Thursday, December 1, 2011

#472. It's Alive (1974)

Directed By: Larry Cohen

Starring: John P. Ryan, Sharon Farrell, James Dixon

Tag line: "It's newborn, it's alive, and murder is what it knows best"

Trivia:  Though banned in Finland, this film was rated PG in the U.S.

It's Alive is a gripping horror/thriller directed by Larry Cohen, but due to the subject matter, I'd recommend pregnant women think twice before seeing it!

Frank (John P. Ryan) and Lenore Davis (Sharon Farrell) are eagerly awaiting the birth of their second child. When Lenore goes into labor late one night, the happy couple drop their son, Chris (Daniel Holzman) off at a friend's house, then head straight to the hospital. But as Frank is pacing back and forth in the waiting area, he sees an orderly, covered in blood, stumbling out of the delivery room. Rushing in to investigate, Frank finds doctors and nurses mutilated beyond recognition and his wife, her legs still in the stirrups, screaming bloody murder. What he doesn't see is the baby. He and Lenore soon learn their newborn son is a killer, a severely deformed monster that, until it's captured, must be considered extremely dangerous. Having crawled into the air ducts, the baby does manage to escape, kicking off a murderous rampage. Frank, meanwhile, is in a state of despair. Joining forces with the local authorities, he hopes to hunt the baby down and kill it, but does he have what it takes to finish off his own flesh and blood? 

It's Alive isn't a particularly gory film (most of the kills occur off-screen, or are shown after the fact), and we only catch the occasional glimpse of the "monster baby"; rarely, if ever, do we see it in its entirety. Instead of showing us the particulars, director Cohen opts to build terror by way of nail-biting suspense, an example of which can be found in the film's pivotal birth scene. Again, we never see the child being born, or attacking the hospital staff. What we do see is Frank, who, after spotting the injured orderly, races down the hallway, the eerie score of Bernard Herrmann accompanying him as he does so. The camera shakes wildly, signifying the chaos of the situation, until it finally bursts into the delivery room, revealing blood and body parts strewn all about. Like Frank, we haven't actually seen anything go down, but we're left just as unnerved by the whole ordeal as he is. 

John Ryan is exceptional as the disheartened father, taking his character through a full range of emotions, from joy at the prospect of a new baby to shock and dismay when his world falls apart. We follow his Frank closely for most of the film, and sense the growing hostility he feels towards the infant. With each new murder it commits, Frank's determination to see the child dead grows stronger, and he tells the police he wants to be the one to kill it, as if doing so might somehow atone for the carnage. It's a multi-layered performance, with one or two of those layers reserved for the dramatic final scene. His turn, and Cohen's approach to telling the story, are what make It's Alive a riveting motion picture.

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