It's Alive (1974)
There's only one thing wrong with the Davies baby...
Year of Release: 1974
Running Time: 91 minutes (1:31)
Director: Larry Cohen
John P. Ryan ... Frank Davies
Sharon Farrell ... Lenore Davies
James Dixon ... Lt. Perkins
Daniel Holzman ... Chris
William Wellman Jr. ... Charley
Andrew Duggan ... The Professor
Guy Stockwell ... Bob Clayton
"It's a fine world to bring a kid into, isn't it?" Frank Davies asks as he awaits the birth of his second child.
A fine world indeed. Davies lives in the modern age with all its wonders - and all its evils; polluted air, foods sprayed with deadly chemicals, misused drugs and hidden radioactive substances. Ever wonder what the result of all these poisons might be? Well, Davies is about to find out firsthand. And whatever it is, It's Alive - and it's a vicious, newborn executioner!
The joy Davies and his wife share for their new offspring turns into a grotesque nightmare for them and for all Los Angeles as the fanged and clawed humanoid escapes from the delivery room and does what it instinctively does best: it kills. No one is safe during this rampage, especially the parents, who soon realize the creature has one destination in mind - home.
It's Alive, bringin' whole new meanin' to the phrase "from the cradle to the grave."
An speakin' of a dark spin, I apologize for not talkin' flicks last week, but yesterday was the first night I've gotten any sleep since the solar eclipse. We got Reverend Dollarhide claimin' it was the work of the devil, then there's Pastor Kurasaki over at the Land of the Rising Son Tabernacle sayin' it's a sign from God, but if you wanna get at the truth behind it I'm pretty sure it was just a marketing ploy by the earplug industry an Serta mattress. I mean, it's bad enough havin' approximately 119 million foreigners from Washington an California showin' up to take over the town like the Cowboys from Hell, but it's even worse when irresponsible people start lettin' their farm animals look at the eclipse without proper eye protection. We could prolly get by with a blind president, but do you have any idea what happens when every rooster in town goes blind an has no clue what time it is? No? Well, I'll tell ya: they err on the side of caution an crow DAY AND NIGHT. I used to think all the pantywaist liberals cryin' about sleep deprivation torture at Gitmo'd just sprung another leak in their bleedin' hearts, but lemme tell ya somethin' - after about three days your body begins conspirin' to kill you so it can get some sleep, an after a week an a half your brain's so fried that you start thinkin' about what a great idea it'd be to dig a pond in the backyard to accommodate your new platypus nursery. Thank cripes my credit card has a $50 spendin' limit. Like I was sayin' though, the ninth day's when everybody finally went completely craphaggard an started chasin' down chickens like Rocky Balboa an bitin' their heads off like freelance circus geeks. It was damn creepy too, cause the crowin' from a given block'd just randomly stop all the sudden an be immediately replaced by the damnedest cacophony of snorin' you'd ever heard. Folks were collapsin' in their chicken houses from sheer exhaustion an not wakin' up for 16-hour spans. We're pretty much back to normal now though; stores're open again, kids finally started school, a few folks have some residual Poultry Traumatic Stress Disorder, but they seem to be workin' through it with their bartenders, so I'm sure this thing'll be smoothed out in the next few days. I mean, as long as the chickens don't start risin' from the grave like in Poultrygeist.
That's about all I got to say about the stupid eclipse. I can go outside every night an NOT see the sun in the sky, big deal. Now, Labor Day weekend, *that* is a big deal, an I got the perfect flick to mark the occasion; the great Larry Cohen mutant baby birthin' classic, It's Alive. Sure, Rosemary's Baby did it first, but *that* baby don't even show up until you're over two hours into the flick, an by the time it finally does it don't do diddly squat. Here you've got serious infant fu within the first 15 minutes an absolutely no idea what the heck's goin' on, so you tell me who you'd rather entrust with your baby; Larry Cohen, or Roman Polanski? Damn right, not *one* of you said Polanski, an it's got nothin' to do with that other reason why you can't trust Polanski around kids. So now that we've established why It's Alive is the superior choice for learnin' about demons in diapers, I'm gonna artificially disseminate just a few of its top shelf tidbits an make you forget all about Mia Farrow's pixie cut. First, if God'd intended for us to smoke an chew gum at the same time He'da given us two mouths. Second, without doctor/patient confidentiality hospitals'd be givin' out the names of monster baby mamas an daddy's to anybody with a press pass. An third, it's really hard to break into the prostitution industry once you've spawned a cannibalistic crotch dropling.
