Halloween Horrors 2011 : “It’s Alive”

Posted: October 20, 2011 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Sooner or later it always seems to come back to Larry Cohen around here, doesn’t it?

And hell, why not? For well over tow decades (closer to three, really), he’s been at the forefront of two of the more venerable B-movie categories that fall frequently under our purview, namely horror and blaxploitation. And while his undisputed best piece of work in any field is the Fred “The Hammer” Williamson starring vehicle Black Caesar, his finest foray into the horror field (in my own humble opinion, at any rate) is 1974’s retelling of the Frankenstein myth (only this time with a baby), It’s Alive.

The set-up is as simple as you’d probably expect — ready-to-pop Lenore Davis (Sharon Farrell) heads to the hospital with her husband, well-to-do advertising executive Frank (John P. Ryan, listed here simply as John Ryan) to give birth, but when the baby comes out it turns out to be a hideous, hugely-fanged mutant with an insatiable appetite for blood that first kills everyone in the delivery room (except mommy) and then escapes into the night. When an unscrupulous TV news reporter actually has the gall to broadcast the names of the parents of this freak of nature, things get even worse for Frank as he finds himself out of work due to the bad publicity the manhunt (or should that be kidhunt) for his offspring brings to his Madison Avenue firm.

Things, obviously, aren’t all that they seem (and they seem pretty strange to say the least), for while It’s Alive preys deliciously on then-contemporary fears of genetic mutation as a result of pollution and what have you, there’s obviously more to the whole thing than just accidental enviro-poisoning going on here, since the Davis family’s eldest child, 11-year-old Christopher, is perfectly normal.

Truth be told, though, while there’s a dark (of sorts) secret at the heart of this film, and the gore effects are pretty darn good for their time (and still hold up pretty well against some of today’s lower-budget efforts), it’s really the tow lead performances that carry this film, with Farrell’s Lenore going through the stages of slow-burn total breakdown, while Ryan’s Frank becomes a mask of steely resolve as he comes, and then sticks, to the conclusion that his own flesh and blood must be destroyed for the good of both society at large as well as, frankly, himself and his family.

It’s Alive is available on DVD from Warner Brothers in a 3-pack set that also includes its two somewhat-less-than-stellar sequels (it was also remade for the straight-to-video market in 2008, but the less about that particular fiasco the better). The remastered widescreen picture and stereo soundtrack are both great, and it includes the trailer and a pretty solid commentary track from writer-director Cohen. Given that the whole set is usually available at bargain-basement prices, it’s definitely a worthwhile purchase.

I’m not going to tell you that It’s Alive is a classic, or even anything of the sort, but like all Cohen films, it has modest aspirations and exceeds them at every turn. From a solid plot to genuinely terrific lead performances to effectively atmospheric cinematography and lighting to a fair dose of intrigue to a non-heavy-handed exploration of contemporary sociopolitical issues to a nicely- inflated body count to extremely-competently-executed effects, it delivers a lot more than it promises and ends up being a hell of a lot more enjoyable than it probably has any right to be.

I don’t know about you, but for me, that all adds up to a very enjoyable evening in front of the TV, particularly at this time of year.

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