LARRY COHEN WEEK: It’s Alive (1974)

The TV commercial for It’s Alive terrified me. The music, the slowly turning bassinet, the fact that a demon baby was inside — it was too much for my child brain to handle. I would cover my ears and yell every single time I saw it. The power and memory and latent fear for this thirty seconds created stayed with me for decades, ensuring that I would never watch this film. Until now.

Frank and Lenore Davis are excitedly expecting the birth of their second child. They’ve been waiting for years and properly planned the child’s birth, with Lenore using birth control pills until the time was right. However, their infant is a monster, a deformed creature with fangs and claws that is so horrifying, one of the doctors instantly tries to suffocate it. The baby kills the team who delivered it before escaping, leaving a crying Lenore and frightened Frank.

The baby goes on a murderous rampage while Frank denies that the child is his, as a parallel is made to Frankenstein and how Dr. Frankenstein abandoned his creation. It turns out that the birth control drugs Lenore was on may have caused the mutation. To protect their bottom line, they want the child destroyed.

The baby finds its way home, where Lenore embraces her child. Their first son, Chris, becomes homesick (he’d been staying with Charley, a family friend) and returns home, where he meets his sibling and promises to protect him. Frank discovers that the child is being hidden and shoots at it, but the baby escapes and kills Charley.

The police and Frank track the child to the sewer, where the father realizes that the beast is his flesh and blood. Hiding the baby in his coat, Frank tries to escape, but he’s caught by the police. Then, his child leaps from his arms to kill the pharmaceutical company representative who is with the cops. The police open fire, killing the child and the man who he is attacking.

As the police take the Davis family home, we learn that another deformed child has been born in Seattle.

When Larry Cohen completed the film, he learned that the executives who had produced the film were all gone. It’s Alive got a paltry one week run in Chicago and a limited release. Three years later, after that team of executives were replaced, Cohen convinced Warner Brothers to re-release the film with the ad campaign featured above, leading to a successful run.

It’s Alive preys on our worst fears — that our children will grow to become monsters. However, Cohen takes it a step further. These children instantly are monstrous killers.

Two sequels — It Lives Again and It’s Alive 3: Island of the Alive — followed, as well as a remake. The original — shot at the same time as Hell Up in Harlem by a crew that was doing day and night shoots 7 days a week — is an impressive film. Like all Cohen’s work, the idea is stronger than the budget and the final product looks so much better than the dollars it cost to create would suggest.

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