ICFIFC: It’s Alive! (1969)

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Monday, November 18, 2013

ICFIFC: It’s Alive! (1969)

Larry Buchanan (January 31, 1923 − December 2, 2004), born Marcus Larry Seale Jr., was a film director, producer and writer, who proclaimed himself a "schlockmeister".  Many of his titles have landed on "worst movie" lists or in the public domain, but all at least broke even and many made a profit.  He is perhaps most famous for the films In the Year 2889, The Eye Creatures, Mars Needs Women, and, tonight’s film, It's Alive!.

Buchanan was born in Mexia, Texas.  He was orphaned as a baby, and was raised in Dallas in an orphanage.  It was while growing up there that he became fascinated with the movies which were shown in the orphanage's theater.  He considered becoming a minister early in life, but got into the movie industry instead.  Buchanan visited Hollywood and landed a job in the props department at 20th Century Fox.  It was while working here where his film career got off the ground.  He enlisted in the United States Army Signal Corps in order to learn how to direct.  He was based in New York, which allowed him to act on stage in the evenings. 

In the early 1950s, Buchanan began producing, writing, editing and acting in his own movies.  The first was a one-reeler, The Cowboy in 1949, shot back in Dallas for $900.  His first feature was Grubsteak (1952); he knew Stanley Kubrick from working around New York at this time and Kubrick offered to be cinematographer but wanted more money than Buchanan was willing to pay.  Buchanan worked as an assistant on The Marrying Kind (1952).

Buchanan is perhaps best known for exploitation, science fiction, and other genre films, including Free, White and 21, High Yellow, The Naked Witch (made for $8,000), The Loch Ness Horror, and Mistress of the Apes.  Among Buchanan's work, eight direct-to-television films he wrote, produced, and directed under his own Azalea Films production entity in the mid- and late-1960s, for American International Pictures, still generate a good degree of fan adoration.  The titles − The Eye Creatures, Zontar: The Thing from Venus, Creature of Destruction, Mars Needs Women, In the Year 2889, Curse of the Swamp Creature, Hell Raiders, and It's Alive! − were largely remakes of AIP films from a decade earlier.  Buchanan's instructions from AIP were: "We want cheap color pictures, we want half-assed names in them, we want them eighty minutes long and we want them now". 

In 1964, Buchanan created The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald, which presented an alternate history in which John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald both survived Kennedy's assassination.  In 1984 he produced Down on Us, which charged that the United States government was responsible for the deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin.

Among the notable features of Buchanan movies were:

  • Monsters with eyes made out of ping pong balls;
  • Day for night footage "with a blue gel slapped across the camera lens with the noonday sun clearly visible on surfaces of water, car bumpers, etc.";
  • Low production values;
  • One reasonably well known lead actor.

Buchanan's autobiography is entitled It Came from Hunger: Tales of a Cinema Schlockmeister.  After he died in 2004 in Tucson, Arizona, a long obituary in the New York Times summarized his work thus:

"One quality united Mr. Buchanan's diverse output: It was not so much that his films were bad; they were deeply, dazzlingly, unrepentantly bad.  His work called to mind a famous line from H. L. Mencken, who, describing President Warren G. Harding's prose, said, 'It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it.'"

He left behind an entire career of poorly made films, many of which have become cult films for being "so-bad-they're-good".

'It's Alive!' (1969)

  • Genre: Horror – Sci-Fi
  • Directed: Larry Buchanan
  • Produced:
    • Larry Buchanan 
    • Edwin Tobolowsky
  • Written:
    • Richard Matheson (Short Story "Being") 
    • Larry Buchanan (Screenplay)
  • Starring: Tommy Kirk, Shirley Bonne, Bill Thurman, Annabelle Weenick, Corveth Ousterhouse, Larry Buchanan
  • Music: Unknown
  • Cinematography: Robert B. Alcott
  • Editing: Larry Buchanan
  • Studio: Azalea Pictures
  • Distributed:
    • Alpha Video Distributors  
    • American-International Television  
    • Loonic Video  
    • Masked Maniacs  
    • Mill Creek Entertainment  
    • Nostalgia Video  
    • Retromedia Entertainment  
    • Something Weird Video
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date: 1969
  • Running Time: 80 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English


'It's Alive!' is a 1969 American film directed by Larry Buchanan about a mad farmer who tries to feed a stranded couple to a dinosaur he keeps in a cave.  It was filmed in the Ozark Mountain area of northern Arkansas and Tennessee over the course of seven days and its tagline is: "Trapped In a Cave of Terror!".  The monster suit that was used to portray the dinosaur was used in another one of Buchanan's older films, Creature of Destruction.

