Sunday, June 27, 2010

It's Alive

Mr. and Mrs. Frank Davis, after experimenting with fertility drugs, find themselves expecting a second child. What they do NOT expect is said child (with a birthweight of a robust 12 pounds) emerging from the womb and killing everyone in maternity. The mutant child carves a bloody swath across L.A., and soon various law enforcement and corporate interests enter the ring to contain, study and/or destroy the wayward child. And the Davises are torn apart as Frank obsesses over being the one to kill his child.

Your proprietor loves himself some Larry Cohen, so when the call* went out to watch and review this film I jumped on it. I think I'd only ever seen it on cable at a young age (not to worry - despite being banned in several countries it was released here with a PG rating), but have quite a few friends who remain scarred by it. Having happily digested some of Cohen's later films, I was pleased to find that it balanced solid genre thrills with the loose, seemingly improvised and decidedly offbeat character moments that pepper his other films. And though the film is clearly a product of the 70s (from its costuming to its excavation of then-contemporary issues of abortion and environmental mutation), it's unfortunately very much of the present. As various characters sounded off on the damage we do to the environment, and thus to ourselves, I kept flashing to the oil disaster that continues to darken the Gulf Coast, and wondering what manner of offspring it might sire.

One of Cohen's unsung strengths is his selection of collaborators, and the leeway he gives them. Several people from the locations where the movie was shot were pressed into service as bit players (the Scots nurse who escorts Davis toward the delivery room is particularly fine), but Cohen's bigger name players do fine work as well. The young FX artist Rick Baker crafts a memorable (if little-seen) monster that helps strike a primal chord. Veteran film composer Bernard Herrmann had already begun a 1970s second wind with de Palma's Sisters, but his work on this film (resplendent with his usual low-end woodwinds and his recently discovered bass guitar and Moog synth), overblown though it sometimes is, helped re-establish his name amongst the young generation of filmmakers.

But my favorite surprise of the film was the lead performance by John Ryan. I recognized him as one of several go-to actors regularly pressed into service as paramilitary assholes on M*A*S*H. He brings a similar intensity to Frank Davis. And Cohen just lets the camera run on him when Davis, confronting his child in a dark corridor, feels his murderous impulses give way to fatherhood. It's a great piece of understated acting, and when Davis starts crying he's not alone.

* = This review is part of the Final Girl Film Club, hosted as always by the gorgeous and glorious Stacie Ponder. Take a look at her SPACE GIRLS series.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, it's great to see John Ryan with a role this meaty. He really takes advantage of the opportunity. I used to know someone who was so freaked out by this movie as a kid that they couldn't even stand to look at the poster! Well, I also wrote a review for the film club thingie of you wanna check it out: