Throughout our everyday existence while living vicariously through social media, we come across plenty of things to bide our time including questions, polls, surveys, and nostalgic discussions. One that you find in abundance is the “What was your first…” type of questions, used to trigger a memory or response from the subconscious. The one I happened upon that triggered this article itself was “What was your first horror movie?” The easy answer is John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ from 1978.
But it isn’t the only one I remember
My fading glimpse of a recollection is of a woman in the back of a car at night, bloodied, screaming, and in pain while giving birth. The baby came rushing out into the world to be horribly disfigured like some type of creature that leaps and slashes its way through a man.
Throughout the years I’ve had mere glimpses like this, flash in my mind of a movie never knowing what it was, until curiosity got the better of me not too long ago.
I searched online for “killer baby movie” and the pictures that filled that search results were exactly what I remember. It was called ‘It’s Alive’ but to my shock there’s not just one, there’s a trilogy along with a remake! So I thought it to be significant enough to watch all three original movies and review each one of them! Warning, spoiler alert!
It’s Alive (1974)
We have horror movies about everything nowadays; killer sharks, clowns, critters, gremlins, aliens, dogs, a car, and even a tire but the notion of a killer baby does seem taboo if it’s not properly executed and ‘It’s Alive’ fits the bill. It is the brainchild of writer and director Larry Cohen (RIP) and he did everything possible to have his vision manifested and brought to life through this cinematic classic. Cohen has a very interesting and distinct way of writing and directing, which is more improvisational and instinctive while keeping you close to the characters and allowing you to fully empathize with them.
Our hero of the film, Frank Davis, is played by John P. Ryan (Class of 1999), as a happy carefree man expecting another child with his wife Lenore Davis played by Sharon Farrell (Lone Wolf McQuade) who sadly passed away on May 15th of this year. Everything seems pitch perfect in their lives and they carry themselves as the perfect family. Very quickly into the film, Lenore goes into labor in the most casual manner ever. She and Frank take their sweet time getting dressed, makeup, hair, and even pack suitcases to stay the night at the hospital. You would think they are just going to a social outing, not bringing a child into the world. At the hospital they will all meet their future son followed by extremely grim events.
The first thing that stands out is the cinematography which definitely feels like the late 1960s or early 1970s but with a distinctly clear and sharp image to really put you into the story. Another thing that heavily dates this movie is the heavy use of practical effects. Larry Cohen does an amazing job at keeping the killer baby just out of focus or hardly seen at all which causes the film to have an intensely, thriller type horror feel. When you do actually see the baby it is a grotesque infant with a large pulsating head, sharp fangs, and malformed hands that resemble claws. The effects for the baby were created by using a doll for far away shots. While the closeup scenes were created by special effects master Rick Baker putting his wife in a costume for the face and claw hands shots. Otherwise, you only see through the first person perspective of the baby with very low angels and out of focus vision, similarly to how babies actually view the world for the first few months.
A huge aspect of this movie that I adore is how the events in the film permanently change the victims, especially the dear mom and dad. Frank was a fun loving, happy guy, afterwards he was very solemn, serious, and simply destroyed by what transpires. The mother seems to have changed for the worst as she so desperately tries to ignore everything that happens, proceeding through life such as nothing is amiss, all the while steadily being driven insane.
The ending scenes in the Los Angeles river and sewer system is when Frank finally gets to observe the baby up close only to embrace the child as his own, determined to save it, even though previously he had been so vocal that the child was not his and should be destroyed. The last dialog spoken is set to create the impression that a sequel would follow the movie yet in another city simply stating “there’s another one.” I enjoyed this film immensely, regardless of how campy the creature effects are, I was also relieved to hear there are two more films in the series!
It’s Alive 2: It Lives Again (1978)
The first thing to take away from the sequel is how much time has passed from the first film to the second, roughly four years. It appears that the initial release was met with low box office numbers, until the movie’s demand was reinvigorated by it garnering better attention in 1977 where a new suspenseful trailer was released with a baby carriage and one clawed hand coming over the side. Larry Cohen was then greenlit for a proper sequel, but there was a problem, too much time had passed to follow up with the cliffhanger from the first movie. That’s okay, we’ll just start it off in Arizona of all places, as we see there’s a new couple waiting to become proud parents of a baby. Although this time they are warned of the consequences if they proceed with the pregnancy.
