FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jun 29, 2010

Film Club: It's Alive

If you've been here for any length of time, then surely you've heard me tell the fascinating tale of how the poster for It's Alive gave me nightmares after my mom and I walked by it as it hung outside of a movie theater. In case you haven't yet heard the tale...well, that's pretty much it. We walked by it, and later on it gave me nightmares. See? Fascinating.

Despite my relationship with the poster...despite my having a horror blog...despite the fact that it's been around for decades, I'd never seen this 1974 film before last night. Wow, Film Clubbers! Today I feel so much closer to It's Alive- and to you.

But! Do I mean "closer" in a good way? I'll spare you the suspense: yes. Yes, I do. In fact, I liked It's Alive far more than I probably should have. As I watched it, my brain was in this marvelous state: you know the one- the one that makes things which are not profound whatsoever seem totally profound. It's that same place your 7th-grade mind went, when you totally got all the deep meaning in songs by, like, Nena and to prove your connection to that which actually means nothing at all, you would write the lyrics all over your math book cover.

Or maybe that's just me. Regardless, consider this post my math book cover; I'm not sure what was happening in my brain place, but last night I was all "Wow, It's Alive isn't just a horror movie about a homicidal mutant baby, it's an indictment on the modern family! Or is it? It is! And it's an indictment of the pharmaceutical manufacturing industries! Wow." In the cold light of the day after, I don't know how right I was. What I do know for sure is that I enjoyed the hell out of It's Alive and I only feel a little bit wrong about it.

The film begins as Lenore Davis (Sharon Farrell) goes into labor with her second child. Her husband Frank (John P. Ryan) drives her to the hospital and waits alongside other men who are about to become fathers. In the delivery room, Lenore begins to have some difficulty. Her first child popped out in under an hour, and it didn't feel like...this! The doctor assures her that everything is fine- well, save that the baby must be an 11-pounder.

At this point, I would like to take a time out to mention that nothing that weighs 11 pounds should ever come out of a vagina, ever. EVER.

I'm sure plenty of you out there have children, and perhaps some of those children were that large at birth. Maybe- just maybe- you were a child once yourself, and when you came out of your mom's vagina you weighed that much. I just...the whole childbirth thing is beyond me. I mean, I get it; I understand the concepts and all that, but the mechanics of birthing? They make no sense to me. At all. I will summarize it thusly: there are limits. Let it suffice to say, I was sympathizing somethin' awful with Mrs. Davis.

When it finally emerges, the baby lays waste to everyone in the room save his mama. Doctors and nurses lay scattered about, their throats torn open. Baby, thou art loosed!

As the Davises deal with the repercussions of bringing a homicidal mutant baby into the world- you know, stuff like job loss, nosy nurses looking to cop a scoop, reporters at every turn- said baby gets his nom-nom on. As mutant baby-cam shows, perhaps the poor young thing is cranky because he needs glasses. Bad eyesight can lead to headaches, which can lead to irritation.

That woman, by the way? The one who's about to be a victim? She had on the most fabulous white go-go boots you could ever hope to see. I am just saying.

The police want to kill the baby before it completely obliterates the city of Santa Monica. Frank is fine with that; in fact, he continually stresses that the baby isn't really his- not in a my wife obviously had an affair with Xtro kind of way, but rather in a I refuse to believe it's not butter that I made that thing kind of way. You can't really blame him.

The medical community, on the other hand, wants to capture the baby alive in order to study it and attempt to figure out why it's so mean and gross.

So, the baby does his thing (killing people), everyone tries to find it, and Lenore kind of loses her shit. When the baby makes his way home, Frank shoots it up but good. Well, not good dead, but good enough so that junior leaves a trail of blood during his escape. Everyone tracks it down, and Frank has a change of heart. He realizes that even though his son is a hideous, homicidal freak of nature, it's still his son. But it's too late! There's no happy ending for the Davises. I mean, there kind of is because they no longer have to worry about raising a mutant...but it's still sad.

Somehow, It's Alive isn't quite as schlocky as you'd think a movie about a ridiculous-looking mutant monster baby would be. Writer/director Larry Cohen wisely keeps the child in the shadows, only giving us a glimpse here and there of a giant fang, a giant eye, giant claws, or a giant forehead. It's pretty hokey, sure, but too much would have made this movie an all-out laugh riot. The effects are all low-budget, in fact. Earlier I said "throats ripped out" when describing the hospital room massacre; well, the reality is not nearly as gruesome- some blood shows up on some necks and that's about it.

Is it scary? Theoretically, sure. In actuality...not so much. Truth be told, there's not that much action here. The baby hangs out in dark corners, we get some mutant-cam, someone dies. The majority of the film focuses on the Davises- how they're coping or not coping, etc. It's more their story than a monster movie, really. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but nor is it what you might expect.

