Do you know what It’s Alive has in spades?
Pathos. Humanity, man. Tons of it. This movie contains some of the most heart-breakingly realistic depictions of grief I’ve ever seen, honest, understated work from a cast of terrific character actors. Who cares if this is movie about a mutant baby running amuck and tearing the jugulars out of any unsuspecting sap who gets in his way. This is the ultimate Killer Mutant Baby movie. This Killer Mutant Baby movie is more honest with its characters and more truthful with its emotions than most prestige dramas.
Unlike most Killer Mutant Baby movies, It’s Alive takes the time to acknowledge that the Killer Mutant Baby not only has parents, it has parents that are surely deeply troubled by the fact that their spawn is a Killer Mutant Baby. The first act of the film is quiet and gentle. In the middle of the night, Frank (John P. Ryan) is woken up by his hugely pregnant wife Lenore (Sharon Farrell): the baby is on the way. They’re calm — none of that typical Hollywood running-around-and-screaming-because-the-baby-is-coming bullshit — they’ve done this before. They wake their son, drop him off at a friend’s house and head to the hospital. While Lenore shoves a child out of her uterus, we get to know Frank: he’s a sweet, funny guy, a good husband and a good father. We instantly like this low-key, dryly humored man.
Minutes later, an entire room full of doctors and nurses are dead, Lenore is weeping and there is a baby-sized hole in the skylight. No time is wasted: everyone quickly accepts that a Killer Mutant Baby is the culprit. Frank is shell-shocked. Gone is that kind, lovable man we met at the beginning of the film. He’s now a dark cloud of guilt and anger, feeling impossibly guilty for helping bring this monster into the world and realizing that it falls to him, the father of this creature, to put it out of its misery.
It’s Alive is a B-movie, pure and simple. It looks like it cost pennies to produce and the Killer Mutant Baby is kept offscreen for as long as possible and only glimpsed in quick shots so we don’t notice that it’s a cheap, barely mobile construct. This leaves us with long stretches of Frank and his family coping with what’s happening to them. In most cases, this would be boring with a capital zzzzz, but writer/director Larry Cohen does something that is so rarely done in horror cinema: he considers exactly how a real family would feel if they brought a Killer Mutant Baby into the world. Sure, it’s an outrageous concept, a B premise if there ever was one, but to these characters, this is a tragedy and the actors play it that way. There is no winking at the camera and no visible half-assing: Cohen’s cast acts their asses off and gives It’s Alive a melancholic air that feels like something out of Cassavetes.
Sure, there are plenty of laughs in It’s Alive, both intentional and unintentional (a smash cut to the back of an ice cream truck is easily one of the best comedic cuts I’ve ever seen) and there are plenty of awesome Killer Mutant Baby Wrecks Folks scenes, but those fade into the background when I remember the film. I remember Frank cradling his gravely injured Killer Mutant Baby son, telling him it’s going to be all right, is fatherly instincts having surpassed his guilt and rage. For a genre that generally deals in people feeling pain, It’s Alive is one of the few that sticks a machete in your emotions.
Deliberately paced (i.e., slow) films don’t always do well on Terror Tuesdays, but It’s Alive won the crowd over. It was by no means a wild ‘n crazy “Oh My God I Can’t Believe That Movie Exists” screening, but there was a definite quiet positivity about the theater. Some people, including a few Horror’s Not Dead writers, thought the film was a little boring. They’re wrong.