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.
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.
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
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 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.
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,