NOVEMBER 10, 2009
After all of the horror stories I’ve heard (including from Larry Cohen himself), I was expecting a disaster when I sat down to watch the update of It’s Alive, so maybe that’s why I am seemingly one of the 7 people in the world who sort of liked it. Most telling is the film’s IMDb rating - with the exception of Uwe Boll films, I find that horror films tend to be rated fairly accurately, meaning my vote is often within a point or less of what the current average is. Yet It’s Alive ranks 3.7/10 right now (I gave it a 6, for what it’s worth), which suggests a much worse film than the one I saw.
Is it perfect? Christ no. The digital blood is terrible and the rare shot of the baby (seemingly CGI as well) is no better, and all of the audio sounds suspiciously ADRed (though this might be the result of a multi-national cast trying to sound American). And there are a couple of baffling editing choices, such as when they insert a shot of a very normal looking baby as the couple returns home from the hospital, despite the fact that he is a freak in every other shot (including the scene where he is born). There are also a number of “huh?” cutaways to the young father’s little brother at school, where he is merely sitting returning a book at the library or meeting a classmate that we never see again. These scenes do not feel like padding, but more like leftovers from excised subplots.
But there is a lot to like and even somewhat admire, not the least of which is that it’s the “right” kind of remake, which is to take the basic concept (a killer baby, duh) and make a different movie. There’s more in common with Grace than the original It’s Alive (not intentional though - this thing has been on the shelf for a while), as the focus is squarely on the mother this time, with Frank Davis taking on more of a supporting (borderline afterthought until the final reel) role. They still have the same sort of approach to what to do with the kid (the mom loves it, the dad... not so much), but even that feels like its own thing instead of merely being a copied element from the original.
The tone is also a bit more even here. Cohen’s film was slightly awkward at times due to some ill-fitting comedic bits, but this one is played completely straight (as long as you consider Bijou Phillips’ performance and the occasional kill shot to be “straight”). And I like the angle that they went for, which is that the mother felt a responsibility to the child, possibly brought on by guilty feelings of trying to abort it (which is also about the only thing we get in terms of an explanation - which isn’t something that I cared about, for the record. Sometimes mutant babies are just mutant babies). Even with the base similarities to Grace, this approach gives the film its own identity and sort of makes it the opposite of Grace (Madeline kept Grace out of her desperation to have a child, whereas Bijou’s character didn’t really want a child at all). She gives up her allegedly promising school career, drops communication with her best friend (who eventually comes to check in on her, in a chapter hilariously titled “Fodder”), lets her love life fall apart, all in the sake of trying to make amends for initially attempting to abort the child.
Also, the ending is actually superior to the original’s. I didn’t like how the 1974 film’s finale took place in some random sewer instead of in the home where the bulk of the film took place, but that is not the case this time around. Apart from a few brief cutaways to supporting characters, once they go home the movie stays there. In fact I really liked the locale a lot - they don’t do a very good job of selling the New Mexico setting (is there even a single TREE in that state, let alone giant forests and constantly overcast days? Nice try, Bulgaria.), but the house itself is cool. In fact, it actually DOES look like something you’d see in New Mexico (a Native American trading post came to mind), and since it was obviously built for the film in a foreign setting, it gives it a funky, uncomfortable feel.
And I don’t know if this was a result of foreign screenwriters or odd acting choices, but the cop refers to the 25ish Mr. Davis as “Boy”, and then not 3 minutes later Mr. Davis refers to the baby as “Boy”, and in both instances it sounds more like they are trying to get a dog’s attention. It’s like in 13 Ghosts (2001) where Tony Shalhoub kept referring to his own son as “the kid” (as in “Let’s grab the kid and get out of here!”).
The DVD has no extras at all, not even the trailer (just trailers for other stuff), which is a shame as I would have liked to have a little perspective - why remake the film, why cast someone who can’t really act, etc. I also would have liked to have heard from director Josef Rusnak, who helmed the underrated alt-reality film The Thirteenth Floor a decade ago, disappeared for a while, and now helms DTV Wesley Snipes movies. I want to know who he pissed off to deserve such a terrible fate.
So like I said, my very low expectations probably helped, but I still think this is a decent movie. It’s got problems, but its heart was in the right place, and I will take that over a million slick yet pointless steamers like The Stepfather. Plus, remake or not, it’s still a goddamn killer baby movie, and I defy you to find anything wrong with that. It eats a cop!
What say you?