Saturday, 3 October 2009
Title: It’s Alive
Director: Larry Cohen
Staring: John P Ryan, Sharon Farrell, James Dixon, William Wellman Jr., Daniel Holzman1
Rating: 3 / 5
Plot: When the Davis’s baby is born, it turns out that it is far from an innocent bundle of joy, especially as this baby has quite a taste for human flesh.
Review: For regular readers of the blog, you will know already that I am expecting my first child next year, which has proven to be quite a surreal experience knowing that you’re going to be someone’s dad, all the more so during a recent scan, which also made me want to dig out this first film in the cult trilogy, all the more so with the recent remake, being treated to a severe critical mauling, like so many of the unnecessary remakes which have appeared in recent years, especially when you consider that it’s so much easier, to cash in on a franchise than starting a new one.
Originally deemed a flop upon its release, the film would only later find its audience on VHS, thanks largely to a clever marketing campaign, which like the film itself teased at the monstrous appearance of the baby, which is actually a smart move by Cohen, who it seems may have also had doubts about his monstrous baby, especially seeing how the baby is only shown in brief glimpses with the majority of shots throughout the film consisting of either it’s deformed claw like hand, or its fanged mouth, with Rick Baker being responsible for these effects and seeing how he only had a small budget, the effects are the majority of the time quite effective, even if they pale when compared to his later work.
The idea of a killer baby is typical of Cohen’s work, especially seeing how he prefers to take an everyday situation / object and putting a horror slant on it, often drawing inspiration from the most random of places, even proving that even Yogurt can be scary with “The Stuff” (1985). With this film Cohen looked at the world around him and the effects that it could have on an unborn child, with the frequent uses of pesticides and chemicals as well as the effects of birth control medication and surprisingly, it’s this world that Cohen chooses to focus on throughout the film, rather than making the baby the main focus, which is kind of what I expected, were as it soon becomes more of a study of the strains of parental responsibility, with Cohen especially focusing on it’s effects on Frank Davis (Ryan) who at the start of the film is excited about the birth of the baby, only for these emotions to quickly to be replaced with feelings of disgust for the new born child, showing little if any emotion for the child and more than happy to encourage the police to kill the child, while meanwhile the doctors and drug companies are also just as eager to destroy the child, to prevent any possible backlash. All of this adds up to an interesting look at humanity as a whole and how self preservation, often plays an important role. Something especially examined with the actions of the child, who from the outset might be killing at any given opportunity and it basically does however Cohen still finds a motive for it’s action, especially as it gets closer to home, determined it seems to still be part of it’s family, even if that family is not overly keen to be reunited with it.
Surprisingly for a film which is at it’s heart a low budget horror, Cohen doesn’t feel the urge to rush any action, especially when it comes to the attack scenes, which are sporadic to say the least, with the body count falling short of anything resembling double features with the majority of these death occurring during the birth scene, which also proves to be the downfall of the film, as the remaineder of the film fails to compete with this memorable opening, which might be a tad disappointing to some viewers, especially those looking for a killer baby rampage, as it certainly is not here with Cohen more interested in examining the strains of the Davis family, as things grow increasingly more tense between them, with mother Lenore turning to the bottle as her coping mechanism, were as Frank struggles to hold his family together, with an almost permanent expression of grim determination on his face and this it has to be said slows the film down considerably and past the point in which the more casual viewers will be able to endure, who will no doubt have tuned out before the film reaches it’s climatic chase through the LA storm drains before ending on a cliff-hanger, which informs us that the nightmare might be far from over.
“It’s Alive” like so many of the 70’s horror classics is heavy on social commentary, including Abortion, Pharmaceutical side effects, as well as the deterioration of the family unit, all of which give plenty of material for the script to work with and it is one of the stronger aspects of the film and certainly something that is clearly missing from more recent horror films, which are often more concerned with easy scares and providing the audience with eye candy than actual issues and while Cohen might be as highly regarded as other directors from the same era such as Carpenter or Romero, but here is proves still to be a noteworthy director in the genre, even if it is largely a film comprised of more misfire than those of memorable horror.