It’s Alive! 1974. 7/10

Well, if it wasn’t alive, they’d have to call it It’s Dead! Anyway, this is an original premise for a horror movie: a serial-killer baby. Sounds insanely cool, but just a wee bit improbable; don’t worry, though, they got that aspect covered. You see, this here baby is also a monster. Great way to wade into the ’70s gross-out genre, thankfully with food-coloring style fake blood.

John P. Ryan and Sharon Farrell are the lucky parents Frank and Lenore Davies. There’s friend Bob Clayton (Guy Stockwell), cops Lieutenant Perkins (James Dixon), the Captain (Michael Ansara), and the Doctor (Shamus Locke). Might need a few more doctors (witch doctors?) and some scientists on hand, but we’ll see.

First things first: hie off to the hospital–it’s time for that baby to come. Why does dad talk like Walter Brennan? We next see dad tootling around the hospital; mom’s having some labor pains, while ‘the guys’ are next seen in the waiting room, talking about regular-guy crap: snails, slugs, and roaches–and there’s a nice ashtray there, I guess for the cigars that are bound to get passed around.

“This baby is just gigantic” Gee thanks Doctor; I think he means it’s ugly…But Frank notices bodies in the hallways, and tons o’ blood. Mom’s technically ok. So where the hell is baby? Well, the cops are looking for the hospital serial killer. He got out through the skylight? It’s even suggested that Lenore should’ve had an abortion.

Frank and Lenore think the baby’s been kidnapped. Basically the thing is just gone; Frank’s strangely blase about baby having to be done-away-with–no one has even seen it yet, except for the victims. One thing’s for sure his family must be good at something, as they got two near-new Cadillacs. Anyway, the hot neighbor lady hears a baby cry from a field, and gets snacked on (maybe the baby hates luxury cars, as even the neighbor has a Coupe de Ville).

At the office, Frank’s encouraged to take a break; because, you know, he’s got what his boss nicely labels as a “retarded kid.” Frank’s somewhat offended at that remark; after all, baby is simply a “monstrosity.” That’s normal stuff for the ’70s. Hey, look, in a vacant lot, another victim. Ah, that’s no big deal.

The weird thing so far is that mom and dad do treat the birth as more of a stigma than a threat. By now, the whole town knows that the baby is psychopathic. Well, the little dude is stealthy, and I guess isn’t on a schedule, doesn’t nap much. Dude sure likes that blood formula, though. But, wait, he takes down the milk man, for his truck no doubt.

Now, the authorities are suggesting ways to kill him/it, once again, Frank acts like a calculating mafioso making an savory deal, and not a father. Lenore wants to play like it’s domestic tranquility at home; which is deluded of course, but at least not disgusting.

Very stupidly, Frank goes into the cellar to fetch some wine. Meanwhile, the scientists and corporate big-wigs (attorneys?) are concerned that Lenore’s birth control is possibly the culprit; that is, how it reflects badly on their pharmaceutical company. Very modern stance.

A school is stormed by police–more killings. Frank goes there to talk to the to Lieutenant. Problem is, the classroom where he waits is inhabited by our preschool monster. This scene is interesting for a couple of reasons; this isn’t just any school, it’s their (human) son’s school, meaning that the monster is avenging itself on its family. That brings up the actual parenting issue, as Frank, despite his cavalier attitude is genuinely unable to accept that the monster child could be his.

Unlike the Previous year’s Rosemary’s Baby, in which that demonic baby had supernatural origins, no one here is even talking about religion or the devil as a player, so to speak. It’s like a Frankenstein’s monster without the erector set electrical gizmo to engender the ghoulish corpse revival. And the monster here is born, not manufactured.

As this classroom conversation goes on, toys and such are literally going bump all over the place. The cops and Frank leave without incident, but continue to discuss the ‘takedown.’ Finally it manifests itself–and it’s freakin’ hideous all right–meanwhile busy killing a cop. They finally locate it in the foliage outside, and open fire. Presumably, it slinks away.

It’s next prowling around the house again. Frank gets up to do something, and…no, that’s just Lenore skulking up behind him; she’s sort of dippy; in Chris’s room everything is tossed around, a sure sign of his ‘brother.’ Lenore’s watching the Roadrunner, and sort of frothing at the mouth. There’s gross stuff in the fridge, and it ain’t the cookie monster’s favorite snack.

Meanwhile Chris runs home. Lenore obviously wants to cozy up with the misbegotten wretch; Frank now seems to be the sensible one, pulling his gun out. Chris gets back, and meets up with his ‘little brother; we now see that Chris is on its side too “Don’t worry, don’t be scared.” Well, it wasn’t scared of anything when it was killing folks, why would it be scared now?

Finally, as Charlie comes around to check on Chris, it attacks Charlie, and Frank’s able to shoot it. Mom isn’t happy. Anyway, it escapes. Lieutenant: “You have to be the one to do it [kill it], don’t you.” Well, he has reason to. The cops figure out that it’s using that time-honored monster/murderer subway–the sewers.

Oh, does it shreik in a pitiful way. Like a baby rhinoceros. Now even Frank is getting cold feet (literally, since he’s standing in sewer water); picking it up like a pig in a blanket. Pretty good cinematography, as the police car shoots though the sewer tunnel like some sort of flashing missile. Frank emerges from the tunnel, surrounded. “Lock it up, study it” but please don’t kill it! But he chucks it at the ring of cops, and they blast it up. The last few minutes informs us that “another one” was born in Seattle.

I’d never seen It’s Alive! And, having lost interest in the gore-fest nature of horror movies beginning with this era, I wasn’t even expecting to last through this. But it was surprisingly interesting. Although the acting was wooden and the characters two-dimensional, the pacing wasn’t bad at all, and there were plenty of suspenseful moments. There’s a lot going on here.

The references to abortion and birth control were certainly topical then, as now. On the one hand, this seemed to establish that there were legitimate reasons for abortion (granted the fantastical context of the birth); although this view isn’t necessarily promoted, it’s mentioned. At the same time, in a later scene, the unreliability, if not the explicit danger of hazardness birth control products becomes a central issue.

The lack of corporate ethics is exposed; the fact that we end up with a similar birth shows that this is not a unique issue for the Davies, and that, in fact, it could be the harbinger of a uncontrollable mutant threat. What dates the film is the assumption by some people that the mutation is a form of retardation. Which is to say that we’re in an era of ‘don’t ask don’t tell.’ The fact that there is a discussion at this level points suggests that there might be a more enlightened view–which is indeed what’s happened. For the most part, except in kid’s insults, even the word(s) retard/retardation have gone away.

The baby’s ‘personality’ is also notable. While the entire story involves its serial killer motive or instinct, clearly it’s loved in different ways and times by the family (Lenore never stops loving it). One way to see It’s Alive! would be to think of the child as an (obviously extreme) example of someone who’s different. Sort of a nightmarish version of E.T. The murders represent fears of strangers or outsiders that the ‘normal’ world perceives as threats.

Farmermouse thought those full-sized 70s Cadillacs were super cool, so he’s gonna order his up in Firemist Mouse Grey. Seven Mercury Montego police cars for this cult movie. 7/10.

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