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ITíS ALIVE

The first entry of the ITíS ALIVE trilogy, and the most popular film by writer-producer-director Larry Cohen. Contrary to what you may have heard, this isnít an especially great film; in fact itís pretty dumb overall, but Cohenís verve and intelligence are undeniable.

The Package
     ITíS ALIVE (1973), shot concurrently with the same yearís HELL UP IN HARLEM, was Larry Cohenís fourth film as director and his first in the horror genre. It showcased many of his trademarks: an intelligent script that tackles many troubling real-life issues, some eccentric casting choices (in this case the gruff supporting actor John P. Ryan in the lead role) and a cripplingly low budget. It was a sizeable hit, although not until a re-release in 1976, three years after its initial unsuccessful theatrical run. It spawned two lesser sequels, 1978ís IT LIVES AGAIN and 1987ís ITíS ALIVE THREE: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE, as well as a very, very bad 2008 remake.

The Story
     Frank and Lenore are a suburban couple about to deliver their second child. All seems to go well until the birth, which, due possibly to chemical contamination, yields a mutant child who rips out the throats of several hospital orderlies and then runs off. This upends the lives of Frank and Lenore, especially after their situation is leaked to the media. Due to the controversy Frank is fired from his job in a public relations firm. He takes to telling people that the evil child has ďno relation to me!Ē while Lenore begins losing her mind.
     Even more troubling is the fact that the child has found its way to its parentsí house and is sleeping there. Frank tries to shoot the kid in his basement but it escapes into the sewers. Frank followsÖand winds up becoming his mutant sonís unlikely would-be savior.

The Direction
     The fears and frustrations of modern marriage, the anxieties of parenting, the hidden dangers of everyday chemicals and the intrusive glare of the media spotlight are among the topics Larry Cohen tackles in this surprisingly thoughtful film. The idea of the media getting involved in the protagonistís difficulties was particularly novel and unprecedented at the time, when movies about the horrors of childrearing (ROSEMARYíS BABY, THE EXORCIST) were all the rage and NETWORK was still a few years off.
     Credit must also go to the lead actor John P. Ryan, who creates a complex and multi-layered protagonist, and Sharon Farrell as his wife, who renders her characterís descent into madness with effective gravity and immediacy.
     Outside those things the film is pretty silly: the cut-rate art direction and photography have the look and feel of a 1970s TV sitcom, and the noisy score by Bernard Herrmann is distracting and inappropriately old-fashioned. As for the goofy-looking baby, as designed and acted out by a young Rick Baker, itís better left unseen.


Vital Statistics

ITíS ALIVE
Larco Productions/Warner Bros.

Director/Producer/Screenwriter: Larry Cohen
Cinematography: Fenton Hamilton
Editing: Peter Honess
Cast: John P. Ryan, Sharon Farrell, Andrew Duggan, Guy Stockwell, James Dixon, Michael Ansara, William Wellman Jr., Shamus Locke, Daniel Holzman, Robert Emhardt
 

     

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