Hollywood’s ongoing quest to remake every single horror movie from the 1970s continues with this actually intelligent and modestly effective update of the Larry Cohen killer baby classic. Cohen himself is one of three authors credited with the new screenplay that swaps the original’s middle-aged couple for literate, snappy college student Lenore Harker (Bijou Phillips) who is expecting a child with her caring, committed boyfriend Frank Davies (James Murray, from ITV’s dino-drama Primeval). Things turn sinister for the happy couple when Lenore goes into labour and awakens to find hospital staff splattered all around the delivery room. While police frantically try to unravel the mystery, Lenore and Frank take refuge at the family cabin along with his crippled kid brother Chris. But gradually a series of freak deaths alerts Lenore that there is something not quite right about baby Daniel…
Obviously not the film to show expectant mothers, the all-new It’s Alive plays up the bond between monster baby and conflicted mama, torn between maternal feelings and growing horror. It draws a bit from David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979) in that Lenore takes an active hand in concealing her baby’s murderous rampage and occasionally the child seems to be directing its rage against those who come between them.
Where the 1973 film features a tour-de-force from John Ryan as the tortured father, this revolves around a similarly strong central role for Bijou Phillips who is excellent. Although James Murray looks befuddled for the most part, he strikes a nicely judged note of compassion mixed with nausea near the climax. Kid bro Chris proves an unnecessary addition and Lenore’s college friends seem included solely to provide monster bait. Further eccentricities abound with a handful of British cast members seemingly dubbed with American accents and prominent billing given to child actress Skye Bennett even though she has only one scene.
Josef Rusnak, director of the interesting and underrated The Thirteenth Floor (1999) films interiors with a certain clinical precision that unsettles and intelligently, does not go overboard with all sorts of CG monster antics. As with the original Rick Baker creation, the monster baby is confined to the shadows, an unsettling, screeching, snarling menace. Gore fans may relish the handful of splattery deaths but these carry a certain silliness the admirably straight-faced tone can’t quite dispel. Unfortunately, the film is nowhere as subversive as Cohen’s original and seems strangely keyed to uphold both entrenched conservative and liberal points of view. Lenore is coloured bad because she neglects her college studies and friends to raise her child, yet still suffers horrifically for briefly considering an abortion. The earlier It’s Alive movies had a lot going on under the surface. This merely maintains that motherhood wrecks your life. Still, as horror remakes go it’s certainly no bastard offspring and boasts quite a pedigree: this is a new production from the legendary Amicus Films and co-producer Mark Damon was the lead in “The Wurdulak” episode of Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath (1963).