‘It’s Alive’

It's Alive

It’s Alive (1974) Written, produced, and directed by Larry Cohen. Starring John Ryan, Sharon Farrell, Daniel Holzman, William Wellman, Jr.

It’s time to carry through on the occasionally applied theme for this year’s marathon: babies! And if you’re thinking along those lines one of the first films that should come to you is It’s Alive, though you probably thought of Rosemary’s Baby first. But I haven’t watched that yet.

I remember seeing the TV spot for It’s Alive as a kid and it scared the crap out of me. The claw hanging over the side of the bassinet freaked me out and that scream the baby lets out still gives me a slight chill. So I’m finally getting around to seeing it, and it only took until after my second child to get me there!

Frank Davis (John Ryan) and his wife Lenore (Sharon Farrell) are expecting their second child (just like my wife and me! uh oh…). Everything seems to be going along fine during the delivery until the doctor notices that the baby is unusually large. What have we here? A killer mutant baby! Set loose from the womb, it slaughters everyone in the hospital room, except for Mommy, and is now on the loose, killing people around town. Frank tries to assist the police in tracking down the murdering baby and must come to grips with the horror he has wrought.

There’s a sloppy charm to It’s Alive. We ride through a silly premise via lots of overacting and sloppy camerawork. With the exception of the beautifully stylized kill of the milkman (I didn’t know they still had milkmen in the 70s), the death scenes are unremarkable. The pacing is slow but still held my interest, up until the final scene in the sewers that drags on and on with lots of running and running. A couple of minutes trimmed from that sequence would have been an improvement.

As I’ve already mentioned, I have a fondness for monster movies and, unfortunately, It’s Alive holds back on my favorite aspect; the monster! We see glimpses of it throughout but they are dark, brief and never give us a full look at the mutant baby. If you have sharp eyes you’ll notice a bulbous, veiny head, demonic eyes and vampire-like teeth but I can’t recall a single scene where you see the baby attacking anybody. Obviously that’s because it would look ridiculous. I don’t care how great an actor you are, you probably can’t attack yourself with a puppet and make it look frightening.

Having said that, I respect what director Larry Cohen is trying to do. One of my own fears as a parent is the responsibility I feel for the actions of my child. There are times I ask myself, what if I screw something up so bad that my child becomes dangerous? I suspect the chances of that are extremely remote, but it does cross my mind. The father of It’s Alive is faced with that exact, horrible dilemma. In a scene that reveals the source of the film’s title, Frank gives a speech where he relates himself to Dr. Frankenstein, the creator of the famous monster. But Frank claims the child is not his, thus disavowing himself of any responsibility of the baby’s destruction.

What is the cause of the baby’s mutation? Though a couple of likely possibilities are presented, by the final scene Cohen indicates that the contraceptive drugs taken by the baby’s mother prior to the pregnancy are responsible. He seems to have been at least partially inspired by the Thalidomide crisis of the 1950s and 1960s and the deformities the drug caused in thousands of children. With parents carelessly taking prescribed medication and drug companies willing to destroy evidence of the tragic outcomes, Cohen believes we’re sending our children to hell in a bassinet. Weighty subject matter for a b-grade horror flick, isn’t it? But that’s Larry Cohen’s style, I gather.

All around a good time though a bit disappointing in what I was looking forward to the most. And what I wouldn’t give for an It’s Alive hand puppet


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