"There's only one thing wrong with the Johnson baby," the poster says, "It's ALIVE!"
Read on about MonsterVision's showing of Larry Cohen's little black-comedy classic about a killer baby on the rampage:
Rugrats as raptors? Nice little tykes with claws and razor-sharp dentition? Mama told me not to come, but now we're here and all we can scream is It's Alive! Courtesy of that great title and clever B-movie marketing, "It's Alive!" quickly became a drive-in favorite but even more importantly, it's a tight and smartly made film that holds up better today than many so-called classics of the same period.
In case you've missed the story: The Davies (John P. Ryan and Sharon Farrell) are proud parents-to-be. They've got the cute house, the cute car and await the cute offspring. Only this ain't what they expected. Ain't what the obstetrician expected. Ain't what nobody expected. Because this is one baby that doesn't cry when the doc taps his bottom; instead, the little bundle of joy takes to the doc like a school of piranha takes to a swimming cow. T'ain't a pretty sight but that's why MonsterVision is surpassed only by X-Ray Vision. Heck, this film was banned in Finland, but MonsterVision is beaming it into your living rooms. Nice deal, huh?
It's Alive! was the brainchild of Larry Cohen, one of those unsung geniuses who work best in cultural margins, people like Jim Thompson, Herbie Nichols or Edgar G. Ulmer. Even though Cohen dipped partly into the mainstream to direct Bette Davis' last film, Wicked Stepmother (and apparently Ms. Davis more than lived up to the title), he's been exercising his witty, anti-authoritarian vision in the exploitation film plantation for years, toiling for little money and less respect. Cohen was dissing head G-Man Hoover in The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover back when such sacrilege was unthinkable as talk show fodder. Cohen attacked corporate culture in The Stuff and It Lives Again, religion in God Told Me To and political apathy in Original Gangstas. Cohen has a real sympathy for down-and-out characters as evidenced in Q or half-demented ones as in Special Effects.
It's Alive! pulled all those talents together. It pushes the anti-social child theme from The Bad Seed, The Other, The Exorcist and Village of the Damned probably about as far as it can go. Jaw-dropping scenes of carnage alternate with impassioned social commentary, all laced through with an unpredictable sense of humor. Topping the whole shebang off is one of the last scores done by the great composer Bernard Hermann (Psycho, among numerous other Hitchcock films). As the confused couple, John Ryan (Bound) and Sharon Farrell (The Young and the Restless) skillfully walk the tightrope over absurdity. William Wellman, Jr. (playing Charley) is indeed the son of the famous director, and Guy Stockwell (playing Bob Clayton) is the brother of Dean. Michael Ansara (The Captain) has one of those fascinating careers that runs from films with Brando (Julius Caesar) and Abbott & Costello Meet The Mummy, up through Elvis and Dean Martin and voices for the animated Batman TV series, not to mention numerous Star Trek roles.
It's Alive! spawned two sequels: It Lives Again which may be even better than the first and "It's Alive III: Island of the Alive" which left the nursery door open for even a fourth. But let's do this one at a time, hoss. MonsterVision enters the delivery room for It's Alive on 100% Weird in August, 2000. You'll have to change your own diapers.
It's Alive! (1974), Rating: TV-14-V
A later MonsterVision Movie, here are Joe Bob's host segments from that historic broadcast:
IT'S ALIVE: THROAT-RIPPING, MONSTER-BABY-CAM, & PIÑATA FU
are just a few of the sparkling ingredients that make It's Alive
such a memorable viewing experience. And if you happened to miss this
trend-setting horror classic from maverick director Larry Cohen on last
week's MonsterVision, Joe Bob Briggs will give you a guided tour of the
"It's Alive" Intro
Hey, Joe Bob Briggs, and it's BABY night
here at "MonsterVision." Killer babies, to be exact. First up is the
brilliant "It's Alive," and after that, we'll have the sequel It Lives
You know, I can see it coming now. It's too late to stop
it. What person in America is soon to become more abused than the smoker,
more passe than a Jimmy Carter liberal, more OUT OF IT than a cocaine user
with gold neck chains at Studio 54? The person with no
children. More important, the person who doesn't want to TALK about
his children. It starts when people move out of your neighborhood
and talk to you like it's a MORAL decision.
