28 June 2010

Review: It's Alive (1974)

The fabulous horror blog Final Girl issues a film club review challenge every once in a while, and I finally got my shit together so I could review this classic from 1974.

This 1974 gem is written and directed by Larry Cohen, and seems to deal with the birth of a mutant baby to two unfortunate parents. We begin the action during the last days of the pregnancy, when we also learn (during some late night pillow talk) that the father is perhaps not the most enthusiastic parent. Their other offspring is now 11 years old, so we kind of get the idea that this baby was, shall we say, unplanned. Anyway, Mom realizes during the birthing process, which is also a very male-dominated and not-very-woman centered parturition, that something is "different" about this birth. I'll say.

Once the baby is born, it kills every person in the delivery room, and makes a bloody mess of the hospital. It proceeds to escape (through a skylight) and then kill a bunch of hapless humans, while also seemingly seeking out its parents and the occasional bottle (or ten) of milk, which in 1974 is still charmingly delivered in glass bottles to the upscale homes in the demon parents' neighborhood. After the spawn dispatches a milkman, it makes its way to a school, and Dad somehow decides he must be the one to kill it.

A bunch of other crap happens, wherein the audience realizes that Mom is slightly nuts (understandably) and Dad has turned into an asshole. At the close of the film Dad has tried to save the child, we know Mom wants to save it, but Dad ends up flinging his mutant spawn at a cop (yes) while they are all standing around the Los Angeles River. Of course, mutant baby kills the cop. Someone covers them up with a blanket, and we learn that another mutant has been born in Seattle. Fade out . . .

What I realized as the narrative was unfolding was that this film is so blatantly about male anxiety and masculinity that it's not even remotely arguable that it's about women or childbirth or mutant babies. Think about it: it's 1974, the year after Roe v. Wade and women all of a sudden have the right to choose abortion. Interestingly, we learn in the movie that the hapless mutant baby parents considered abortion (for convenience) but then decided not to terminate the pregnancy. Aha!

This movie is a cautionary tale warning women against even thinking of having an abortion. If you even consider it, you might have a mutant baby. But back to the male anxiety aspect--I really think that this film focuses very clearly on the father and his anxiety, whereas the mother is barely significant except to act nutty and whiny, thus stereotypically feminine. The father paces around, smokes incessantly, disavows paternity, vows to kill the baby, and overall makes a big old showy display of his manliness. There is so much anxiety for MEN about pregnancy and mutant babies, this movie argues, that we must allow them to decide to terminate the pregnancy, even after its born--you see? This movie is about allowing abortion rights to men. Who cares about women--they just take drugs and mope around. The real problem here is how pregnancy and childbirth effect men.

But seriously, It's Alive is a wonderful movie that clearly grapples with women's (then) newly constitutionally recognized right to privacy, and how these rights make men very, very nervous. So nervous, in fact, that they have to band together with lots of guns and other men to alleviate their pent-up feelings of helplessness and anxiety about not having uteruses.

Besides all the groovy social commentary and gender anxiety in this movie, It's Alive has truly great effects, wonderful 1970s clothing and cars, and totally awesome music by the famous Bernard Herrmann. It's worth a look.


Robin Becker said...

Great review. One of my fave movies too. I had no idea you were a horror fan!

kick drum heart said...

Yup, just another man in crisis. You should watch Little Otik (Otesanek), if you haven't already, because I'm pretty sure that It's Alive is loosely based on the Czech folktale of the same name. It's very entertaining.

Good review, Beth! Write more of these!!

AE said...

Hee! Great review. Men have it so rough with the childbirth and the hospitals, and the side effects of their wives' contraceptive pills/fertility drugs! Not to mention having to get up in the middle of the night -- oy!

Also nice to "meet" another AE. :)