Theme Song: Bernard Hermann was an excellent and influential composer, but his last works (It’s Alive, Taxi Driver, It Lives Again) leave something to be desired. Granted in Taxi Driver the decision to have a sociopath driving around the city to the strains of semi-experimental jazz was bold.
The soundtrack for It’s Alive, completed shortly before Taxi Driver sounds exactly the same. I would go so far as to call this soundtrack Taxi Driver demos.
Interesting Dated References: Carpeted bathrooms, things being the color of several crayons they no longer make (see review), having a separate refrigerator and freezer standing side by side in a room off the kitchen.
Best Line: “People without children don’t realize how lucky they are.”
Social Context: There was an attempt to throw in stuff about what has potentially caused the baby (pills & medication). Not much time is spent analyzing why society is driven to look for cures in a pill.
Summary: Writer/Director Larry Cohen found a formula early on and has pretty much stuck with it his entire career: B-grade movies made on the cheap featuring bad acting and annoyingly apparent sociopolitical undertones.
In the case of It’s Alive, this formula is met exactly: A mother who took too many meds births a crazy mutant/demon that goes ape-shit on the town.
So, right away we meet our expectant parents and their other normal kid. The mother feels birth pangs and they all head off to the hospital, but not before dropping the normal kid off with a guy standing in the street in his robe at dawn.
At the hospital, the mother gets tied down and the father goes to the waiting lounge to smoke with other men. Back in the delivery room, a really calm doctor coaxes the baby out of the womb, all the while the mom is screaming about something being wrong.
The baby comes out and kills everyone in the delivery room except the mom. Then there’s a bunch of disorienting music and even more disorienting “I’m so high right now” tracking camera shots as the father rushes in.
Really red blood, a bunch of dead doctors, and no baby. Later on, police and doctors speculate someone stole the baby, or the mother was all doped up with radiation and made some type of animal-freak thing.
While driving home from the hospital, the father hears his name announced on the radio as the father of a possible freak-mutant thing that killed people. Oh yeah, the dad’s name is Frank Davis. So now everyone knows and Frank’s personal life is done for.
This includes being given some time off from his job in a yellow and blue office. I tell you, for some type of killer-mutant thing being on the loose, everyone is pretty calm. Frank then lies to his wife and tells her he took a vacation.
So things go on, people keep calmly and causally talking about the mutant/killer baby, police keep finding dead bodies killed by the mutant/killer baby, and everyone keeps interjecting sociopolitical commentary about what created the baby.
First off, this is the older, normal son who is still visiting with the guy who was wearing the robe. They seem to be going fishing together. But what’s with that ass slap at the end? No really, that’s not just some funny “hey it’s the 70s” ass slap. That’s a full-hand cheek grab. More importantly, what’s with the roll-down window on the back of the station wagon? Is that how it used to be back in the day? Anyone could walk up to your car, open the window, and put stuff in it?
Yellow ocher. Remember that crayon? That crayon was awesome. So the doctors get the dad to sign some papers saying they can test the mutant-baby once they catch it. They also infer that mother isn’t taking all her pills and she makes really subtle comments about how it was “the pills that caused all this.” And the baby kills a milkman.
Eventually the mutant kid is cornered at a school. Frank and the police are all there —
— as well as some vintage blow-ups of The Letter People. I swear in first grade we were watching an Alphabet People video and the Letter D said “I have to go D as in dookie.” I swear, even my teacher got offended. I’ve never been able to verify this though, but that’s how I remember it.
The baby kills a cop or two and escapes, finally making it to the Davis home to be with its parents. Mother goes all nuts trying to hide from Frank the fact that the baby is there, but he catches on. At the same time, the normal son shows back up. This music seriously sounds like Taxi Driver demos, and they’re really dragging out this movie. Frank finds the baby, shoots it several times, and pisses it off enough that it kills The Robe Guy who just happened to walk into the house.
Then there’s a 3-hour-long chase scene through the sewers where Frank suddenly falls in love with the child and runs from the cops. Then he emerges, throws the baby at the detective, and everyone shoots it. As Frank and his wife are escorted home, the other detective delivers the sequel inducing, “There was just one born in Seattle” line. It’s supposed to be a big deal that Rick Baker (Star Wars) did special effects on this, but it’s not really something to be proud of since you see the baby for about three seconds.
Poster and Box Art: The poster pictured above is not the original theatrical poster, but it’s the poster/box art most of us will recall. Around 1976 and shortly after It Lives Again was completed, It’s Alive was re-released into theaters and given a similarly designed poster so that the sequel would be instantly recognizable. It worked, too. The carriage image still stands as a very iconic poster image of the late 70s and was used on both subsequent films in the series.
Here’s the original theatrical poster from 1973. Yeah, not much to going on here, unless you’re really into bubbly letters that look all anthropomorphic. A similar image was used for the foreign version:
Screaming ladies were big in the late 60s, but by the early 70s they were falling out of favor. The producers were right to re-brand the movie when the sequel came out.
There’s also this early version of the poster from when it made its drive-in run around 1974. You can see they were making progress marketing the movie, and this is obviously where the idea for the successful 1976 poster came from.
Availability: It’s Alive is available on DVD from Amazon. It was also the victim of a 2010 remake. If you want a real bargain, the entire trilogy is available on this one bargain price DVD. Oh, and if you’re in need of a Halloween costume: