Film: It’s Alive

Not long ago, Netflix celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of 1974 by making several films from that year available. While I watchlisted all of them—in support of Netflix’s rare foray into giving a shit about cinema history—they’re all starting to come off again, so I figured I’d better get one in. Oddly, one of their selections was Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive, which somehow manages, in its inept way, to exemplify everything I love about low-rent seventies filmmaking while still being objectively bad.

It’s Alive is about a typical suburban couple in California, Frank and Lenore Davis (John P. Ryan and Sharon Farrell), as they’re preparing for their birth of their second child. Frank is a confident PR man, Sharon a pleasant housewife, and they have everything going for them heading into this momentous event—until the birth, that is. The infant turns out to be a murderous mutant, who slaughters a delivery-room full of hospital staff before making off into the wild. Making matters worse, the incident gets the attention of the press, casting a public pall over the Davis’s lives. As various external forces look to put an end to the deviant baby, Frank and Lenore spiral into despair.

It’s Alive is cheap, simplistic, and silly—at a glance, a terrible film. Yet it has a certain, low-brow je nai sais quoi. It’s certainly not the script or the genre content that provide its mystique; they are slapdash, and not entirely in control of potentially interesting subtexts in the vein of, say, Rosemary’s Baby. But the janky style of the proceedings and the cagey way Cohen keeps his infant menace on the periphery are unsettling, in a weird way. The atmosphere is enhanced by a superb music score from the great Bernard Herrmann, and excellent lead performances from Farrell and especially Ryan make the best of the material, giving the Davis’s internal struggles more weight than the script truly warrants. Like many films of this era, It’s Alive is not good, but fans of this decade of pre-blockbuster cinema might enjoy its authentic, grubby charms nonetheless.

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