An authentic Austin horror experience can be had for a buck at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz’s Terror Tuesdays! Zack Carlson programs some deliciously deranged midnight drive-in movie fare.
This week Zack Carlson has picked the grotesque killer infant classic It’s Alive! (1974). (Zack may be having some unresolved inner child issues considering last week’s exhibition was Bloody Birthday, a movie about three psychopathic pre-teens on a knee-high rampage.)
It’s Alive! earns a cubby-hole in horror history by virtue of the facts: it is a movie about a killer baby, written and directed by exploitation veteran Larry Cohen, that spawned sequels and a remake in 2008. That’s some juice.
Frank and Lenore Davies (solid, touching performances by John Ryan and Sharon Farrell) are expecting their second child. The movie begins as Lenore goes into labor. There is a hint that “something may be wrong” as Lenore winces in a private moment, which could just as easily be assumed as a contraction. Aside from that, the Davies are pleased and confident as they drop their first born son, a sixth grader off at a family friend’s home before heading to the hospital. The tension builds because the event is not at all out of the ordinary: Frank paces with the other expectant fathers in the waiting room, and Lenore follows the doctor’s instructions in the delivery room. The doctor admits only that the baby is big, and so is its head.
All seems well enough. Until a nurse staggers from behind the double-doors of the operating room and collapsed in the background. The Davies have a bouncing baby mutant that has killed the entire delivery room staff. From there, the hunt is on for a clawed, fanged, huge-domed monster that kills when frightened, and it scares easily… and as far as babies go, this is the most normal thing about it. It also has strong instincts for survival and homing: not only is it lethal, it is tough. It may be that the birth defect was caused by Lenore’s reliance on Big Pharma products and as such there is a bounty on the murderous baby’s big veiny head. Moreover, Frank wants to kill the creature himself: he’s disturbed and offended that it is related to him, and he wants desperately to reject that fact and erase the mistake. Mother Lenore on the other hand seems to be losing her tenuous grasp on reality. She loves her child and is no rush to see it shot down like a rabid dog.
It’s Alive! is rated PG – it is not particularly gory, the violence of the baby’s attacks is largely off screen or otherwise stylized, there is almost no objectionable language, and zero nudity. That said, one would have thought the MPAA’s sensibilities would have been tested by the basic premise of a killer mutant newborn. It’s Alive! is a good horror film: incisive, witty writing; judicious and spare use of splatter effects; a grotesque Rick Baker creation that still manages to be pitiful if not exactly cute; excellent cinematography and lighting; and, genuinely effective performances by all of the principal cast. Like Gojira is a Japanese statement on the dangers of nuclear technology, so too is It’s Alive! a not-too-subtle jab at the “better living through chemistry” motif that injected the pharmaceutical industry into the normalcy of American lives, especially the lives of American women. Thalidomide, a routinely prescribed sedative targeted to women had recently made headlines as producing extreme birth defects; female-vector birth control was in the form of a very effective and “safe” pill; and, housewives had been sold pill-sized calmatives and uppers, depending on their day-to-day and hourly needs. Men just continued to smoke and drink, all the while their women were targets of marketing experiments. The sequels are not terrible though they progressivley slide toward more melodramatic modes of satire. The 2008 remake goes for a different set up with middling results.
So go see it, as it was meant to be seen: on the big screen, for a dollar. The rare archival 35mm print is sponsored by Vulcan Video.