Larry Cohen has always had fun making no-frills, slightly creepy "B" Horror movies. As a result, his films tend to be non-cerebral, quirky, violent, cheesy-looking, infectiously funny, and, most of all, fun. It is in this spirit of fun that I write this review for one of Cohen's most memorable and fun films, IT'S ALIVE! (1974).
The plot is simple: a relatively normal (though slightly quirky) middle-aged couple with an 11-year-old son, who decided to have one more child, is going through what is obviously a prolonged, painful pregnancy for the expectant soon-to-be-second-time-mother. The Davis family, consisting of Frank (John P. Ryan), Lenore (Sharon Farrell) and Chris (Daniel Holzman) just want to get through it, already. Lenore finally goes into labor one night, and the whole family drives to the hospital, during which time Frank tries to lighten the mood with a little humor. During the interminable wait in the hospital lobby, Frank overhears two men discussing something about the toxins being released into the environment and how scientists are warning of the possible mutations this could cause for humans. Suddenly, a badly wounded doctor comes stumbling out of the O/R and drops dead on the hallway floor. Frank and the others run into the room to find a scene of sheer horror: five doctors and nurses dead, their throats all torn and bloody. As they stare in shock and amazement, Lenore (who is uninjured) delivers the chilling news: she gave birth to a newborn baby monster. As Frank and the police try to find the Davis' mutated son, who had escaped the hospital through a ventilation shaft, Baby Davis tries to find his way home by himself, dispatching several unaware victims in the process. Frank is torn amongst his feelings of protectiveness for his son, of the sense of duty to snuff out this newborn killer's life, and anger at those he feels are overly anxious to kill him.
I have rented this film and seen it on three separate occasions (all on VHS, of course; unfortunately, Warner Brothers has not yet seen fit to issue it on DVD) and it gives me something new to focus on each time. The first time, it was the visceral violence of the film (it is quite bloody); the second time, it was the sheer campiness of the whole thing. The third time, it was the emotional suffering of Frank Davis, as he tries to simultaneously make sense of the situation, figure out what his newborn monstrosity will do next, and to make it right.
Although all of the acting in the film is effective and dependable, none stands out more than John P. Ryan. I love his goofiness at the beginning of the film as he's talking to his "young whipperschnapper" son in a comic Humphrey Bogart-meets-Edward G. Robinson voice. I like the effectiveness of the quiet, tense scene that takes place right after the horrible slaying in the hospital, in which the police try to dance lightly around Frank as they begin to ask him uncomfortable questions at this very awkward time. Frank's foot-shifting, equally uncomfortable responses and increasing agitations hit just the right note, and are a subtle example of great Method Acting. Finally, I like the heartbreakingly somberness of the climactic, and inevitable, final scene.
The PG-rating for IT'S ALIVE! remains something of a deceptive mystery; it IS quite bloody, although there isn't much in the way of graphic gore. Still, this got rather strong ratings abroad: According to IMDb, it received a "15" rating in Sweden, an "18" rating in both the U.K. and The Netherlands (the numbers referring to the age at/above to which the film's viewership was restricted), an "R" rating in Australia, and in Finland, it was banned!
I know it's cheesy, I know that you hardly see the monster baby (which, given the lack of special effects, was probably a good thing and even added to the suspense), and I know that future multiple-Oscar-winning makeup genius Rick Baker was basically beginning to learn his craft here; the fact is, I find it impossible not to like IT'S ALIVE! If you love those late-night creepy old movies, then you know you will like this too. You've got to admit, you like this kind of stuff--and director Larry Cohen sure makes it fun to watch!
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF 1970'S FILMS