Sunday, August 7, 2011

Ten Statements About....IT'S ALIVE! (1974)

This woman had a baby, and it came out looking crazy....
"Hunting and killing babies doesn’t seem to be my specialty."

1) Perhaps the reason why this film is so effective even today is how, for the first eleven to fifteen minutes it's shot almost documentary style, with a lot of hand held tracking shots, no music and naturalistic lighting. We're lulled into this sort of quiet, happy tableau...and then the nurse stumbles out of the operating room, and the world Frank Davis lives in quietly goes insane.

2) Of course, Larry Cohen is not interested in monster babies, but the way being the parents of this monster baby affects the Davis family. This is why we have all these possible explanations thrown around throughout the film for the baby's mutation--because it's not the baby but the family that's the focus.

3) The most interesting character is James Dixon's Lt. Perkins. Unlike the other people who approach the Davis family with their own agendas, ignoring what this situation is doing to Frank and Lenore to get what they want, Perkins seems focuses on the general good. He also shows remarkable sensitivity to Frank's continued breaking down, and the fact that his wife is pregnant gives him an uneasy stake in making sure this all works out for the best.

This ain't your cuddly lil' critter here....
4) Supposedly, the reason the Davis Baby is used sparingly is because Baker didn't have the time to put together a full suit--just a mask, some gloves and a stationary model. This may be a case of a happy accident. Since we never see the creature from head to toe, only in quick close-up glimpses, our mind is left to fill in the rest of this monstrosity...

5) ...and the other genius of how Cohen handles the baby is how his script never makes the baby act as anything other than a baby. He seeks out food, he seeks out shelter, and he responds to the people he instinctively knows are his family. It's this behavior that makes the key moment in the final act work so beautifully.

6) If there's one flaw, it's the way the key sequence that bridges the second and third act, with Frank figuring out that Sharon Farrell's Lenore has been keeping the baby in the basement. It just goes on forever, and I suspect that if they cut out about three or four minutes, the narrative flow would have been improved.

7) John Ryan's career didn't go very far...but one has only to look at the key moment in the final scene where he finds his baby and realizes that that's all it is--a baby--and begins to bond with it, comforting the creature as tears fill his eyes, to know he had the chops to do great things.

It's a father and son reunion.  It's just...messy.
8) I love how Frank and Lenore have opposite ways of coping. While Frank seems to disassociate himself from his previous life, insisting the baby isn't his and drinking his way into oblivion, Lenore tries to re-exert her normal life by sheer force of will, seemingly overcompensating for giving birth to a mutant by trying to be the perfect housewife.

9) Besides being a great writer with a skewed sensibility, Cohen had a surprisingly good eye for composition. I know many people will point to such set pieces as the mix of blood and milk running out of the milk wagon, but the sequence that struck me as the most engaging was the succession of shots in the L.A. Sewer system of the cops and the baby shot utilizing only the flashing red lights of the cop cars. The strobe-like effect is unusual and unique, and it continues to hide the deficiency in the baby special effects.

10) This might be heretical, given how much of a legend Bernard Herrman is, but I really don't think his score adds much to the film. There are some cues that just seem out of place and ominous-for-the-sake-of-being-ominous, and a number that actively interfere with the flow and sensibilities of the scenes. excellent horror film that speaks volumes about how Cohen thinks, with the actual scares not as disturbing as the way what's happening wrecks the mental and physical health of two normal people who didn't ask for this to happen. Recommended.

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