31 Monsters in 31 Days: It’s Alive

Larry Cohen’s 1974 mutant-baby opus IT’S ALIVE is in many ways the quintessential ’70s B picture, a shining example of the “they don’t make ’em like that anymore” school of thought. To be honest it’s not that great a movie, weighed down by too many burdensome, dialogue-heavy scenes and not enough emphasis on on-screen monster action. And still I’m fond of it, for there’s quite a few things Cohen gets right.

It’s those elements that Cohen handles well that prompts nostalgic sighs of “Those were the days,” even from young jaded punks like me. The cast is populated with unglamorous, “real” character actors (middle-aged, even!) with lived-in faces and a presence of hard-won life experience, unlike today’s assortment of well-scrubbed factory-fresh teen-drama sausage. And although Cohen keeps his mutant baby–a wicked-cool puppet crafted by an upstart Rick Baker–in the wings a little too often, it gives the scenes in which it does appear that much more impact. (The milkman sequence is a definite highlight.)

But perhaps the most-missed aspect of IT’S ALIVE is its thematic depth. Yes, it’s a movie about a misshapen infant on a killing spree, but that doesn’t stop Cohen from exploring the issues of abortion, environmentalism, and the business side of medicine. (And can I just say how much I wish this type of filmmaking would return? Writers and directors used to take advantage of the exploitation market to sneak their own socio-political viewpoints among the sex and violence to make movies enjoyable on multiple levels. If you want to single out one thing wrong about today’s genre crop it’s that producers are content to churn out surface-level face-value movies; are they even aware you can put in things like subtext?) It at least gives you someting to mull over in the long stretches between baby appearances.

Throw in a typically-great late-period score by Bernard Hermann and a clever ad campaign and you’ve got a movie that, while it doesn’t exactly deliver as a whole, at least provides a memorable experience.

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