“It kills like an animal — and when we find it, we’re going to have to destroy it like one.”
After sending their 11-year-old son (Daniel Holzman) to stay with a family friend (William Wellman, Jr.), a man (John Ryan) and his wife (Sharon Farrell) go to the hospital so Farrell can give birth to their second child — but things quickly go awry with Farrell’s unusual mutant infant, who turns out to be murderously self-protective, and kills numerous people while seeking the security of its own home.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Evil Kids
- Horror Films
- Larry Cohen Films
- Living Nightmare
- Mutant Monsters
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “cleverly written and directed” cult film by Larry Cohen is “at once terrifying and repugnant.” He asserts that it “deals with the relevant issue of doctors indiscriminately giving women unsafe drugs, but only so it can use the shameful baby-as-monster premise, which Cohen exploits to the nth degree.” I disagree that Cohen’s conception of a mutant baby on a rampage is “shameful”, given that his film — while silly, sloppy, often too slow, and badly made in some ways (how can the baby kill and wreak havoc so quickly?!) — carries multiple layers of meaning and subtext within its surprisingly complex storyline. Peary concedes that “at least Cohen has us rooting for the baby by [the] film’s end”, which hints at the fact that a form of connection has been made by those closest to the baby — but most definitively not by the host of outside actors who have ulterior motives for wanting the creature destroyed (ranging from covering up inhumane medical practices to wanting to study the infant).
Peary points out that Ryan — a classically trained actor who spent many years of his career on stage — gives a “surprisingly fine performance”; indeed, he elevates the entire script up a notch, particularly during the touching moments near the end of the film. I like how the L.A. River Basin is used as a metaphorical watery womb for Ryan and his baby to bond within and emerge from (albeit to a fatally hostile crowd). Equally sympathetic and nuanced is Farrell as the creature’s mother, who knows something is “not right” but is ignored by the men-in-power around her throughout her pregnancy, during the birth process, and after her baby has gone missing. I agree with Cohen’s choice to not show much of Rick Baker’s mutant baby design, instead hinting at Its demonic appearance through quick flashes without dwelling on It; appropriately enough, It exists primarily in the shadows. (Cohen has cited Val Lewton’s horror films as an influence, and this makes sense.)
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- John Ryan as Frank Davis
- Sharon Farrell as Lenore Davis
- Good use of Los Angeles locales (including the L.A. River Basin)
- Rick Baker’s special effects and make-up work
- Bernard Herrmann’s score
Yes, as an unusual cult film.
One thought on “It’s Alive! (1974)”
Agreed – a once-must, as a solid cult flick. As per my 6/13/20 post in ‘Revival House of Camp & Cult’ (fb):
“There’s nothing really wrong, honey, it’s just a very, very *big* baby.”
‘It’s Alive’: Made 6 years after ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, this could easily be seen as its familial sequel. It’s as if, upon delivery, Rosemary’s infant started its mission immediately – just bolted from the operating room and killed everything in its path… its path being finding its way to the comforts of home. The chief difference here is that the tiny tyke isn’t satanic; it’s depicted as a mutation brought on by chemical-whiplash (?!) from the contraceptive pills mom used to take. (Cohen has an appropriate agenda re: heads of pharmaceutical companies.) Remarkably, everyone involved here gets through the whole thing with a genuinely straight face – and this is most likely Larry Cohen’s best film. It gets a number of things exactly right: pacing is good; effective photography (esp. baby’s POV), editing and sound design; surprisingly committed performances by Sharon Farrell (progressively unglued) and John P. Ryan as the parents; the film is rather clever in the way it shows (and doesn’t show) the baby; it had Rick Baker on-board for baby make-up – and, best of all, it’s helped immeasurably by one of Bernard Herrmann’s last film scores.