Butcha know somethin'? If I were a liberal an I wanted to bring folks around to my way of thinkin' with regard to the whole pro-choice/pro-life issue, I'd be makin' this flick the centerpiece of my argument. Cause really - who's gonna have the guts to argue Roe v. Wade in front of the supreme court knowin' there're millions of women out there susceptible to impregnation with rampagin' demon feti? I mean, we've already got a serious doctor/nursin' shortage in this country, an bein' forced to birth out more of these little twat goblins without an attack dog suit an a hockey mask for protection is only gonna exacerbate that problem. You'd prolly also wanna have an Army sharpshooter in there with a tranquilizer gun waitin' to blast the little booger so it'll pass out long enough for a team of dentists an manicurists to get in there an file down all its pointy parts. Nevermind what happens if it just decides one day that its had enough of livin' under mom's roof an wants to strike out on its own. What's mom supposed to do when it goes all Gut Bucket Berserker an tears its way out? There ain't a midwife in the world prepared to deal with that. At the very least we've gotta start thinkin' about amendin' the minimum requirements on abortions to include barbarian babies who're likely to start pillagin' an massacrin' delivery rooms right outta the coot chute. Seriously people, we cannot function as a society if we've got packs of foot tall murder mutants roamin' the streets on big wheels, that's just all there is to it. So if you wanna go on thinkin' all life is "sacred", fine, be my guest. But don't come cryin' to me when a gnarly claw rips the face off your gynecologist durin' a routine pelvic exam.
The movie begins with this gal (Lenore) who's just about ready to squeeze out a 7lb batch of man repellent wakin' up in the middle of the night an tellin' 'er husband (Frank) that if he don't get 'er bloated backside down to the hospital like right now their old mattress is about to get upgraded to a water bed. So they dump their now former favorite child (Chris) off with the babysitter (Charley) an get Lenore down to the prenatal unit where she seeks reassurance that she's not about to ruin Frank's life between uterine spasms, an that makes Frank so happy that he heads out to the waitin' room to write a "thank you" letter to the nuns at Lenore's finishin' school. Cept the waitin' room's more depressin' than findin' out your childhood idol died tryin' to push out a Big Mac in the McDonald's bathroom cause everybody's talkin' about the lead, smog, an DDT resistant cockroaches an how if we're not careful the whole damn planet's gonna end up lookin' like Hackensack, New Jersey, while Lenore's in the delivery room listenin' to the doctors explain that there's no reason to panic just cause her baby's got a head the size of a tractor tire. This's about the time Frank notices one of the student nurses come stumblin' into the hallway an collapse like an old lady in a Life Alert ad, an by the time he makes it into the delivery room he finds the entire medical team lookin' like a buncha Syrian refugees who got hit by a Russian cruise missile an can't help but notice that the baby's nowhere to be found an the umbilical cord's been chewed through like a snared coyote leg. Then the cops come an find a trail of blood an half-eaten animal crackers in the air ducts, an needless to say Frank's just a little bit P.O.'d that the hospital isn't equipped to deal with spirited newborns. He gets over it pretty quickly though, an once he's cooled down the lieutenant (Perkins) tells 'im that they're gonna try performin' a late term abortion before the Child Protective Services people show up, an Frank says that sounds fine to him so long as the hospital don't try stickin' 'im with a delivery fee for somethin' he never got.
