What’s that you say? Larry Cohen directs a horror film steeped in social commentary bordering on black comedy? Oh, yes, and this time it’s your new baby in focus!
Honestly, the first time I saw It’s Alive I was underwhelmed. That is likely because I watched it at a time in my life where all I wanted to see was technicolor gore. We get a little bit of that here, but most of the horror in It’s Alive is psychological.
Frank and Lenore Davis weren’t so sure they were going to go through with this pregnancy; they already have an eleven-year-old boy (Chris), and Lenore had been taking contraceptives prior to this “accident.” But together they came to the decision to give it another go, and when the big day finally arrives, the whole family is sweetly excited. After dropping Chris off at a family friend’s home, Frank and Lenore innocently drive to the hospital. That’s where the nightmare begins.
Lenore knows it before the baby is even born: this one is different. Her doctor insists it’s just a very large baby, and after heavily sedating and numbing her up, thinks the birth should be a piece of cake. Well, it was easier on Lenore than it was the doctors and nurses; none of them survived, after all. Seeing the Davis baby in all its malformed glory, the doctor tries suffocating it to no avail. After the massacre, the baby escapes and Lenore, tied to her hospital bed, is scared, confused, and drugged the hell up.
It’s not long before the police arrive, with a “doctor” in tow, who offers great medical advice, and is quite interested in discovering exactly how long Lenore had been taking her contraceptives, and if, perhaps, she’d been extensively x-rayed in recent months. Rather than consider Lenore’s opinion in her baby’s future, the lieutenant, doctor and husband alike agree it’s easier to sedate her than listen to her prattle on about motherly instincts and other such nonsense.
Frank experiences a different kind of torture. When he and his wife are named the progenitors of the murderous beast, his job at a public relations firm is lost to him, and he numbly accepts the responsibility of killing his own progeny. In hopes of showing the world how “normal” he is, he feverishly hunts down his own flesh and blood.
What can I say, I just love Larry Cohen’s style. His takedown of society’s shit attitude and expectations in this flick is so perfect. The Davis baby is simply a product of society; good old American marketing and consumption – everyone agrees its deformities must be a result of smog, medicine, tainted food, or some other untested evil unleashed upon the American public by companies hoping to gain a buck. The hunt for the child, and the father’s apparent zest to be the one to destroy it all point to how American society tends to reject the very monstrosities it is responsible for creating.
I’m not sure Q is completely convinced that Frank’s character isn’t a total dick. He is pretty dicky throughout the whole movie, but I think that’s because the man really had no choice: you’re either for us or against us, right? And if he blithely accepts the symbol of American fucked-upedness, he’ll surely never get his job back, let alone the respect of his neighbors and peers. That’s not to say I excuse his behavior, but maybe I pity the guy.
And let’s talk about Lenore for a second: the woman is nearly mute. Never do the doctors or cops ask her how she feels about the tragedy of birthing a monster, or how she feels about that monster’s right to live. Instead, she’s expected to stay within the confines of her bedroom, forbidden even to walk downstairs in her own home, and questioned as to why she doesn’t keep taking the sedatives the kind doctor has prescribed her. Now, I’ve never been pregnant or given birth, but there are certainly a great number of folks who accuse the medical establishment of treating pregnant women and babies as commodities. I think Cohen captures that pretty perfectly here, not to mention how women were (in 1973) and still are (in different ways, perhaps) considered secondary players in their own lives.
So, yes, I really liked this movie. It’s not amazing, but if you’re familiar with anything else Larry Cohen has made, you can guess what to expect. And if you haven’t seen any of Cohen’s stuff, this is as good a place to start as any. But, perhaps you should hold off watching it if you’re in your third trimester.