Our now very serious and shell-shocked hero, Frank Davis, is back but this time not as the expecting parent, but as part of a team of doctors and volunteers trying to track down and find either new parents that have greater chances to also have a killer baby or the killer babies themselves.
The new parents Eugene Scott and Jody Scott are played by Frederic Forrest of ‘Falling Down’ and ‘Lonesome Dove’, and by Kathleen Lloyd from ‘The Car’ (1977). They also go through quite a story arc that is so disturbing and life changing that the characters wear it on their faces showing that they are forever changed. The fun part about this installment is that it’s not about just one killer baby, but three are depicted in the film, while there are others that are discussed such as the killer baby mentioned at the end of the original.
Since Frank knows the hardships of what can happen if you have or come across one of these babies, he now works to help the parents and also the babies themselves, while not all instances end positively. ‘It Lives Again’ has a more dramatic and realistic depiction of a woman going into labor along with the frenzied drive to the hospital than the first one had. Instead of the mother, Jody, giving birth in the hospital as planned, Frank shows up to stop a team of opposing doctors that want to destroy the baby instead of saving and studying it. He forces her doctor at gunpoint to take her and himself to a large cargo truck where the mother is to have the baby, limiting the amount of casualties and allowing the baby to be studied. The “good” doctors lead everyone to their facility back in Los Angeles where they house two similar babies that are being looked after and researched. They have discovered that the babies mainly kill when scared, same as the original, and have a much higher IQ than normal babies. They understand speech and thoughts and seem to actually communicate via telepathy and ESP.
The look and feel are almost identical as the first movie, except on a grander scale and more open with bigger shots, opposed to close up and intimate shots. The ending comes out of left field and is so great that I can’t ruin it, but it is is similar to the ending of a 2006 thriller movie that I’d love to review!
It’s Alive 3: Island of the Alive (1987)
The third installment of ‘It’s Alive’ takes a different approach than its predecessors. This seems to be the movie I vaguely remember from my childhood as the beginning scene in the back of the taxi is almost exactly what I recall.
This film comes out almost ten years after the second, having more black comedic moments, and even introducing us to adult versions of the Alive! This final chapter follows a much different flow of storytelling than the first two had, and seems to break the mold and formula.
‘Island of the Alive’ follows all new characters, The Jarvis family is comprised of Stephen Jarvis, played by Michael Moriarty, from the 2001 James Dean movie, and Ellen Jarvis, played by Karen Black from ‘House of 1000 Corpses.’ This couple, like the previous ones, also gives birth to a killer baby but it is not shown, yet we first meet Stephen in a courtroom trying to save the life of his baby despite the mutation. It is agreed that the baby is too dangerous to go with its parents, and too important to just kill, therefore the baby and others of its kind should be sent to live somewhere away from the typical human population. So it is then sent to live forever on a deserted island with the other Alive siblings.
The great distinction with this awesomeness is that it takes place over the span of five years. The trauma of losing their only child forced Stephen and Ellen to divorce and go their separate ways, also leaving them with deteriorating sanity and great spells of madness. We see Stephen the most and you can see his evolution from a grief stricken father, to a joke cracking, song singing nutcase that illustrates the limits on how much people can truly withstand. He of course loses his job as an actor, his reputation, and his sanity. Down on his luck he even releases a book about his experiences only for it to bomb forcing him to take a job as a smart-assed shoe salesman. His ex-wife, Ellen, goes down a different road by losing everything and obviously suffering inside very deeply, ending up becoming a waitress and refusing to ever have kids again.
The island, which was assumed would be the main backdrop to the story, Is only seen a handful of times and at quick glances, until closer to the end of the movie. We get our first suckers, landing a helicopter on the Alive island to do some hunting, where they are easily hunted down allowing us to finally see the adult Alives. They are short and stocky, having the strength of fifty men but with giant baby faces. This is the catalyst to have Stephen lead a group to the island where he ends up bringing the Alive to New York to wreak havoc on the masses. The ending will definitely surprise you and also goes to show the depths of insanity our two heroes endured.
So, in the end, I think the theme of this trilogy is to love your child no matter what, even if they are a monster or horribly disfigured because that is not the fault of the child. Also, families should stick together no matter what happens. We may not be able to choose our blood family but we sure can find the family that will love us unconditionally.