The Stranger Within (1974)

You know your pregnancy has gone off the rails when Bosley from Charlie’s Angels is hypnotizing you and demanding to know who the real father of your child is! But what else is your husband supposed to do when he’s had a vasectomy, but you somehow go and turn up all preggers despite swearing up and down that you’ve always been faithful? Do you want to save your marriage or not? Then keep your eye on the swinging pendant and try not to claw your ears out listening to David Doyle’s gravelly voice interrogating you about your sex life!

The mysterious pregnancy of Ann Collins (Barbara Eden) is causing a rift between her and her husband, college professor David. Due to the risk to Ann’s health her last pregnancy caused her, they agreed they wouldn’t have children and he even went so far as to have an operation to ensure that. But something went wrong!

Did David’s doctor snip the wrong bits down below? Was Ann pumping his hypnotist best friend on the side? Is it a false positive? Is this a TV movie rip-off of Rosemary’s Baby? Or is whatever is going on inside Ann’s womb much more creepy and ominous than even a little anti-Christ fetus spontaneously spawning like what happened with so many unexplained pregnancies in the mid 1970s?

David tries to be supportive throughout much of this, initially agreeing that something must have gone wrong with his operation and getting himself re-checked to ensure he is still shooting blanks. But once it becomes clear there is no medical reason he can be the father of whatever is swimming around inside his wife, he understandably becomes a bit surly by his wife refusing to tell him anything about what is going on.

Though she wants to keep the baby, initially she does the prudent thing considering her health issues and agrees to have an abortion. But every time she goes off to the local abortion clinic, she gets too sick to actually have it! Nothing makes a pregnancy more stressful than when you’re pro-choice while your fetus is pro-life!

If Ann did in fact cheat on David, she wouldn’t be the first hot babe to step out on her man. And the way she looked in her nightgowns, lounging around the house being offended by David’s suspicious looks, most husbands would probably try to be the better man and work things out. But things go from bad to worse in the Collins household when not only does David have to wonder just whose canvas his painter wife has been brushing while he’s slaving away at the local college, but Ann begins to neglect the really important part of their marriage – keeping the damn house clean!

No longer is everything spic and span when he comes home at 4:00 from a hard day of teaching pretty co-eds! Instead the kitchen is a wreck, food everywhere, there’s mud all over the house from Ann’s mysterious hikes in the nearby hills, the house is freezing because Ann keeps all the window’s open and worst of all, the fabulous dinners she used to make him turn into over-salted affairs full of icky stuff like octopus tentacles! Even more concerning, she drinks pot after pot of black coffee, despite her always liking it with cream and sugar before!

A final climatic hypnosis session reveals the awful secret, though a still skeptical David correctly notes that Bosley is totally asking Ann a series of absurdly leading questions. He is finally convinced when he sees a painting his wife has recently completed which confirms everything she said.

Legendary scribe Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, What Dreams May Come) adopts his own story and while the unwanted pregnancy plot feels familiar, it doesn’t go in the direction you would expect a typical TV movie in the occult-obsessed 1970s would, completely eschewing tired and silly tropes about demons and possession for something scarier and more forward looking. (It should also be noted that his story the movie was based on was written back in 1953, long before such pregnancy horror flicks became fairly routine.)

Both Eden and George Grizzard (David) are fine as the husband and wife slowly torn apart by events (and a filthy house) beyond their control. The story unfolds deliberately, the mystery deepening as more details are revealed (the gestation period of this pregnancy is shorter than normal, Ann miraculously heals from wounds and begins speed reading text books and newspapers to gather as much information as possible) all the while the people surrounding Ann attempt to make sense of it all.

The hypnotist best friend feels like the film’s only real misstep, coming off as hokey (particularly the first time she is hypnotized with the lights off and lots of lit candles), but thankfully the film doesn’t dwell on such hocus pocus (the second round of hypnotism is more businesslike). It doesn’t ultimately distract from how effective the rest of the film is, culminating in the unexpectedly expansive and apocalyptic ending foreshadowed by an ominously prescient comment made by the hypnotist of all people. Pass out the cigars because The Stranger Within  is no nasty mutant offspring, but is instead a healthy beautiful baby of pregnancy paranoia!

© 2019 MonsterHunter

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