"It's been nice knowing
you, Joe Bob, but now that little Wilhelmina is on the way, we've decided
to move to a town that's a BETTER PLACE FOR KIDS TO GROW UP." And
you're going "What? Is there something I don't know about the
neighborhood?" And they say, "You know, a place that's QUIETER,
more laid back." And if you try to talk to em, by saying something
sensible like, "Roger, I've never known a child in my LIFE that liked
QUIET places. Every child I ever met liked fireworks, baseball games,
carnivals, subway rides, video arcades, hundreds of people, mud pies and
CHAOS." "Well, you're entitled to your opinion." There's
this THING that comes over people when they have babies--no, even BEFORE
they have babies. They don't want any of you IRRESPONSIBLE childless
people even BREATHING on the FETUS. "Besides," says Roger, "we
could never send Wilhelmina to school here. We've got to find a decent
And perhaps you say something like, "Rog, we're
dealing with a three-week-old fetus here that's about the size of an Egg
McMuffin. I don't think you need to worry about what calculus teacher
they're hiring this year." And they get so MIFFED, because, see, you're
TAKING THIS TOO LIGHTLY. "It might surprise you to know that I want the
very BEST education for this child," Rog will say. He always tells me it
might "surprise me to know" things that it never surprises me to
know. It comes down to this: Once a person has a child, or even has
the PROSPECT of having a child, or even DECIDES to have a child, he
becomes a different species from the rest of humanity. He orders
the Lifetime Network. He re-ups his subscription to National Geographic.
He starts talking about cholesterol, and how, after the kid is born, they
won't be eating at McDonald's anymore, because they don't want the kid to
get "hooked" on that stuff. "Hey, Rog, what if it works the same
way as crack babies. The kid will be BORN addicted to
McDonald's." Rog doesn't think this is funny.
And they all
enroll in some kind of secret psychology class and start using words like
"setting a good example" and "providing an environment that encourages
freedom" and "displaying love as a healthy emotion." And after a
while you have to say, "Rog, are you studying to be a priest or
WHAT?" Whatever happened to buying the kid a baseball
bat? It gets worse after the kid is born. Ask Rog and Elaine to
come over and watch a little TV on the weekend. "Naw, with the
baby, we just can't pick up and go like that." "Go ahead, bring the
baby. I like babies." "It's not that easy. We've got all the diaper
stuff, and she's got these nap times, and it's . ." "Rog! I've got
places the baby can SLEEP! I've got ROOM DEODORIZER! It's NO
PROBLEM!" "Well, yeah, thanks, but, naw, not today." Because
evidently it would be like traveling to another planet. The planet of the
Childless. The planet of the people who NEVER GREW UP and had children of
their own. The people that sometimes still go eat dinner at ten o'clock at
night and do other irresponsible things like DRIVE THEIR CARS TOO FAST
when there are CHILDREN, strapped into their little car-carriers,
TRAVELLING ON THAT SAME ROAD. The people that just DON'T UNDERSTAND. The
SCUM. The LAZY PEOPLE. The SELFISH people. The people that only think
about themselves and CAN'T STAND THE GROWN-UP RESPONSIBILITY of being
fathers and mothers. And so after a while--after a few years of
this--after you think you've lost these people as friends forever,
suddenly you make a NEW friend. Their baby is now six years old, and he
wants OUT of the house. He starts visiting you, and he's MORE INTERESTING
than his daddy. He doesn't wanna talk about cholesterol. He wants to play
football and root around in the dirt and visit the NEAT PART OF TOWN where
you live, instead of the boring part of town where his parents live. In
other words, he's become exactly what his daddy was before he experienced
the miracle and the joy of childbirth.
