Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Psycho-Babble: It's Alive - When Angry Mutant Babies Attack!

After the closing credits of “Psychic Killer” (and a pedophile-dodging dash at Intermission to the urine-flooded Men's room) was "It's Alive!" Attempting to draft behind the awesomeness that was "Rosemary's Baby" (which includes the sub-awesomeness of Ruth Gordon as a Satanic witch), this trashy gem about a steroid-enhanced monster-baby had the best horror movie tagline ever:

"There's only ONE thing wrong with the Davis baby ... IT'S ALIVE!".

The film starts with the bloody birth of a shadowy monstrous baby that kills all of the staff in the delivery room and then escapes out into the suburbs to wreak murderous mayhem. Its father tries to hunt It down, but in the end he can't help but love the little monster and tries to protect It from the police in the touching/disturbing finale.

Where Psychic Killer operates on pure psychological wish fulfillment ("I will so think you to death, bitch!"), “It's Alive” strikes a deeper chord, methinks, simply because it used a monster baby as its highly sympathetic antagonist. With It’s vascular arms, four fangs and three-fingered talonesque hands, It wasn't exactly cuddly (and It had that troublesome homicidal tendency), but It was a baby … perhaps a very demanding baby with hard to meet needs, but a baby nonetheless. And who doesn’t love babies?

My understanding of psychology (aka - my years on the couch) tells me that when it isn't about mother it's usually all about baby. More specifically, it is about the baby inside each of us that we try to pretend doesn't exist -- the one that surprises us when it takes over our limbs and does baby-like things like making unreasonable demands on our familiars, throwing a tantrum, grabbing anything it wants in it's line of sight … or acting out in a murderous rage.

It may seem like any other homicidal monster baby. But It is more than that. This little snaggletoothed, veiny-headed bundle-of-talons is a poignant metaphor. It is that needy, angry baby inside all of us personified, the one we deny and try to snuff out with drugs, booze, reality television, compulsive Hummel collecting, whatever. It is the inner baby that we need to learn to love and protect at all costs (like the Daddy in the movie learns to do) to become whole psychological creatures.

In other words, the journey of It from a hated, angry, biting, slashing, monstrous demon baby to a loved, cooing, cared for, happy monstrous demon baby is just about the purest metaphor for the process of psycho-therapy that a schlocky 70s horror drive-in movie can achieve.

But I wasn’t thinking that on “Drive-In Night” in 1975 when I was 6. As I watched the father and mutant reunion on screen, I was briefly (it doesn’t end well) comforted. I looked up at my Dad, sleeping with an empty carton of stale milk duds propped up on his gut, and was so certain that if he discovered me to be somewhat ... er ... different from the other kids ... a pimply faced, girly, parachute-panted mutant of sorts … that he would not shoot me, either. He would run into the sewer, gather me up in a blanket, grab my talon affectionately and tell me that he loved me and would protect me.

OK, OK. I know. It's just a cheesy movie and I’m overanalyzing it all. “It’s Alive” just copied the themes of Frankenstein and fused it with Rosemary's Baby to make a quick buck. And, yeah, the Daddy gets shot to death at the end and It escapes to the sewers to await calls from his agent to appear in sequels (which kind of kills my nice “inner child” metaphor).

But still ... I stand by my overanalysis:

Important lesson learned from age-inappropriate film #2, “It’s Alive”: We all have a little monster baby inside of us and rather than try to kill it, we gotta learn to love it … or it will rip us to ribbons.

All of 6 years old and already the grindhouse schlock of the Drive-Ins had taught me so much. But there was so much more to learn ...

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