|It’s Alive (1974)
Dir: Larry Cohen
Cast: John P. Ryan, Sharon Farrell, William Wellman Jr, James Dixon, Daniel Hozman
It’s Alive is a movie about a mother who gives birth to a mutant baby who goes on a killing spree. That’s what the movie is actually about. What a stupid premise, must be a dud, right? Actually, it’s Kind of great. I’m not saying this monster-baby movie is a milestone, but it’s incredibly well executed for such a silly concept. Writer/Director Larry Cohen is a cult hero in Horror and Action and is well known in those circles for making e A-quality pictures out of B-Movie ideas. Therefore I felt his contributions were worth noting in this week’s review of It’s Alive.
Frank (John Ryan) and Lenore (Sharen Farrell) and their son Charley (Daniel Hozman) are the definitive portrait of a happy family and are readily awaiting kid #2. Except, this time Lenore has taken “Experimental Fertility Drugs.” Gotta watch out for those. What happens when she goes to the delivery room? The baby jumps out and kills everybody. From then on it becomes a heated pursuit of finding the murderous tot.
We only get glimpses of the baby here and there, but the design is good. Rick Baker (Star Wars, An American Werewolf in London) crafted the creature and it gets the scares. The trick is showing it just enough–not too much. Of course, the monster boy gets a little help from music by composer Bernard “F#@kin!” Herrmann. How Cohen sold Bernie on a movie like this I have no idea. I know the two were friends. In fact, the last thing Bernard Herrman did before he died was watch a rough cut of Cohen’s 1976 thriller God Told Me To (Herrman was going to score the film), ate dinner with Cohen, and then went to his hotel where he died from a heart attack in his sleep. A damn shame but as usual Herrman is at the top of his game for this one.
Story and music aside, what stands out to me is John P. Ryan’s performance as the monster’s grieving father. Ryan puts a lot of intensity into his performance. There’s one scene near the end where he actually finds the baby, scared and helpless and his pain as a conflicted father comes off as heartbreaking, who would’ve thunk it?
It’s Alive is not a great movie–and I’m sure it’s multiple sequels aren’t much to write home about–but it left a mark on the genre. Cohen has always had the ability to put his unique stamp on things and I always love watching him work.
P.S. I have to warn everyone that at the end of It’s Alive a detective reports another monster baby has been born in Seattle. So let’s be vigilant and be on the lookout for a 36-year-old homicidal mutant.