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John’s Horror Corner: It’s Alive (1974), setting the stage for the “baby horror” subgenre with a sprinkle of Frankenstein-ian allegory.

February 25, 2019

MY CALL: Overall this has little “horror” to offer in terms of jumps or gasps. However, this film offers the dawn of the “baby horror” subgenre and powerful heartfelt allegory of parenthood and classic Frankenstein (1931) that just might conjure tears. MOVIES LIKE It’s Alive: For more pregnancy/baby horror, try Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Unborn (1991), The Unborn II (1994), Grace (2009), The Night Feeder (1988), the sequels to It’s Alive (1978, 1987), the remake of It’s Alive (2009), Inside (2016), Inside (2007), Still/Born (2017) and Good Manners (2017; As Boas Maneiras).

Lenore (Sharon Farrell; Arcade, Night of the Comet, The Premonition) and Frank Davis (John P. Ryan; Class of 1999, It Lives Again) are a couple as regular as they come, and they’re expecting their second child today… and he’s a big one. The birth scene itself is rather dramatic, but takes no gory liberties until after-the-fact when we find the entire operating room staff in bloody shambles.

Assigned to the case, Lt. Perkins (James Dixon; It Lives Again, The Stuff, Maniac Cop 1-2) advises Frank return home, leaving Lenore at the hospital to recover. Meanwhile their killer progeny is on the loose, luring prey by baby cries as dead bodies turn up around Los Angeles (with nearly all death occurring off-screen).

Emotionally disassociated from the child, the Frank signs the child’s body away to a Professor (Andrew Duggan; It Lives Again, A Return to Salem’s Lot, Frankenstein Island) for scientific study—if they can capture him, of course. Some interesting allegory links the parents to Dr. Frankenstein, the demonized creator of the confused and essentially newborn monster which killed when threatened to earn the monstrous label that matched its appearance.

Comments on the 2009 remake: The Josef Rusnak (The Thirteenth Floor) remake took some interesting liberties regarding the nature of the monstrous baby—for example, giving it a normal appearance with a transformative property (i.e., a weremonster of sorts). As such, the 2009 parents were able to take their monster-in-disguise home with only the mother the wiser to its true nature until the final act, brought about by a sort of mother-of-a-monster psychosis theme. Because 1974 treated the baby as an outright monster which escaped the operating room, it took a very different “monster on the loose” story trajectory in which everyone knows they’re dealing with a monster from the start. But the common elements are that the parents first considered abortion in one way or another (actually attempting and failing at it in 2009; but only getting a consultation in 1974). Is this then a cautionary tale warning against abortion? Perhaps—and if so, then in the same vein that The Unborn (1991) punished the mother for fertility treatments with a killer infant. But in 1974, the baby is treated as a monster in the form of disownment, never mistaking it as the actual child of the Frank or Lenore (until deep in the plot anyway); whereas in 2009 it is because of the mother’s psychosis that more victims are brought to suffer (including the father).

Larry Cohen’s (It Lives Again, Q, A Return to Salem’s Lot) 1974 classic is rated PG (well before the inception of PG-13), and I think I’m okay with that considering the moderate use of blood (with some well-deserved gory flair in the third act). There are only two on-screen kills (near the end) and, although it may not impress first-time viewers today, I’d say it was pretty good for 1974! The scare tactics are very basic (e.g., the unsubtle shaking bushes indicating a creature within), we see through our killer’s POV (much as in Black Christmas), and the baby itself is a fanged alien-like latex suit (and puppet, and prop) reminiscent of Bad Taste (1987) or Mac and Me (1988). Really, the only thing scary in this film is the premise, and none of the execution packs any impact until the emotional revelations in the finale. As it turns out, I thought the action-rich portion of the film was less interesting than the tight-chested allegory at its conclusion. Although there’s no comparison to the acting or premise, I’m reminded of the end of The Fly (1986).

This was clearly among the progenitors for monstrous “baby horror.” After the first 20-30 minutes—which I found compelling from a more dramatic perspective than horror or dread—the greatest scene this film has to offer is its last. It is here that the unintentional Dr. Frankenstein (Frank Davis) realizes his love for his abandoned unsightly creation, forgiving its sins as it was never welcomed into this world (nor even protected by its creators).

After a good start and a so-so-middle, this film closes strong. Highly recommended to fans of the classics and, have no fear, there are sequels! “Another one’s been born in Seattle.”

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