An opening crawl informs us that, on April 1, 1973 (y’know, April Fool’s Day), a bunch of prostitutes and other sundry folks were killed at a rundown brothel/abortion clinic. The lone survivor, an unidentified woman (in both the film and its credits, though she’s played by Lisa Petruno, and for the purposes of this review I’ll refer to her as The Mother), is kept at an asylum, where two doctors somnambulistically discuss her case. Flashback to: the fateful day, where an abortion goes very, VERY wrong.
Francis Teri’s The Suckling (aka Sewage Baby) is a simultaneously tasteless and fascinating film. Obviously, any movie using abortion as a springboard for gore effects is going to be tacky to some degree or another, yet there are things going on under the surface here that intrigue as well as exploit. So, let’s look at the more serious side here to start. Roe v. Wade was passed in January of 1973, making abortion legal under the Constitution of the United States of America. Since the film takes place in April of that same year, it follows that Phil (the father) and The Mother didn’t have to go to a back alley abortion clinic from a legal standpoint (she states that “this place is illegal”; it wasn’t by this point, but for the sake of argument let’s agree that maybe she didn’t know about the Supreme Court’s decision). Nonetheless, the very idea of abortion still had a stigma to it (and still does to a certain extent even today), as did pregnancies outside of wedlock (damned if you do, damned if you don’t). The Mother doesn’t want the abortion. She wants to put the baby up for adoption as soon as it’s born. Phil, surely thinking only of his reputation, insists that she go just to talk it over with Big Mama (Janet Sovey), the madam and abortionist at the whorehouse. The Mother is drugged, and the fetus is forcibly aborted, an encroachment of The Mother’s rights and an assault on her body that is, frankly, heinous. By violating The Mother so personally, the characters in the brothel (and anyone associated with them) damn themselves. Because she didn’t want the abortion in the first place, The Mother and the Suckling still share a symbiotic connection, symbolized by the deadly umbilicus that the fetus grows (helped greatly by some convenient toxic waste that drips down onto it) after being flushed down the toilet and landing in one of the smokiest sewers ever put to film. The Mother is devastated by the loss of her baby against her will, and the Suckling responds to this.
This bond between The Mother and the Suckling manifests itself in the brothel. After beginning its assault, the Suckling envelops the house in a placenta that the characters cannot break through, and even if they did, it would dissolve them. First, this traps the characters in one location for easy pickings. Second, it re-encases the Suckling in the womb from which both it and its mom didn’t want it to be removed. The Suckling reacts, I tend to believe, to The Mother’s conscious and unconscious desires and protects her while also taking revenge against the people who hurt her. The longing to return to the womb exhibits itself later on when the Suckling literally shrinks to its birth size and reinserts itself into The Mother. She is already on the edge by this point in the film, and it really makes you wonder whether this wish fulfillment pushed her over the precipice, because something monstrous happened to her when the fetus was removed from her (with a wire hanger on which Big Mama hangs her coat, by the by) and something monstrous happened to her again when this malevolent creature thrust itself back inside her (which is also a bit Oedipal in my opinion, especially considering what happens to Phil). In a way, The Mother’s body ownership is taken away from her completely by both the abortionists and by her own child, and in the end, she has shut down, a piece of meat that can no longer choose for herself what to do with her body. The Suckling protects her from harm while it also possesses her body for itself, the symbiosis between mother and child turned toxic and permanent.
The Suckling is also unafraid to go extremely broad in its humor, a decision I’m unsure about to the extent of whether it helps or harms the film (though I do tend to lean towards the latter, because it’s frankly not clever or subtle enough to be successful as black comedy, and in the context of this film, I think that’s key). For example, a nerdy guy in a loud plaid suit and bowtie and a kid with the word “fuck” written on his tee shirt gawp as a man liquefies in front of them (a blunt, one-note “joke,” to be sure). The clearest exemplar, however, is the rich john who visits the brothel while the abortion is taking place. He enjoys getting pegged with a large dildo while wearing a propeller-topped beanie. Said propeller, naturally, responds to what happens to this guy’s body, spinning and even popping off at one point (to the accompaniment of goofy sound effects). The prostitute he’s with rolls her eyes and leaves in the middle of their session. Later, he’ll be made to bark like a dog in a different context. But he’s wealthy and entitled, and for as much as he sees himself as above the prostitutes in the brothel, his bizarre proclivities, his dirty little secrets, make him lower than them. The prostitutes work for their money, and this is just a job for them, an act they put on in private. The john, by contrast, puts his act on in public. In private, his true self comes out, and it’s the hypocrisy of respectability that is lampooned (successfully or not) in the scenes with him.
The Suckling itself is a decent monster makeup, even for how odd it is. It has spikes everywhere on its body and hook hands (and I have never completely understood beasts with hooks for hands like Gigan, the Hook Horror from Dungeons & Dragons, et cetera; they’re totally impractical outside of the one obvious function, but whatever), and its teeth are about the length of a man’s forearm and protrude from its maw, resembling a pink, slimy Venus flytrap (or the monster from The Terror Within on crack, and The Suckling bears some resemblance to that film in the monster child department, as well; coincidence?). As a concept, it makes no sense, but as something cool for makeup effects lovers, it works well enough in its uniqueness.
And yet, the film itself is lifeless outside of the gore/effects scenes. The acting is wooden across the board. The characters are either irritating or distasteful or both. There is zero sympathy built up for any of them, including and especially The Mother, who spends the entire movie as a passive, crying lump. The cinematography is flat and static with the brief exception of the few scenes shot in the sewer which actually looked visually interesting. There is no plot once the killings start, no tension either between the characters (despite the attempt to do so with the shitheaded thug/contagonist character Axel [Frank Rivera]) or as anticipation for where and when the Suckling will strike next. So, the best advice I can give to anyone interested enough in watching this movie is to be sure you keep your finger floating over the fast forward button.
MVT: The effects are about the only thing that worked for me in this. Maybe that was the point/intent, so credit where it’s due.
Make or Break: The Break for me was the “funny” scene between the rich john and the hooker. Humor that low grade takes a certain talent to pull off, and sadly, that talent is lacking here.