Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: As part of the A.V. Club’s 10 Days Of Horror, we recommend the movies that frighten us the most.
It’s Alive (1974)
Nothing is scarier than confronting personal failings, as PR man Frank (John Ryan) learns on baby-delivery day in It’s Alive. Larry Cohen’s B-movie classic assumes a traditional monster-movie guise, with Frank’s wife Lenore (Sharon Farrell) giving birth to a fiend that immediately kills a room full of doctors before fleeing into the night. Yet even before this gruesome turn of events, Cohen (also the film’s writer) has laced his material with enough ominous suggestions—Lenore’s painful labor unease, her worries that Frank will again experience the ill-defined troubles he had when his son Chris (Daniel Holzman) was born, the widespread environmental pollution—to imply that “It” is less an out-of-the-blue phenomenon than the byproduct of underlying personal and social corruption. Given Frank’s subsequent desire to deny genetic kinship with his bald, fanged, murderous offspring—and to kill the beast—it soon becomes clear that the creature is a symptom/manifestation of his own shortcomings, all of them rooted in anxieties about fatherly responsibility and biological strength and purity.
As such, It’s Alive is a deeply unsettling film about a man forced to confront himself (and his insecurities) via his imperfect child, and the trial-by-fire he must undergo in order to learn to love unconditionally. That process involves Frank stalking around at night—as recurring images of sperm-like white lights dance around in the dark (and, during the finale, in womb-like sewer tunnels)—and quiet moments alone with Lenore, who more readily wants to reunite with her missing monster. Critiques of the pharmaceutical industry, which wants to erase any trace of culpability by gunning It down, also pepper Cohen’s sharply directed tale, as does a tongue-in-cheek humor that pricks the entire premise. (A pharma bigwig: “One must not allow oneself to be impressed by escapist fiction.”) Yet the power of this unforgettably chilling movie is located most potently in the countenance of Ryan, whose sweaty anger is undercut by troubled, far-off gazes that convey the severity of his crisis-of-self.
Availability: It’s Alive is packaged with its sequels on DVD, obtainable through Netflix’s disc delivery service, and available to rent or purchase through the major digital services.