we see that she’s really a mental patient.  What could drive her to such lunacy?  And what the fuck was that about the whorehouse/abortion clinic thing?!

As it turns out, she’s just a kid who got pregnant out of wedlock, and her boyfriend is pretty insistent on getting an abortion.  Back then, it was illegal to get your baby sucked out, so they have to get the back alley kind.  Actually, it’s more of a backwoods kind in this case.  They come up to a shitty, crumbling house in the middle of nowhere.  As it turns out, the front of the house is for people looking for prostitutes, and the back is for the people looking for abortions.  How about that!  One-stop shopping, right?  Being an abortionist is probably a good thing for a whorehouse madam to be, so . . . .

She goes in to Big Mama, the madam, but the young woman (we never learn her name, so we’ll call her the young woman) says she’s wants to keep the baby.  She’s only coming here to make her boyfriend, Phil, happy.  Big Mama tries to be disarming about the whole thing, at least until she poisons the young woman’s drink.  You see, Phil covered all bases; he paid Big Mama extra to make sure this kid gets ended and fast.

One forced abortion later, and the young woman is recovering in the waiting room.  In the meantime, one of the whores who assisted in the operation gets rid of the fetus by, wait for it, FLUSHING IT DOWN THE TOILET.  Yeah, like it was a dead goldfish.  Anyway, it winds up underground, where radioactive sewage leaks on it.  The next thing you know, it’s getting bigger, angrier, and meaner.  It wants revenge against all those who did it wrong.

If there can be said to be a moral to this story, it’s that abortion is bad.  But Neri spends very little time dealing with that, especially since it’s more fun to watch a fetus killing people with its umbilical cord.  Yeah, you read that right.  But it goes deeper than that.  Before anyone knows how much trouble they’re in, a wronged whore kills a customer, and Big Mama locks down the house until this mess gets sorted out with no legal repercussions at all, naturally.  Inadvertently, she lays the ground for the fetus trapping them all in the house.  By the time they’re ready to get the fuck out of Dodge, the fetus has used its placental sac to cover up any exits.  No one can break through it at all.

So yeah, Neri is far more interested in having fun than teaching anyone anything.  He also wrote the script, which is where this film really shines.  Even though the situation is very ridiculous, he plays it pretty straight.  It’s a shame that no one can really do anything with it.

The acting, for example, is pretty wooden.  It seems that everyone is just waiting for the other actors to be done reciting, so they can do their own reciting.  No one seems to stand out from anyone else.  It doesn’t help that the sound quality for the dialogue is bad.

The visual effects kick ass when we first see the fetus in the sewers.  As the waste jolts it alive and mutates it, it seems really cool.  They’re all physical effects, by the way.  No CGI to turn you off.  The only problem is, when the fetus is fully grown it just looks awful, like a Troma moster.  The clawed umbilical cord is neat, but everything else just looks too fake.  The worst offense is when the umbilical cord gets sliced off, and it writhes around on the floor in very obvious claymation.  (There is another similar scene with a severed hand.  Ugh.)

There is one moment where the movie doesn’t play it straight, and that’s when we see one of the whores in action with a customer wearing a beanie and brandishing a dildo.  The sound effects are straight from the cartoons, up to the point where she inserts the dildo into her customer’s ass.  It’s pretty funny, but it takes one out of the movie.

Where does this movie get it right?  The set.  It’s very obvious that Neri found an actual, crumbling house from the ‘Seventies and shot the whole thing there.  He’s got an eye for the era, and that also comes out in the costumes and style.  These actors, even though they can’t work with what they’re given, look like they stepped out of a time machine from the ‘Seventies.  Even the film print looks like it was shot back then.

But for every good thing about this movie, there are at least ten bad points.  Another example:  they have the worst gun effects ever.  Also, there is one weakness in the script:  characters.  Aside from the two main ones and Big Mama, the only other person who stands out in this movie is Axl, the villainous bouncer who loses his shit and decides that he’s the hero of the story.  Everyone else exists as cannon fodder, and the deaths aren’t really creative, once you get past the idea of getting killed by an umbilical cord.

There is one really, truly awesome death scene, though:  there’s a weasel of a john in the house who tries to escape through the placental sac and comes to a pretty cool fate.  (Stick around for the credits to see the full extent of this one, and be prepared to laugh at the people who witness it.)  It’s also pretty interesting to see what happens to the killer fetus in the end.  There is also what at first seems like a gratuitous rape scene in the end, but when you see why it’s there, you’ll get a kick out of it.

THE SUCKLING is a very fun, very flawed movie.  If you’re in an MST3K-ish mood, grab a few beers and watch this with friends.  You’ll have a blast.  Just don’t look for any deeper meaning.

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About John Bruni

John Bruni is the author of DONG OF FRANKENSTEIN (New Kink), POOR BASTARDS AND RICH FUCKS and TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE (StrangeHouse) and STRIP (Riot Forge). His short work has appeared in anthologies like A HACKED-UP HOLIDAY MASSACRE (Pill Hill), ZOMBIE! ZOMBIE! BRAIN BANG! (StrangeHouse) and the critically acclaimed VILE THINGS (Comet). He edited STRANGE SEX 3 for StrangeHouse, and he was the editor and publisher of TABARD INN: TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE. Find out more at www.talesofquestionabletaste.com and www.talesofunspeakabletaste.blogspot.com.
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