1974, written and directed by Larry Cohen
Genre: Horror, Mutant Rampage

{ It's Alive | It Lives Again | Island of the Alive }

The (Entire) Plot

Gays and lesbians know that it's often harder for their parents to “come out” about their child than it was for the child. So you’d think that It’s Alive, a film brave enough to tell the story about one family's coming out process for their special needs son, would have the courage to simply speak truth of their journey and leave it at that. But as you'll see, writer Larry Cohen apparently didn't have the cojones to see his vision to the end.

Meet the Davies. Perpetually smoking husband Frank, schizotypal pregnant wifey Lenore, and beaver-hybrid son Chris. One night Lenore wakes up with painful contractions. Frank wakes up Chris by sweetly humping his face with their Siamese cat. They drop Chris off in the hands of Uncle Charlie and head to the hospital, where things go pretty much as expected. Frank is sequestered with the other 1950s stereotypes in the Poker and Cigar room while Lenore languishes in her epidural. When “It” arrives, the hospital isn’t quite equipped for Its special needs, there’s a mishap involving some of the hospital staff, and amidst their dying they lose the baby. It’s all long-roll tympani-and-crashing-brass-section accompaniment to low hallway camera work, with Lenore, still strapped in, screaming her post-partem head off. “What’s wrong with my baby? What’s wrong with my baby?” Fortunately cops arrive to secure the hospital, question the parents, and make cracks.

    Overenunciating doctor: “I noticed that you did inquire about abortion eight months ago?”
    Frank: “Doesn’t everybody inquire about it nowadays? It was just a question of convenience but we decided to have the baby.”
    Cop: “We all make mistakes. (Immediately, deadpan:) I apologize for that crack.”

Nice crack. The next morning, confused, scared, and hungry, It kills an extra from Laugh In. It is in this scene that we're introduced to ItCam™. Meanwhile Frank loses his job at We Make Desk Owls, simply because the media now knows his child is different. He brings Lenore home that night. Internalizing the shame, they tell Uncle Charlie to keep Chris an extra week and make sure he hears nothing. Of course It must eat, and the cops find another body. But not without another crack.

    “Hunting and killing babies doesn’t seem to be my specialty”
    “So what do you want, a transfer?”

While Uncle Charlie and Chris go fishing, It tries to get some milk from the back of an open Carnation truck and must defend Itself from the intruding milkman. The Keystone Kops follow the sounds of gurgling only to learn they have cornered an adorable human infant. At home, teleporting university professors arrive and Frank happily signs some standard contract stuff that gives them full legal right to capture and experiment on It. Frank is still in denial, telling them forcefully “that is not my child!” We never see the professors again. It kills some bumbling cops at a school, fingerpaints with the blood, and escapes.

That night Frank can’t sleep. Walking around he finds the freezer, usually full of frozen meat, vacant. (!) He also finds all the bottles of milk he's been hoarding completely empty. (!!) Lenore starts getting weird, and slowly we realize that she’s harboring the child somewhere in the house. (!!!) She, at least, is coming to terms with their unique blessing. The father is always the last to come to terms, and Frank starts to hunt It.

Uncle Charlie and Chris come back from fishing and the kid, tired of obeying his parents, makes a break for it and jogs all the way home. He enters the basement and meets his brother. Chris has no problem immediately accepting It for what It is. Frank finds It and actually wounds It with a gunshot as It escapes the house and kills Uncle Charlie. The cops arrive and they all follow the trail of blood to the sewers. They split up and Frank comes face to face with his son, where Frank has a Moment of Clarity and admits his unconditional love. He swaddles It and tries to run to safety, outrunning a cop car in the tunnels with newfound strength. But out of the sewer Frank is confronted with a line of cops, their revolvers leveled right at the two of them.

Now it’s here in the story where Frank should make some stirring speech that puts the prejudiced, vivicentric world in its place. But no, we’re back to 1940s narrative politics where acceptance and happiness can only come at a dire cost in the end. Sure, the investors are happy, but where’s the truth? Instead of the speech, Frank just hefts It onto an overly Irish cop for Its last meal, and the rest of the squad empties their guns in that direction.

In the end we’re left with a histrionic moral of conformism, yet piqued with the news of another It, born in Seattle, setting up the sequel (The End(?)) and, we hope, a second chance for a happier ending.

The Goods

Scary? Maybe in Its day. The gore isn’t gory, and the deaths are all strikingly similar: a simple scratch across the neck. Oh wait, there was the strawberry milk pouring out of back of the Carnation truck, but that hardly qualifies. The basement and school scenes manage to stir some suspense, but the threat isn't really there to back it up. The sound effects for It are kind of creepy, but you'll have to listen hard to hear it through the orchestra, whose speakers clearly go all the way up to eleven.

As for It, the film adheres to the school of Your Imagination Is Scarier Than Our Special Effects Could Ever Be, so we're only supposed to see It in tiny flashes. In these bits we can make out that It looks like the encephalitic love child of a vampire and a sleestak. Quality, I’m sure, for 1974, but a little yawny for today.

Riffable? Definitely. The costumes and set designs are pure 70s and thereby easy pickins, but the hysterical portrayal of the hysterical Lenore (O, Sharon Farrell, where are you today?) and the questionable paternity of It begs for mockery.

Gore: The neck lacerations are shallow and drizzled with red corn syrup. They don't really make any impact. The movie scores way low on the gore factor.

Science! Half-hearted efforts are made in the script to alternatively blame chemicals, smog, recreational drugs, the media, excess prescription medication, aberrant genetics, and radiation exposure. The plot never commits to any one particular cause. If it’s adhering to franchise rules, it’ll save this for the sequel.

Zombies? It is not undead, but certainly not entirely human, either. It is the only such It in this film, so it’s pretty low on the zombie factor, too.

The Upshot

It’s Alive is an earnest film clearly a product of its own time, middling script, and budget. Lots of fun to make fun of as long as you don’t get your hopes up for terror and can divorce yourself from the prior century’s Come-Uppance morality about diversity.
Adapted from a review I had done for a now-defunct movie blog.

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