As for my late-night philosophizing and all that, well, I suppose maybe you could look at It's Alive as a prime example of societal attitudes in the post-1960s, as the Leave It to Beaver-style notions of the ideal family became antiquated. The "me" generation was about to take hold, and white picket fences were no longer the be all, end all. Maybe Cohen is examining changing attitudes about families in the film...or maybe I'm just reading way too much into the fact that Frank makes an off-the-cuff comment about how lucky single people are and the baby kills a milkman. Eh. I like finding depth where perhaps there is none. Otherwise, It's Alive is just a movie about a killer mutant baby and-- wait, that's awesome enough.

Film Club Coolies, Y'all!
Movie Bullstuff
Banned in Queensland
From Midnight, With Love
The House of Sparrows
Innocent Donuts
emma blackwood
Pussy Goes Grrr
The Verdant Dude


Kmork said...

It's that same place your 7th-grade mind went, when you totally got all the deep meaning in songs by, like, Nena and to prove your connection to that which actually means nothing at all, you would write the lyrics all over your math book cover.

This was particulalry inspirational. I'm going to confiscate some of my 7th-grade students' math books and write the lyrics to a Nena song all over the covers. They'll thank me later.

Vicki said...

I must say that pregnancy and giving birth just gives me the creeps. I can watch anything a horror movie throws out at me. Yes I might get a little grossed out or scared but that's the point. However the mere thought of a baby growing inside me or anyone for that matter and coming out of me or them evil or not is the most disturbing thing I can imagine. (okay mouth to anus attaching aside-p.s. human centipede sucked)
Babies are gross!

Verdant Earl said...

I loved the white go-go boots on the blurry woman too. She was clearly all about the class.

Ooh, my review went up the way. I sent you a very late email. ::sniff::

matango said...

1st Detective: "Hunting and killing babies doesn't seem to be my specialty."

2nd Detective: "So, whaddya want? A transfer?"

I loved this movie. Larry Cohen makes great tongue in cheek monster movies. This, Q: The Winged Serpent, and the Stuff are simply awesome.

Thomas Duke said...

I always thought Nena was just a chick that dug balloons (and lots of them). Now I will have to dig deeper!

Anonymous said...

I love this movie!! I used to be terrified of the trailer when I was a kid as well as the poster.

When my son was a newborn this movie would be on the in the background on a weekly basis. I always felt bad for the mutant baby. He just wanted his mom.

Although after having my son the delivery room looked like the one in the movie. I had no drugs because I made to the hospital just in time and the little SOB's foot got caught on the way out and tore me a new one. My husband said it looked like a murder occured in the room.

Sorry for the rant. I felt I needed to share that.

Ruben Romero said...

Before my son was born, I thought child birth was going to be like a cannon firing--instead, it's more like digging a well.

That's how 11 lbs comes out.

Rhubarb said...

Dammit, missed it again. I'm such a slacker.

I thought It's Alive was mostly inspired by the thalidomide babies. The teratogenic (look I know big words) effects of drugs and pesticides was a hot button issue at the time.

beedubelhue said...

What about eleven pounds going into a vagina? Great job,btw.


Banned In Queensland said...

In the DVD commentary, Cohen actually apologises for the costuming of go-go boots girl. There should have been more of it, I say.

Nick Mullins said...

Thanks for suggesting the movie. The whole scene at the hospital is the best part.

I just wanted to say that yes, child birth is crazy. Watching my wife give birth to our daughter changed my understanding of reality. For days afterward I was shaking my head: "THIS is how we all come into the world?!" But the glory of medical science has ways of getting large babies out. Do you remember that the doctor says that he "cut" Lenore? Just think about that for a sec.

michael said...

For a movie that's "as schlocky as you'd think" It's Alive 3: Island of the Alive fits the bill. At one point a baby kills a helicopter pilot which causes the helicopter to explode. Somehow.

Heff said...

I've ALWAYS wanted to see this movie, but never have.

Damnit, I need a Netflix account.

Ruben Romero said...

I think its aweosme that Banned in Queensland watched It's Alive w/ Director's commentary.

ClevelandPoet said...

have such fond memories of this movie....perhaps will have to do something about it for

did you know there was I guess mostly overseas/dvd remake of it in 2008?

Anonymous said...

Fricken fracken...I knew I forgot about something.

deadlydolls said...

Doh! I went on vacation and forgot to pre-plan! Still, love your review and I'm really glad you enjoy it. I can't recommend the sequels highly enough, especially when wacky Michael Moriority comes in! It's funny that for all Cohen's typical biting humor and free reign, It's Alive is a very disciplined little movie.

Ryan Clark said...

I can't say I've ever been all that fond of this movie. I did like it a little more the second time around. I still need to check out the second and third films (I have the three-movie DVD set) but I'm putting it off because I'm expecting them to be worse than the original. I hope I'm proven wrong! Maybe I'll give 'em a watch in the next couple of days.

Rochester Swift said...

"...nothing that weighs 11 pounds should ever come out of a vagina, ever. EVER." After reading that I almost wet myself laughing... great review, and frankly, I think all three films in the series are grossly underrated.