So, if you are one of the
Ostracized, just hang around. Your new buddy will show up any day
Speaking of the joys of childbirth, it's time for the 1974 hit
movie "It's Alive," written and directed by the great Larry Cohen, the man
who also brought us lethal dessert food, an alien hermaphrodite that
thinks it's Jesus, and an Aztec lizard god nesting in the Chrysler
Building. Who better to bring us the story of a newborn that goes straight
from its mother's womb to a killing spree in El Lay, attacking innocent
milkmen and leaving a trail of phony blood wherever it goes?
do those drive-in totals. We have: Thirteen dead bodies.
dead cat. No breasts. Multiple throat-ripping.
Monster-baby-cam. Delivery-Room Fu. Piñata Fu. Not a
long list, but a GREAT movie. Four stars. Check it out, and we'll
be here through the whole mutant baby experience."
"It's Alive" Commercial Break #1
"And so the classic "It's
Alive" begins, with that famous shot of the broken skylight, where
Whatever-it-is has ESCAPED. The original "It's Alive" poster is a
collector's item now. "There's only one thing wrong with the Martin baby.
It's ALIVE!" And was that Donald Trump as the lieutenant? Does he look
exactly like him, or what? As I mentioned, this flick is directed by my
pal Larry Cohen, who experienced "MonsterVision" fans will already know,
but I'll brief the newcomers and the remedial viewers. After making the
big bucks writing for TV, Larry made a name for himself writing, producing
and directing "Black Caesar" and the sequel "Hell Up in Harlem," which he
says are NOT blaxploitation flicks, cause Black Caesar is a tragic figure.
He did "It's Alive" and two sequels, one of which we'll be showing later
on. He did a flick called "God Told Me To" a.k.a. "Demon," about a
religious cop and a homicidal alien. Then there's the gentle werewolf
comedy "Full Moon High." "The Stuff," about a deadly dessert. "Maniac Cop"
which had another famous poster: "You have the right to remain
silent--forever." Doesn't sound like a guy who lives in a mansion in
Beverly Hills, does it? And that's why we love him. Let's get back to the
[fading] See what happens when you forget about money and
follow your heart? You get a big house in the hills, a nice car and five
cute kids. Or you starve. One of the two."
"It's Alive" Commercial Break #2
"Nice go-go boots--that
woman was horrified by whatever she saw, but look at what the monster baby
was staring at! A seventies fashion statement! Now I know what you're
thinking. You're thinking, "Wait a minute, Joe Bob. If your wife had a
baby that went on a killing spree in the hospital the minute it was born,
you'd just kiss her good night and GO HOME?" Well, we asked Larry Cohen
about that. And he said that he thought it was believable, because, after
24 hours, people will accept anything. He wanted to make a film about what
people would do once the shock wore off. All right, let's go find out what
happened to the go-go boots.
[fading] By the way, this movie came
out before all these genetic tests that tell you now what kinda baby
you're gonna get. It's almost 25 years later now. They can X-ray a woman's
gutbucket and tell you exactly what's in there. They got computer
printouts of the DNA that say, "He'll never pick up his socks, AND he's a
bedwetter." In the case of a monster growing in the womb, the computer
printout would probably say, "Athletic career probable, with endorsement
contracts." I feel like breaking into song, and singing "My Boy Bill." [as
in the play] "But . . . but what if it's a GIRL?" You guys aren't really
fans of the American musical theater, are you? I probably shouldn't do the
medley from "Carousel," huh?"
"It's Alive" Commercial Break #3
"That's John P. Ryan as the
father in denial. John is a veteran New York character actor who made his
film debut in "The Legend of Nigger Charley," the debut film of Fred
Williamson, and he would go on to play bad guys in a lot of famous
big-budget movies, like "Five Easy Pieces" and "The King of Marvin
Gardens" and "The Postman Always Rings Twice," "The Right Stuff," "Runaway
Train," "The Cotton Club," "Fatal Beauty." And he was in that lesbo flick
"Bound" the year before last. So if he looks like somebody you've seen
before, it's because YOU HAVE. Oh, and the guy who plays his understanding
boss? That's Guy Stockwell, the Beau Geste from the sixties, and the
brother of Dean Stockwell. And by the way, that's not Donald Trump as the
lieutenant--it's James Dixon, who's done just about every Larry Cohen
movie ever made. Okay, I'll tell you about the mom later, cause we got
more baby-cam coming up. Roll it.
