Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 18, 2004)
With flicks like Rosemaryís Baby and The Omen, we got tales about demonic children that went for the subtle side of things. Both flicks never played out matters in a literal way, as they left it up to audience interpretation to determine the reality of the situation.
Donít expect that kind of approach from 1974ís Itís Alive, as it plays out events in a significantly more overt manner. We meet the Davis family, with father Frank (John Ryan), mother Lenore (Sharon Farrell), and 11-year-old son Chris (Daniel Holzman). Lenore is due to give birth, and the early parts of the flick show this process as she goes into labor.
Problems arise. Lenore produces a violent monster baby who slays all of the delivery room personnel except its mother. It then escapes, which triggers a manhunt headed by police Lt. Perkins (James Dixon). The movie follows the police pursuit and other investigations, the babyís killings, and the impact on the Davis family.
To my surprise, that latter elements plays a rather large role in the proceedings. That factor makes Alive more memorable and distinctive than I expected. I thought Iíd find a cheap piece of schlock with little more than cheesy ďmonster babyĒ scares. Sure, the movie tosses in some of those moments, but it maintains a generally subdued tone that manifests more depth than normal.
Early on, the movie sets its tone as it gently introduces us to the participants. The beginning scenes donít warn us of the problems to come, as it focuses wholly on what seems to be an average family as they deal with the childbirth. Not until Lenore gets into the delivery room to problems emerge, but if you donít know anything about the movieís premise, you wonít anticipate what happens.
Even when the bloodshed occurs, the film remains restrained. We donít see the attack. Instead, we watch as a maimed hospital worker staggers out of the delivery room. Itís a nicely understated way to introduce us to the terror, and it works really well.
Alive goes with the ďless is moreĒ model in how it depicts the baby, which seems like a good idea. The puppet probably would have looked goofy in extended shots, so the quick glimpses allow it to become more effective. Actually, the movieís rare cheesy bits connect to the baby, particularly when we see things from its double-vision point of view. Nonetheless, those donít last long, so they donít create substantial distractions.
I also like the movieís ambiguousness. It sets up lots of potential bits of intrigue but doesnít beat us over the head with them. We get hints that the monster baby wasnít unexpected, and we hear vague theories about what caused the mutation, but we never learn anything concrete. Some may dislike these tendencies, as they can come across as wishy-washy. However, I like the vagueness, as the film triggers our imagination to fill in the blanks on our own. I can understand why some would see it as unsatisfying, but I like the fact it doesnít spell everything out for us.
I really didnít expect the movieís emphasis on the lives of the Davis family. The film concentrates a lot on how the developing events affect the clan, and it displays a surprising amount of compassion within that area. I canít really call the movie ďdeepĒ, but it displays layers that I didnít anticipate from a film in this genre.
Half cheesy shocker, half sociological study, Itís Alive surpasses expectations and turns into a reasonably effective movie. It leaves just enough to the imagination to keep us interested, and it follows its story nicely. Chalk it up as a good horror flick.