Babies are scary. Yeah, okay, they're cute when they're not crying, and they smell nice as long as their diapers aren't full. But overall, they're squawking little beasts who grow like parasites inside women, before bursting out covered in blood.
What I'm saying is, the "killer baby" genre has always made sense to me — I don't even think infants need to feed on human flesh to be creepy. Nevertheless, I tend to enjoy films in which they do.
But I approached the 2008 remake of It's Alive with the appropriate hesitation — in addition to being panned by the few critics who saw it, the movie is based on a campy 1970s flick I'm legitimately fond of. Why remake cult horror, anyway? If the goal is to "make it good," then the new version will just lose all the silly thrills of the original. Replicating the badness of the original almost never works either: as I've said before, true cult classics are happy accidents.
It would appear that 2008 It's Alive is an attempt to take the concept of the 1974 film and make it accessible for a 21st Century audience. (Read: a whole lot gorier.) Naturally, it fails on every level, or I wouldn't be talking about it here. Bijou Phillips stars as Lenore Harker, mother of the man-eating baby. As in the original film, the monster is created by some sort of pharmaceutical mishap, although Lenore is way more at fault here. I'm all for freedom of choice, but buying shady miscarriage pills over the internet is a recipe for disaster. Did I mention she downs them with a giant glass of wine?
I'm not sure if we're supposed to pass moral judgment on Lenore for trying to terminate her pregnancy — I certainly hope not, and It's Alive doesn't feel smart enough to be attempting a political statement. But while the "drugs mutated my fetus!" plot fit with the original's schlocky tone, it's glaringly stupid in a remake that takes itself far too seriously. I have an easier time buying the idea of a killer baby as a freak genetic anomaly than the result of bad online shopping choices.
Origin story aside, the sincerity of the 2008 It's Alive is its biggest flaw. The original was written and directed by the infamous Larry Cohen, who is also responsible for The Stuff and Q. (The latter makes allies of Law & Order's Michael Moriarty and the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. Yep.) I have mixed feelings about Cohen — his flicks are sometimes stupid fun and sometimes just plain stupid. But It's Alive is, in my mind, his best: the film offers a lot of cheap thrills and absurdity, only to sneak up on you with a genuinely poignant ending. It's mostly ridiculous, but there's something about a dad trying to protect his freakish offspring that gets me every time. Bonus points for a solid Bernard Herrmann score.
The remake, in contrast, insists that a killer baby is no laughing matter. Instead of allowing for the delightful combination of gore and LOLs, this It's Alive is humorless from start to finish. But without that wink at the audience, how are we supposed to buy it at all? Lenore's motivations here are confusing, to say the least. Yeah, moms love their kids, but even the most doting parent would be surprised to find her newborn gnawing on a pigeon. Or at least flinch when the baby kills the family cat. (It also slaughters a few humans, but aw, kitty.) In the 1974 film, Frank's ambivalent feelings toward his son made sense — his change of heart was earned. Here, Lenore just seems dense.
There are good post-Cohen killer baby movies, by the way. Grace, which came out a year after the It's Alive remake, is one of my favorite recent horror films. Grace was dark, disturbing, and somehow believable. It tackled issues that It's Alive is afraid to even hint at, and-perhaps more importantly-it offered a fresh spin on a well-trod story. Which again brings me to the question of why. Who decided we needed a cheap, straight-to-DVD remake of a cult classic? Much like 2002's Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat, It's Alive is a reminder that some films should be left in the 70s. These movies had a time and a place: if you want true schlock, accept no substitutes.