Written and Directed by Larry Cohen
Starring John Ryan, Sharon Farrell, James Dixon, William Wellman, Jr. Shamus Locke, Andrew Duggan, Guy Stockwell, Michael Ansara
It’s Alive is an exploitation of the vulnerability of childbirth told through the prism of the rise of the “family planning” era. It begins with Frank and Lenore Davis (Ryan and Farrell) on their way to the hospital to deliver their second child, 11 years after the birth of the first. There is much exposition during this first act. We learn that the couple is very much in love after having a rocky experience with their first, Chris. Frank wasn’t ready, apparently, and he was quite an asshole about it. Enough of one for Lenore to contemplate abortion for #2.
That’s all changed now. He’s ready for this second one, and everyone’s happily ready for their new child. We get to see a lot of Frank in the first act, and it’s easy to understand why Lenore might be a little concerned for her husband’s commitment to the enterprise. It’s pretty clear that Frank is one of those Mad Men type guys who is used to a world where all the decisions (even the abortion) should be made by men. I used to think it quaint to picture a world where women get slapped for being hysterical,like they did in Airplane. This is proof positive that world existed.
The film takes a turn after Frank witnesses a doctor fall out of the operating area with life ending wounds about the head and neck. He heads back to the birthing room to find all of the nurses and doctors dead and Lenore in hysterics tied to the table. The baby, It of the title, has escaped.
The film takes a turn here. We see the story progress on two levels. First of all, we see the impact on poor Frank. He loses his job (they call it a vacation) after news of the birth attack gets on the news with their names attached. How does Lenore feel? The film doesn’t care to ask, until it an opportunity to show a sneaky reporter trying to exploit her in her (always) frail mental state. Then it’s back to resting for poor Lenore.
The other storyline covers the perspective of the monstrous baby. We get very little view of the beast, created by Rick Baker. Mostly what we see is blurred vision of the camera lense in a sloppy pursuit of victims. It might be scarier if this was done with any amount of skill. My favorite of these sequences is the overwrought slaughter of the milk delivery guy. It’s funny watching the feet dangle on one end of the truck while milk, mixed with pink stuff pours out the other end.
This is the best the film has to offer. The rest are poorly lit shots designed to hide the fact that Cohen didn’t call Baker into work until 2 weeks after production had started. It sounds like they really wanted to save money.
Strange thing is, this film, produced by Warner Brothers, could have afforded to fully utilized the award winning effects wizard, fresh off of The Exorcist. It feels like the decision of the director to go with mysterious, the cheapest way possible.
The most horrific thing about It’s Alive is the truest form of toxic masculinity. The reminder that it used to be acceptable to smoke in the infant ward of a hospital, or to even smoke in a hospital itself ties right into the fact that this film wants us to concentrate on the father as the focal point. The wife was a delivery system of this evil into the world, then she gets to sit on the side and fret while Frank makes all of the decisions, with the help of other men in the police force and field of science.
Saddest part is, Ryan and Farrell were actually pretty good character actors for their time. Watch him in Runaway Train or her in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. if you want to see that. This is garbage meant to make a buck following what men thought the people wanted in 1974. Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist naturally lead to stuff like this crawling around in the sewer of entertainment. Having Warner produce just brings a nicer sheen to the turd.
(* out of *****)