Course, by the time mornin' rolls around Baby Chewy's crawled his little bambino backside to the outskirts of town, an when this gal who's dressed like she's 20 years too late for Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader tryouts hears 'im cryin' an comes to investigate he accidentally mistakes 'er spray tan for a jar of Gerber carrots. Meanwhile, Frank's gone to work at some high rise office building where a buncha dorks get paid to calculate the percentage of choosy moms who choose Jif or somethin' like that, only he finds out real quick that those choosy moms don't wanna buy Jif when the guy who handles their ad campaign was the same guy who spawned a sideshow attraction with a chainsaw for a face, an the boss hasta let 'im go. Then the paparazzi start circlin' 'im like vultures on a dehydrated gazelle an next thing you know his wife catches the nurses tryin' to record her account of the story so they can go on 60 Minutes an meet Mike Wallace, an Frank ends up firin' so many care providers that the nurses union goes bankrupt. Elsewhere, the malformed midget decides he needs somethin' to wash down his breakfast an hitches a ride on board a Carnation milk wagon until the driver finally notices he's down a coupla 6-packs an ends up gettin' milk bottle shivved while the baby squeals like a goose whose giblets just got bitten off by an alligator gar. Then a coupla suits show up at the parents' place an try gettin' Frank to sell 'em whatever's left of the baby after the L.A.P.D. finishes usin' it for target practice so they can doctor the agreement an tell everybody he's a secret Planned Parenthood fence, until Lenore comes downstairs an scares everybody off in a desperate yet feeble attempt to avoid bein' perceived as a monster maternity ward. Unfortunately, later that night the Skinnedbergh baby shows up at Chris' elementary school an starts raisin' important questions like: if the custodian's face gets torn off, who cleans up the mess? Frank gets wind of this an goes to chat with Lt. Perkins about the situation, but ends up sayin' some pretty hurtful things about the baby an how he wanted a kid who wouldn't prefer Lenore's breast tissue to its contents, an that makes it so mad that it hasta go an splatter some cop shrapnel all over the finger paintins. They eventually catch sight of it an aerate the lawn with .357 shells, but it manages to elude capture with its powerful newborn legs.
Then things start gettin' weird, an by the next night Lenore's actin' one part goofy to two parts guilty like she got whacked out on Ecstasy an slept with the Los Angeles Rams, an after a few minutes of that Frank starts gettin' paranoid an goes to do a perimeter sweep while Lenore watches Looney Tunes an marvels at the calculus necessary to successfully drop an anvil onto a Roadrunner travelin' at 60mph. The missin' 200lbs of top sirloin is what finally clenches it, cause at that point you're talkin' either growin' mutant babies or an undetected PETA raid on the freezer, only while Frank's rootin' around what was supposed to be the nursery, Chris's escaped from the clutches of his chaperone an snuck into the basement of the house where the Scabbage Patch kid just happens to be holed up. Frank ain't about to let this thing reach puberty to find out what kinda sick gifts it'd bring 'im on Father's Day, so he heads downstairs an fires a coupla rounds into its colicky little coccyx until it flees out the back door an uses the babysitter's neck for a teethin' ring. By this point the political cartoons in the newspapers about the police's inability to apprehend an infant've finally gotten their collective goat, so they put out an APB on the little brat an send every unit not currently assigned to beatin' the crap outta hippies to track it down, which eventually leads to a set of bloody prints leadin' into the sewer. Which is actually pretty helpful, since the nasty little yard monster fled the hospital before they could take copies for the birth certificate. At this point they'd prolly be better off just lettin' the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles handle this one, but Lt. Perkins is P.O.'d, an so he sends Frank an a Potty S.W.A.T. team in there to flush the little turd out, only Frank ends up goin' off by 'imself an eventually finds it squealin' like a mule with a winch cable attached to its junk an suddenly develops a serious case of assassin's remorse. This seems like a pretty good place to stop to avoid spoilin' the endin', so if you haven't already seen this one, getcher butt in gear an fix that.
