Frank Davies (John P. Ryan) already has an eleven-year-old son, but his wife Lenore (Sharon Farrell) wanted another so with the help of doctors she is now pregnant and about to give birth tonight. After dropping off their boy Chris (William Wellman Jr) at a friend of the family's, the couple head to the hospital and are soon awaiting the birth of their second child. Frank sits in the waiting area with the other expectant fathers and they discuss various subjects until he is called on as the baby is arriving - but when he notices one of the medical staff stumbling from the delivery room with his throat torn out, he realises this is no ordinary infant...
The idea of a killer baby was not a new one, as Ray Bradbury had used the concept in his short story The Small Assassin some years before director and producer Larry Cohen had scripted It's Alive, but this was far more of a monster movie than the creepy little chiller Bradbury's tale had been. It also turned out to be one of the biggest hits of cult auteur Cohen's career, capturing the imagination of the public who didn't mind the bad taste nature of the premise and were keen to see how it played out. In truth the way it plays out is somewhat padded, as beyond that idea there aren't many things to do with it.
Apart from having the mutant baby go on the rampage, of course, which is pretty much what happens. However, Cohen likes to employ social themes in his films, so here there is that old horror standby, the question of how science can go too far as the only explanation we are offered is that theory that modern mankind has so polluted this world with the likes of specialised drugs that the result can even twist something as innocent as a baby out of shape and be an entity to be feared. Cohen also taps not only into the more obvious fears of childbirth, but the worry that your offspring might turn out to be a nightmare.
Naturally this isn't meant literally outside of the film, but inside of it the metaphor can be taken as precisely as what the thrills demand. As Frank, Ryan gives a truly excellent performance, far better than the material demands in fact, with the parent at first reluctant to accept any responsibility for his killer child and backing the authorities' calls for the creature to be shot dead. Yet after he sees the reaction he is getting from other people, from the media who blame him even though what has happened is entirely outwith his control to his boss who sacks him for being too controversial, he starts to side with the baby.
The baby is never given a name, but you can tell if things had been allowed to progress further that Frank and Lenore, who reaches an empathy with her child far quicker than her husband, would have taken it to their hearts. Cohen is aiming for a grand tragedy here, and doesn't quite attain it because it feels so drawn out for too basic a storyline, but he does stage semi-spoofy baby blasphemy so that the murderous mite kills a milkman and hides out in a nursery which might appeal to those with a sick sense of humour. Rick Baker designed the monster, and Cohen wisely keeps it in the shadows so we only glimpse its fangs or claws, but It's Alive, as its title alludes to, is most interesting as a variation on Frankenstein where the creator and his monster manage to see past their differences and learn some kind of love. Music by Bernard Herrmann.
Talented American writer/director who often combines exploitation subject matter with philosophical/social concepts. Began working in TV in the 1960s, where he created popular sci-fi series The Invaders, before directing his first film, Bone (aka Dial Rat), in 1972. A pair of blaxploitation thrillers - Black Caesar and Hell Up In Harlem - followed, while 1974's horror favourite It's Alive! was a commercial hit that led to two sequels.