Tuesday, February 9, 2010

IT'S ALIVE (Larry Cohen 1973, USA) Frank Davis fathers a genetic mutation whose killer instincts lead it directly from the cradle to the grave. As the creature’s creator Frank feels akin to Dr. Frankenstein and carries the moral obligation of stopping the gruesome deaths, knowing he must be the one to destroy the beast to find his own salvation and, more importantly, be accepted back into mainstream society. Director Larry Cohen appeals to the pregnant fear that gestates deep within our social consciousness: modern apprehensions concerning prescription drugs and pollution, their effects upon developing fetus’ and even a woman’s right to choose. Cohen also dissects the nuclear family unit, as the Patriarch commits infanticide, the one who carries the responsibility of creating this monster (or thinks he does), while the wife is relegated to the periphery of the story. Cohen focuses upon Frank’s emotional isolation and keeps the wife drugged and restrained: the man can handle the problem while the woman is unable to cope with the stress.

Cohen upsets the typical cinematic convention of “pregnant-mom-rushed-to-hospital” by allowing the first act to move slowly: the man isn’t a bumbling idiot and they talk and take their time, dully arriving at their destination. As Frank awaits the introduction of his second child, Cohen offers exposition spiked with humor through dialogue and a running gag in the waiting room. He crosscuts these scenes with a bored doctor who practically berates the lost Lenore (a Poe allusion?) and demands she push harder. He then cuts back to Frank and the other fathers before showing a nurse stumble through the doors and collapse in a bloody heap. Frank then bursts into the delivery room and we see a frightful apocalypse: the medical staff has been mutilated and Lenore is screaming about her baby. The scene is over-the-top and borders on camp, the blood looks like congealed Jell-O, but the actors bring it back down to Earth.

Bernard Herrmann’s score relies on innuendo and subtly to underline the horror, and seeps into the narrative with a time-released precision. Cohen uses point-of-view double exposure to show the world from the monster child’s perspective, utilizing low angle and quick editing techniques. He smartly refuses to show the creature in a full medium shot, only offering glimpses and extreme close-ups of the Rick Baker puppet…which is for the best because it looks rather silly.


Eventually, Frank must take control and hunt down his progeny, and armed with a police rifle he stalks the sewers in search of the newborn. But seen through a father’s eyes the killer becomes nothing more than a scared and hungry baby, and he takes it in a blanket to comfort. This would have been the interesting and complex ending; instead, Cohen goes for the visceral thrill and static declaration…another has been born in Seattle. Final Grade: (C)

3 comments:

Rick29 said...

I like this better than a C. All of Cohen's films are flawed, but they're almost always interesting. This one, taken in context with the first sequel, is an effective tale of prejudice.

Alex DeLarge said...

Thanks for the comment Rick! I like Cohen's choice of narrowing the story down to Frank's perspective thus creating a metaphor concerning prejudice and paternal responsibility. Rather deep for typical "B" movie mentality, but the few Cohen films I've seen have deep waters.
But in IT'S ALIVE, the story is just so preposterous that it borders on camp. I believe a more subtle approach would have made the story better.
Check out my review for GOD TOLD ME TO another Cohen film I recommend!

Rick29 said...

I saw GOD TOLD ME TO when it was released in the 1970s as DEMON. I had no idea what it was about, so you can imagine I was somewhat surprised! Although a little dense at times, it's probably Larry's most intriguing film to me.