[fading] John Ryan was starring
in a production of "Medea" when Larry Cohen cast him in "It's Alive." You
know that play? Euripedes. About a mother going berserk and killing her
babies. Nothing like ancient Greek drama to get an actor in the mood for
killer babies. Anybody see Diana Rigg do "Medea" on Broadway? Not this
group, huh? They actually SHOWED the bloody dead babies. Sometimes I think
there IS hope for the legitimate theater in this country."
"It's Alive" Commercial Break #4
"Birth control pills! Maybe
THAT'S what's causing the mutant babies. Larry Cohen threw in just about
everything he could think of--abortion, contraception, nasty insecticides,
the media, drug companies, corporate America, greed--and it's all driving
Sharon Farrell crazy, isn't it? Sharon is the mom. You may remember her
from "The Reivers" with Steve McQueen, or one of my favorite movies, "The
Stunt Man." It's creepy the way she's relentlessly CHEERFUL about the
experience, isn't it? We also get a little help here from Bernard Herrman,
the great composer who did "Psycho" and "Twilight Zone." "It's Alive" was
Bernard Herrmann's next-to-last movie. He did the music for "Taxi Driver"
later the same year, but he died before it came out. Okay, back to the
[fading] So, to sum things up here, what is the THEME of
tonight's movie? Class? Nobody? "Feed the baby or we're all gonna be
unhappy." Isn't that the theme? Most scholars would agree on that, I
"It's Alive" Commercial Break #5
"So the killer mutant baby
was going through the enrollment records of the Santa Monica Independent
School District in an effort to find his brother--it's that what we're
supposed to get from the baby-roaming-the-halls-of-the-school scene?
That's the ONLY part of the movie that I don't quite buy. But that was
some great scary crawling back there, wasn't it, with the
toddler-eye-level Baby Cam. Rick Baker, probly the most famous make-up guy
in the world, made the baby for this movie. Rick's done everything from
the great 1971 John Landis ape movie called "Schlock" all the way to Men
in Black--that's how much his career has exploded. Rick had worked on a
movie called "Bone" for Larry Cohen, and one day when he was working on
The Exorcist, Larry called him and said he had this story about a
monster baby who terrorizes the city, and that he was thinking about
having Rick build a baby suit for his cat. When Rick balked at the cat
idea, Larry suggested maybe a chicken. Or maybe TWO chickens. So Rick
starts coming up with more REALISTIC ideas, and tells Larry to let him
know as soon as the picture's set to go, so he'll have plenty of time to
do it right. Next thing, Rick gets a call from Larry who says, "Hey, we
started shooting two weeks ago--we're gonna need the baby pretty soon."
Larry had decided that he wasn't gonna show the baby in the film, except
POSSIBLY for a few very brief cuts, maybe a couple of frames for a
subliminal effect. He tells Rick he just wants him to build a dummy baby
for the actors to react to. Okay, so Rick builds the baby REALLY fast,
brings it to Larry's house, where they're shooting, and Larry goes crazy
over it. And he says, "Let's shoot a scene with it! Let's have it crawl
across the table into Sharon Farrell's lap!" He wants Rick to just tie a
string to it and drag it across the table. Which looks like crap, so Rick
suggests building a mask and just doing some tight shots of an actor
wearing the mask, like snarling and baring its fangs and stuff. And Larry
says okay, so Rick goes back to his shop and builds a mask, a pair of
monster-baby gloves, and a partial mutant-baby monster suit to fit his
girlfriend cause Larry doesn't want to pay an actor to sit in a chair and
snarl. And then, of course, Larry flips out again and expands her role and
we get all kinds of fun scary crawling scenes. Okay, let's get back to the
[fading] See, people always think movies are PLANNED.
