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Exclusive: Cohen Comes Alive!

Cohen Comes Alive!The American Museum of the Moving Image was invaded by a mutant baby and its proud papa last weekend, when it held an archival screening of Larry Cohen’s 1974 monster-baby opus It’s Alive, hosted by the director himself.

Though part of the AMMI’s Its Only a Movie: Horror Films from the 1970s and Today screening series, it does seem a bit odd to watch rubber-monster movies at a museum.

So why show Cohen’s film about killer kinder? Chief Curator, David Schwartz explains: “Larry Cohen works within the horror genre but like many directors in the series, he uses the killer mutant baby as a rich metaphor for a number of social concerns including the generation gap, abortion, environmental pollution, and male and female anxiety about social roles.”

Socio-political commentary has always been Cohen’s strong suit since his work on the television show “The Defenders” in the 1960s. It’s Alive is no exception.

(SPOILER ALERT:)

The film tells the tale of the Davis family and the subsequent birth of their child, a misshapen, bloodthirsty creature. Even before the bodies pile up, and they do, it”s father, Frank Davis (played with great gravitas by the late John P. Ryan) insists this monster was never his child, gives the cops permission to snag the sucker and signs over the corpse, when captured and killed, to scientists.

But wait! The pharmaceutical people believe their pills caused the mutation and want it destroyed outright to cover up their crimes. As the cops and father search for the kid, it seems the monster has grown quite attached to the family and spends its nights hanging out at his brother’s school. More people die. Soon the Davis Family reunites, including the monster’s human brother, Chris, who has been staying at a friend’s house for safekeeping. In the basement (where else?) Chris sees his brother and calls out, trying to soothe its crying; Frank enters the scene with a gun. Bang! He tags the mutant and it escapes out into the night, right before it rips some copper’s throat out. Both Chris and its mother, Lenore, seem very sympathetic towards it, even after seeing all the mayhem it inflicts.

A father and sone... from HELL!Cut to the sewer system: Frank is sent in by the cops to find the monster and take it down. All this time Frank has been adamant about this not being his son and saying sure he we kill it and do what is right–that is until he finds it, alone, pathetic and crying in the sewer. He comforts it, tells his creature that if he doesn’t stop
crying they will find him and that it’s OK. He wraps his son tenderly in his coat and runs, cops in pursuit, through the sewer tunnel. But there is no escape for Father and child. The cops are gathered en masse outside, as are the scientists. Frank throws the child at one of the scientists. The cops shoot both baby and scientist, who die bloody deaths. The film ends with the announcement that another kid has been born in Seattle…
(END SPOILERS)

Throughout the screening, the crowd seemed to enjoy the flick, though reacting more with laughter then screams of terror. And what a diverse audience indeed, from elderly matron to punk kid, a good cross-section of folks were represented at the event. Mutant baby films appeal to all walks of life I suppose.

Now for the man himself: one-time comedian, auteur and all-around genre guy, Larry Cohen took the stage, clad in black, straight from L.A. The crowd applauded and questions began–about the film, his process, and the actors. Cohen was animated and funny. Though most of the comments he made can also be found on the It’s Alive DVD commentary, seeing him take the stage was a great joy for any horror or film fan. We were also told the It’s Alive remake is in the can and can be expected to tear through a theater near you, but this time around the terror tykes will be CGI instead of Rick Baker rubber.

Cohen Comes Alive!For those of you who missed this rare event, the AMMI recorded the interview, which will be available soon for download, so keep checking Dread Central for a confirmed posting dated. While you wait for the Cohen Q and A, I suggest you listen to selections from the AMMI’s roster of recordings (click here) from their previous screening sessions. Here you will find the likes of Romero, Lynch and Cronenberg, as well as many other non-genre greats—the best part is the downloads are free, but the information contained within, priceless.

In parting, a few freaky facts about It’s Alive, as presented by Mr. Cohen during the screening session:

Q + A Terror Tidbits:

THE TITLE SEQUENCE:
Cohen creates all his own title sequences and this is no exception: bright lights populate a pitch-black screen in a sequence that influenced Steven Spielberg’s flashlight scenes in E.T.

THE SCORE:
Larrys Cohen’s number one choice to compose the film was Bernard Herrmann, but he was unavailable having committed to William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. During a lunch in NYC, Friedkin quipped that he wanted Herrmann to compose a better score then the one he did for Citizen Kane. Herrmann responded, “Why didn’t you make a better film than Citizen Kane?” This angered Friedkin and Herrmann suddenly became available to work on It’s Alive, where Cohen gave him complete creative freedom, out of respect for the master composer.

THE BABY:
Rick Baker’s former wife, Elaine, performed the mouth and tongue of the mutant child.

THE BOX OFFICE:
It’s Alive was the second highest grossing Warner Brothers film in Singapore after My Fair Lady.

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Jon Condit

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