Norman and Leela Sterns are newlyweds who are driving from their home in New York to Los Angeles.  They become lost and are stranded in rural Ozark countryside because they are running out of gasoline.  They meet a friendly paleontologist named Wayne Thomas.  Wayne suggests that they visit the nearest farm that could give them some gasoline.  They find that the farm is run by a strange farmer named Greely, who tells them that the gasoline truck was supposed to arrive the previous day, but since it didn't, he expects it there any minute.  Greely suggests that they go inside to the parlor, where it's cooler.  On the way up to the house, he asks if they know anybody out here, in case they may be waiting for them.  They say no, and when they get inside, Greely goes off to tell his "housekeeper", Bella to make some iced tea.  She argues with him on what he will "do with them", but Greely smacks her, and threatens that she will "take their place" if she doesn't serve them some tea.

Wayne Thomas arrives and Greely goes outside.  He tells them that their car won't start.  Wayne decides to take a look at the engine and tells Greely to go back to his truck and get a tool.  Greely instead beats him on the back of the head with it and drags his body off.  Meanwhile, Leela appears to be worried about Greely, because he is acting strange and his eyes don't look right.  She then compares his eyes to a stuffed lizard across the room. Greely comes back inside and tells them that he had to do a chore.  Leela wants to go back outside, but Greely tells them that they could check out his "collection" while waiting for the truck.

He takes them out to the yard and shows them his "zoo", which includes ordinary animals like turtles, rattlesnakes, a bobcat, and some coyotes.  Greely then tells them that they should have a look at his "prize", which is located deep in a mountain cave system behind his home.  He puts them in a small room which he claims he had set up for tourists while he goes to turn on the rest of the power.  However, it was a trap, as Greely pulls a lever and drops some bars down, blocking their way out.  Greely leaves the cave, laughing as Leela discovers that Wayne Thomas is inside the cell as well, badly wounded but alive.  He tells them that Greely threw him into another cavern below them, and left him there, but he found a way out and crawled in the cell, right as they arrived.

Norman suggests that there may be a way out down there, and begins a descent into the cavern.  A reluctant Wayne and Leela follow and discover a 80-foot-tall (24 m) prehistoric, aquatic dinosaur coming out of a spring, which Greely apparently feeds live victims to.  Greely catches them in the enclosure and points a pistol at them, attempting to force them down in there to be eaten.  Norman attacks him and tries to overpower Greely, but the pistol falls into the enclosure.  Greely tells him that it won't do him any good, and leaves.  Norman rushes down to get the pistol, but the monster kills him before he gets the chance.  Bella arrives and reveals that she is not Greely's housekeeper; he kidnapped her and abused her until her will was broken and she agreed to do whatever he told her to do to avoid being killed.  Wayne convinces Bella to help them.

Wayne remembers that he has some dynamite in his car, and he asks Bella to sneak upstairs and bring back some of it.  Greely becomes suspicious of Bella, and he drugs the coffee that she brings to the prisoners.  Leela and Wayne are overcome by the drug, but not before Wayne hides the dynamite.  When Wayne comes to, he retrieves it, but Greely intervenes and threatens to feed Leela to the dinosaur if she will not willingly become his new servant.  Bella, having heard that he plans to dispose of her and gets down there.

Greely recovers his pistol and shoots Wayne, but Wayne overcomes Greely and knocks him unconscious. Bella ignites the dynamite and explains to Greely that she plans to blow up the cave to kill both the dinosaur and Greely. Greely grabs his pistol and kills her, right as the monster is about to kill Greely.  The dynamite explodes, collapsing the cavern and burying the dinosaur and Greely.  Wayne and Leela escape in Wayne's car to an unknown future.  The title screen ends with the words: The End?

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