Professors in film school lecture on how the director skillfully used a
crane shot to create the sensation of mankind growing more and more
insignificant. When actually, some guy said, "Hey, I'll let you use this
really cool crane for 200 bucks a day." And the director said, "Hey! Crane shot! Cool!"
"It's Alive" Commercial Break #6
"Can you believe Warner
Bros. buried this movie in 1974? The studio loved the idea of a monster
baby flick, but when it was done, they only made 55 prints of it, and they
didn't even advertise that it was ABOUT a monster baby because their
research told em people wouldn't want see that kinda movie. The ads were
this vague picture of a dead woman that said "Whatever it is--it's alive!"
Larry Cohen was pretty p.o.ed that they didn't say what the gimmick was,
so he pestered em for almost four years until, amazingly, a new regime at
the studio decided to resurrect it in 1977 with a new ad campaign. This
time it was a picture of a Rosemary's Baby carriage with a claw coming
out of it, and they made 850 prints, and people lined up around the block
and it was a big hit. Okay, big conclusion to "It's Alive," coming up. The
ending to this thing kills me.
[fading] Larry Cohen says this flick
would've been even more successful if he'd filmed it in French and added
English subtitles. Then the art film critics would've jumped all over it.
But is it just me or is the music in this thing really really cheesy? I
know it's Bernard Herrmann and everything, the guy who did "Psycho," but
LISTEN to this. This "music to search the house by."
By the way, Ice Cream Man is just as creepy and it's star, Clint Howard, was Joe Bob's guest for the host segments.
Weekly World MonsterVision ... Week of February 2, 1998 Saturday 4/4/98
It Lives Again (1978) at 10:30 p.m.
Kathleen Ryan's worst fears about her troubled pregnancy are confirmed when she gives birth to a killer baby with sharp fangs and deadly claws. Her horrified husband, Frederic Forrest, convinces her to flee with him and the child to a hidden research facility where other mutant babies frolic in their cages. Meanwhile, the government issues an all-points-bulletin alert for the fugitive couple. Larry Cohen's highly political follow-up to It's Alive co-stars John Ryan, Andrew Duggan, John Marley, and Eddie Constantine. Rating: TV-14.
Following It Lives Again is Joe Bob's Last Call Flick: It's Alive III: Island of the Alive (1986) at 12:45 a.m.
After several gruesome attacks, a brood of mutant babies are considered a threat to society and exiled to a deserted island. The third in the popular "It's Alive" series, Island of the Alive stars Michael Moriaty as a paranoid nutcase who thinks the killer tykes have been unfairly exploited by the media and organizes a good will mission to the island. Talk about a bad idea! Written and directed by Larry Cohen. (Black Caesar, The Stuff) Rating: TV-PG-L.
Following It's Alive III: Island of the Alive is 100% Weird: The Swarm (1978) at 3 a.m.
A dark cloud of killer bees are headed toward Houston with one purpose only - to stick their poisonous stingers into every cast member of this Irwin Allen disasterpiece. The special guest victims include Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland, Michael Caine of The Hand, and Richard Widmark. Rating: TV-PG.
The "It's Alive" movies inspired a scene in the more recent Dark Knight movies in which The Penguin is born and everyone is appalled by the baby's appearance.
Writer/producer/director Larry Buchanan proudly presents this cheap drive-in quickie about a crazy ranch owner who collects reptiles, snakes and other thingies. He's discovered a giant "lizard amphibian," which he keeps in a cave and feeds passersby. A paleontologist (Tommy Kirk of Mars Needs Women and Disney's original version of The Shaggy Dog) and another couple (Shirley Bonne, Billy Thurman) are thrown to the "masasaurus," which appears to be someone in a rubber suit with ping-pong eyes. But if that doesn't impress you, at least check out the bimbo in the yellow miniskirt. No relation to the 1975 Monstervision feature above
Elvis has left the building, and he took Joe Bob with him.