Director – Josef Rusnak, Screenplay – Larry Cohen, James Portolese & Paul Sopocy, Based on the 1974 Film Written by Larry Cohen, Producers – Robert Katz & Marc Toberoff, Photography – Wedigo Von Scultzendorff, Music – Nicholas Pike, Visual Effects – Whodoo EFX, Inc. & Worldwide FX (Supervisors – Danail Hadzhiyski & Emil Sergiev), Special Effects Supervisor – Ivo Jivkov, Pyrotechnics Supervisor – Zarko Karatanchev, Puppet Effects Supervisor – Tony Gardner, Production Design – Pier Luigi Basile. Production Company – Signature Pictures/Amicus Entertainment/IPW/Foresight Unlimited.
Bijou Phillips (Lenore Harker), James Murray (Frank Davis), Raphael Coleman (Chris Davis), Owen Teale (Sergeant Perkins), Ty Glaser (Marnie), Jack Ellis (Dr Baldwin), Arkie Reece (Perry)
In New Mexico, Lenore Harker drops out of her college classes and moves in with her boyfriend architect Frank Davis after discovering she is pregnant to him. He rushes her to hospital as the baby starts to come early. However, as Lenore starts to give birth, something goes wrong in the delivery room and afterwards all of the surgical staff are found slaughtered. The police want to investigate but Lenore has no memory of what happened. She only wants to settle in at home with the baby, which she names Daniel. However, what she has given birth to is something that likes to kill. As people around her fall prey to the killer baby, Lenore does everything she can to mother Daniel.
It’s Alive (1974) is one of the classic B horror movies of the 1970s. Its outrageous theme of a killer baby on the rampage struck a chord with audiences and succeeded in putting writer-director Larry Cohen on a career path as a cult genre director. Cohen expanded the basics out into a trilogy with the also worthwhile It Lives Again (1978) and the less interesting It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987).
Now It’s Alive inevitably joins the tide of horror remakes we have seen since the mid 2000s. These include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), Toolbox Murders (2003), Willard (2003), Dawn of the Dead (2004), The Amityville Horror (2005), Assault on Precinct 13 (2005), The Fog (2005), Black Christmas (2006), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), The Omen (2006), Sisters (2006), When a Stranger Calls (2006), The Wicker Man (2006), Halloween (2007), The Hitcher (2007), April Fool’s Day (2008), Day of the Dead (2008), Long Weekend (2008), Prom Night (2008), Friday the 13th (2009), The Last House on the Left (2009), My Bloody Valentine (2009), Night of the Demons (2009), Sorority Row (2009), The Stepfather (2009), And Soon the Darkness (2010), The Crazies (2010), I Spit on Your Grave (2010), Mother’s Day (2010), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Piranha (2010), Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011), Fright Night (2011), Straw Dogs (2011), The Thing (2011), Maniac (2012), Carrie (2013), Evil Dead (2013), Patrick (2013), Poltergeist (2015), Suspiria (2018), Child’s Play (2019) and Pet Sematary (2019).
The remake is produced by Millennium Films, a company that specialises in buying up and resurrecting old properties, they having also made the likes of The Wicker Man, Day of the Dead, Rambo (2008), The Bad Lieutenant – Port of Call: New Orleans (2009), Conan the Barbarian (2011), The Mechanic (2011) and Texas Chainsaw (2013). Oddly enough, one of the company credits is also for Amicus Productions, although this appears unrelated to the British company that is primarily known for a series of horror anthologies beginning with Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965). The director is the German Josef Rusnak who had earlier made the Roland Emmerich backed The Thirteenth Floor (1999), a few action films such as The Contractor (2007) and The Art of War: Betrayal (2008) and several other subsequent genre entries with Perfect Life (2010) and Beyond (2012).
One is getting so used now to horror remakes that simply look on the original classic as another property that can be resurrected without understanding any of the effect, subtext or social conditions of the original that you are inured to feeling outrage before watching It’s Alive 2008. There is some hope in that the remake is co-written by Larry Cohen. That should at least ensure some integrity to the original, one feels.
Alas, hopes quickly sink for It’s Alive. The original couple who were written as being in their mid-thirties are now rewritten as a couple in their early twenties – she’s even a college student – in order to appeal to the tween demographic. This throws the sympathies of the original off – it is no longer a film that digs into the aspirational nuclear family ideal; it is simply one about cool, good-looking young people (where the actors seem to only have the most minimal connection) dealing with a monster baby. About the one amusing change that the film brings in is that the mutant baby is no longer created by fertility drugs but by dodgy home abortion pills ordered over the internet (even if the film never comes out and uses the word abortion).
In Josef Rusnak’s hands, what we have is a film that is technically more polished and sophisticated than the original. However, what seems to be missing is any of Larry Cohen’s dark humour and all we have is a generic monster movie that quickly falls into playing itself by the modern horror formula. What has noticeably changed is that we have gone from a baby killing in the streets to an internal horror film – a monster in the fold drama where everything is principally contained inside the home. This could have had potential for much more suspense and paranoia than the original did. Certainly, this is an idea that Grace (2009), which came out shortly after It’s Alive, did with far more chilling effect, especially when it comes to the scenes with watching the mother slowly psychologically disintegrating. Unfortunately, as the mother here, Bijou Phillips is a bland Hollywood blonde who makes almost no distinction on the role.
About the only thing that Josef Rusnak adds are a couple of scenes of gore and splatter – the scene where doctor Jack Ellis returns to his car and the baby attacks from the backseat in a gout of blood that covers the interior of the vehicle; or where Ty Glaser is dragged into the back of a truck and a baby hand tears its way out of her throat. These are the only things that mildly perk up an otherwise completely uninteresting film. Even the climactic scenes – which are also notedly missing the original’s remarkable reversal of sympathies – feel entirely like Josef Rusnak had delivered his direction in by phone.