It's Alive (Remake)
When a press release starts with the words "A remake of the 1974 cult classic" my heart sinks a little. It's nothing to do with 1974 in particular, just that there were some great horror films in the '70s and anything that is a 'cult classic' should really be left that way and not remade for mainstream approval. One of these films is Larry Cohen's It's Alive, a low budget shocker where the infant is barely seen and the effects are ropey - it's a wonderfully charming and intelligent horror film that is almost unmistakably a Larry Cohen picture.
The remake begins almost as the original did, with a woman going into early labour and the medical staff in the delivery room being inexplicably slaughtered. This is where the similarities end as, in Cohen's film, the baby disappears and goes on a murderous rampage pursued by police whereas in this version, directed by Josef Rusnak, the baby returns home with Lenore Harker and her boyfriend Frank Davis. The baby, called Daniel, had to be delivered by caesarean section due to a sudden growth spurt as a foetus and it's not long before he's biting his mothers nipples (leaving teeth marks) and disposing of pigeons and rabbits with homicidal intentions.
Lenore, a grad school student who was studying French poetry before taking leave to give birth, decides to ignore the eviscerated bunny in the crib and all the other signs that the baby might be a psychopathic killer. She decides to keep Frank, a successful architect, completely in the dark and refuses to play ball with the police who think that she may know something in her subconscious about the murders at the hospital. Lenore also doesn't return the calls made by her best friend at college and seems to be suffering from post-partum depression.
As the body count rises, she remains faithful to her child and covers up all evidence of the deaths from the authorities and Frank's wheelchair-bound younger brother, Chris.
It's Alive (2008) is just dissimilar enough from It's Alive (1974) to make it a different film but it is still one that suffers by comparison. Even if you haven't seen the original you will probably find that Lenore is a character with whom it is hard to sympathise as her defence of her child is impossible to justify. James Murray has a pretty thankless role as Frank (unlike in the original where he is the main character) only really features in the last 20 minutes, having made fleeting appearances before then. The film therefore hangs on Bijou Phillips who struggles with the lines and direction she has been given, trying to make an unsympathetic character easy to empathise with and failing.
The main problem is that not enough time is given to making Lenore a rounded character and the 'reveal' of what may have caused the birth defect is cack handed and implausible - not that the original was completely believable, far from it, but it made for a more interesting story without the moralistic subplot.
I didn't hate this, I was just bored and Lenore irritated me. I don't think this was Bijou Phillips' fault as she did her best by getting her breasts out at every logical opportunity, but the character just grated and I just felt that she had it coming.
Sadly, just a trailer as the involvement of Larry Cohen, credited as a screenwriter, was an opportunity for one of his entertaining commentaries or, at the very least, an interview. I would have liked to know about the decision to remake his film, the casting and the decision to shoot some of the film in Bulgaria.
The interior shots are pretty sharp and colourful and the costumes and special make-up effects are good but, when it gets to the end and events take place outside and in the dark, the picture is awful with dreadful contrast levels and far too much noise.
A very clear Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack which makes good use of the surrounds and presents the dialogue clearly (there are no subtitles but they aren't needed by anyone but the hard of hearing). The score is nothing special but fairly evocative, conveying the mood well but the director relies too much on the 'crash' jumps rather than building tension in the 'bomb under the table' Hitchcock way.
Aside from two screenings at Frightfest (which happened a couple of days ago), the only way you'll see this is on DVD. I'm not surprised that it's in the (what was) straight to video category as It's Alive is a instantly forgettable film and, as I've already opined, a short theatrical re-release of the original would have been preferable to an unwanted remake.
This isn't a terrible film but the original is far more interesting and if you can find that on DVD (there is a triple pack with the two sequels available) I'd go for that instead of this imitation which lacks the charm and interest of the original.