Alrighty, well... prolly not an ideal film to screen for a Lamaze class, but that's Larry Cohen for ya. Larry's one of those directors who's pretty dang weird, but not quite as weird as guys like David Cronenberg or David Lynch, so he never really gets the kind of attention those guys do, but I'd say he's at least as crazy as Herschell Gordon Lewis, which is still pretty good. The guy definitely has a sick sense of humor, but you could kinda get away with that in the 1970s because the ratings system was a hell of a lot more lenient than it would become in the 1980s, and because, for whatever reason, the moral majority didn't seem to really kick up a fuss about things until the '80s. I find it kinda funny that this movie was not only produced by a major studio, but that it also went relatively unscathed by the court of public opinion, whereas a flick like Silent Night, Deadly Night that was released over a decade later literally got pulled from theaters. Granted, Silent Night was aborted because it specifically traumatized *kids*, but another part of that alleged argument was that filmmakers shouldn't be making movies that demonize characters or subjects that were considered sacred. Well, if we're following that line of "reasoning," I'd think the "miracle of childbirth" probably falls into that category as well, yet nobody seemed upset about It's Alive. You could fairly point out that Rosemary's Baby had already laid the foundation and thus preemptively soaked up all the would-be outrage, but Rosemary's Baby has a much more traditional plot structure that centers around the adult characters, where It's Alive takes a far blunter exploitation style approach and frequently departs from the struggle of the parents to show us what the nasty little mutant toddler's up to. Rosemary's Baby is essentially a tragedy, where It's Alive is gritty and plays out more like a Dirty Harry style manhunt flick, only the manhunt just happens to be for a murderous mutant infant. That said, It's Alive was made in the years preceding the PG-13 rating, and despite having quite a bit of blood (but no nudity or "bad" language) managed to secure a PG rating, which no doubt freaked out many a child when it was released in theaters. Although said theatrical release didn't really happen until 1977 because the studio executives at Warner who'd initially backed the project had since been replaced by the time Cohen finished the movie, and they didn't like the idea of a monster baby. Fortunately, in 1977, the revolving door spun again, and when the newest group of executives decided to finally give the flick a legitimate theatrical run it went on to gross over $30,000,000 on a $400,000 budget, which ultimately led to two sequels and, of course, a remake in 2008. Cohen helmed both sequels and has gone on record as saying "I would advise anybody who likes my film to cross the street and avoid seeing the new enchilada," which is advice I fully plan to heed.
In any event, it's prolly about time we take a good hard look at this thing's sonogram an decide whether to carry it to term, or abort it before it rips through our guts to escape the womb. The plot, fun and original as it may be, is absolutely preposterous. This is a fact that does not discourage *me* in the slightest, but it is ridiculous enough that you've got to ask yourself whether or not that kinda thing is likely to ruin a movie for you (and if it is, why in the heck are you reading this?). Admittedly, the sensationalistic element is blown out of proportion for the entertainment of degenerates like myself, but I'm pretty sure the point was really to draw attention to all the problems society has created (pollution, radioactive waste, lead in the water supply, etc.) that have and continue to cause us grief. It's a lot like Prophecy in that regard, only with a human mutant rather than mutated animals. So this is, bizarrely, a movie where the details are generally coherent and well-written, while the most important aspect is completely implausible. *I* like the story, but it's not gonna win any awards for medical accuracy, ya know? The acting on the part of the two principal characters is pretty good, but the supporting cast is rather dull. That said, it isn't really their fault, because most of them are portraying characters with professions that weren't generally portrayed charismatically back in the early '70s. Unless of course, they were the main characters of their respective movies. Pretty much all of our secondaries here are cops, administrators, or hospital staff, and those types of supporting characters were never intended to standout, save maybe in Comedies. Ryan and Farrell suffer from this as well from time to time, but manage to get suitably worked up when the need arises, particularly near the climax where the baby's returned home and Farrell's obviously started to crack from the stress of hiding it from Ryan.
Here's who matters and why: John P. Ryan (Class of 1999, It Lives Again, Futureworld), Sharon Farrell (Night of the Comet, Arcade, Sweet 16, The Premonition), Andrew Duggan (A Return to Salem's Lot, Frankenstein Island, A Fire in the Sky 1978, The Time Machine 1978, It Lives Again), Guy Stockwell (Santa Sangre, Grotesque, The Disappearance of Flight 412, The Monitors), James Dixon (The Stuff, Q: The Winged Serpent, A Return to Salem's Lot, Maniac Cop 1 & 2, Wicked Stepmother, It Lives Again, It's Alive III, Full Moon High, God Told Me To, Michael Ansara (Dr. Strange, The Manitou, Day of the Animals, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy), Robert Emhardt (Demon, Demon), William Wellman Jr. (The Puppet Masters), Nancy Burnett (Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo), Patrick McAllister (Beware! The Blob), Gerald York (Simon King of the Witches), Gwil Richards (Motel Hell, Chopper Chicks in Zombietown, Summer of Fear). Larry Cohen, despite his often ludicrous (but damn entertaining) movie plots, tends to be pretty good at assembling an accomplished and enjoyable cast despite never having made a big budget film, so it should come as no surprise that some of the Cohen alumni have gone on to fairly successful careers. So for the folks who care about this kinda thing, here are the mainstream credits: John P. Ryan (Mickey Malnato in Bound, Warden Rankin in Runaway Train, Mr. O' Rourke in Three O' Clock High, Kennedy in The Postman Always Rings Twice, and the voice of Buzz Bronski in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm), Sharon Farrell (Mrs. Mancini in Can't Buy Me Love), Andrew Duggan (Col. William Henderson in Seven Days in May), Michael Ansara (Abu Sofyan in The Message, and the voice of Warhawk on the Rambo cartoon series, but probably best known for being married to Barbara Eden during her I Dream of Jeannie days), Nancy Burnett (Beth Logan on The Bold and the Beautiful).
The special effects are probably a little subpar on the whole. Truth be told there really isn't that much to discuss, which is to be expected on a movie that was able to secure a PG rating. You've got the mutant baby, which was constructed by Rick Baker (having just completed work on The Exorcist) and isn't in and of itself terrible. It looks like they had a coupla different dolls as well as a mask that could be fitted onto a person's face (this can be deduced from the scene where you see the baby crawling toward the camera in the elementary school), and I think the biggest problem is actually the puppeteering. Those babies get jerked around so fast that all the scenes where you can actually see it move come off as really fake. That said, they did a pretty good job in the editing room ensuring you never saw it long enough to completely ruin the atmosphere, so the baby isn't a complete failure, it's just a little amateurish. Beyond that, it's pretty much just blood and some minor flesh tearing, and being that it was 1974 you'd be correct in assuming the blood is way too thick and way too bright. That was pretty much how they did blood in those days, and it looks like paint, unfortunately. The shooting locations aren't especially interesting, but they are definitely authentic. Most of the movie takes place inside the parents' residence, which was actually just Larry Cohen's house because... well, what the heck difference does it make? Then you've got the hospital which was definitely a real hospital, and the sewer, which obviously wasn't a sewer exactly, rather, it looks to have been the place where the town's storm drain system emptied itself out, but it's still perfectly acceptable and believable. It kinda looks like where they filmed that drag racing scene in Grease now that I think about it. But anyway, the locations were all good enough to enhance the flick's atmosphere, and that's really what matters with regard to critiquing the location scout's judgement. The soundtrack was composed by the great Bernard Herrmann who scored several of Alfred Hitchcock's titles (The Man Who Knew Too Much, North by Northwest, Psycho, and the TV series The Alfred Hitchcock Hour) as well as a lot of the music from the original Twilight Zone TV series and Lost in Space. That said, I wouldn't really count this score among his better works, because despite being more or less effective, it's kinda droning and a bit generic. At least up until the last 15 minutes or so, at which point it gets pretty dang weird and really starts to perk up. That section of the soundtrack seems to have inspired Gus Russo, who did the soundtrack for Basket Case, as the music at the end of that movie reminded me a great deal of some of the music from It's Alive. Overall, Rosemary's Baby is the better crafted movie, but I personally like It's Alive better. It may not be as classy, but it's a lot more fun, so be sure to check it out if you haven't already.