Retro Review: IT’S ALIVE (1974)

Back with a Retro Review of the B-Classic. WARNING: Has minor plot spoilers and a dark image of the baby. – Bleeding Dead

A severely pregnant Lenore wakes her and her husband, Frank, one night while going into labor. In a serene build up, Frank and Lenore drop off their eleven-year-old son, Chris, at their friend’s house and drive to the hospital. All appears fairly prosaic. It’s only Lenore’s quiet concerns about how “different” this baby feels from her previous pregnancy that seem odd in an otherwise exceptionally calm labor. At the hospital Lenore proceeds with the labor while Frank waits in the other room. Lenore again voices her feelings about how there is something wrong with the baby, but the doctor assures her that everything is normal with the only exception being that the baby is a little larger than normal. A mother’s instincts surmount medical knowledge in this case as the baby is born with razor sharp teeth and claws and kills everyone in the delivery room except his mother. As it turns out, the baby kills when scared, and he’s just escaped out of the hospital and is roaming around the city. With lots of things to scare him.

The first twenty minutes of the film are kept at a pace to a bloody shock that I love in Larry Cohen’s script. The rest is a watered down suspense film that plays more as a B-film than anything. As the baby squirms about the city, killing those who frighten him, we’re paralleled and generally bored with watching the father and the police in search of the baby. This is not all bad though as this is where the performances are at their strongest. It shows the emotional trauma that blooms out of such a horrid occurrence. Oddly when I watch this film I always think that Tom Savini is behind the puppet baby, but it’s a Rick Baker creation. There’s something in the design that doesn’t have the feel of Baker’s work but rather something along more Savini’s legacy. Odd. Either or the mutant baby is both jovial and ghastly, with its puppet-ed body but also with it’s outsized eyes and cry.

John P. Ryan is really the only actor worth noting. The rest of the cast is fine and appropriate in the film’s budget and decade, but as far as putting real emotion in a character, Ryan comes the closest with his portrayal as the confused and angry father. Shannon Farrell is a wreck as the mother, but it’s Ryan who attempts to mask the pain from the incident by hiding behind the hate for the child. Despite its B-film script, there’s an impact when the father claims he wants it killed, as to him its not his flesh and blood. Cinematography is clever in its double-vision lens to give you a sense that you are seeing the kills through the eyes of the baby. This pre-dates Halloween and Friday the 13th, two films that are commonly known for the POV perspective from the killer, yet IT’S ALIVE doesn’t really get the recognition for it. The rest of the cinematography follows in a common note, only showing you bits of the baby until the end to bring more surprise to it’s features.

Cohen’s film is held as a cult classic in horror fans for the general shock and for Rick Baker’s baby effects. Don’t mistake IT’S ALIVE is a recommended B-Classic by me, it’s just not my favorite B-movie. The film is known not just for it’s different premise, but also for it’s subtext of abortion. It strikes a lot of controversy with the subject and most reject that it’s even in the film, but I find it apparent. The father denies relation to his son until the final moments of the film in which all he can talk about before is destroying the child, because it is different or deformed, have you. At the same time there’s other subtexts of radioactive exposure and doctors with too much medical power, etc. Don’t take it to heart, though, as what you get is a kitsch exploitation B-flick, that is an absurd bit of comedy with more to discuss beneath the surface that normal. I recommend for those who love old exploitation B-films and are scared of evil children, as it is the epitome of the killer baby sub-genre.

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