Larry Buchanan was a producer and director of very low-budget films, with titles such as Zontar, the Thing from Venus (1966) and Mars Needs Women (1967). In his autobiography, Buchanan cheerfully called himself a “schlockmeister.” In the late 1960s, Buchanan formed Azalea Pictures to make cheap films for American Independent Television, the TV arm of American Independent Pictures (AIP), which specialized in low-budget B movies (though not as cheap as Buchanan’s) made by Roger Corman and others. Buchanan recalled that his instructions from AIP were: “We want cheap color pictures, we want half-assed names in them, we want them 80 minutes long and we want them tomorrow.”
By “half-assed names,” AIP meant actors whose names would be familiar to audiences but whose careers were essentially over (so they would work cheaply). The last of the Azalea films, It’s Alive! (1969), was the only movie made by Buchanan in Arkansas. The “name” in It’s Alive! was Tommy Kirk, who had played adolescents in Disney films such as Old Yeller (1957) and Swiss Family Robinson (1960) but then fell so far that he played a Martian in Buchanan’s Mars Needs Women. Kirk played Wayne, the paleontologist hero of It’s Alive! Wayne and bickering New York tourists Lesland and Norman are kidnapped by Ozark Mountains recluse Greevy, who plans to feed them to a prehistoric monster he keeps in a cave. Greevy also threatens Bella, whom he has kidnapped and enslaved.
It’s Alive! gets a low rating from fan critics on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), but Rob Craig, in his book The Films of Larry Buchanan, takes the schlockmeister and his works seriously. He considers It’s Alive! “a unique and haunting experience” and the third in Buchanan’s “trilogy commenting on the 1960s sexual revolution,” after Mars Needs Women and Creature of Destruction (1967). Much of It’s Alive! is about the nasty bullying of Lesland by her husband, Norman, and the even more appalling terrorizing of Bella by Greevy. Both male tyrants are destroyed.
Buchanan, who wrote and edited as well as directed It’s Alive!, achieves some dreamlike horror in his realistic setting. The ordinary-looking setting and actors and the all-too-real abuse of women by men suggest to viewers that this nightmare could almost actually happen. Even the blatantly ridiculous monster, seen only briefly, does not detract too much from the unease. Best of all is the memorable performance by stocky Texan character-actor Bill Thurman as Greevy, who can be friendly and reassuring one moment, and vindictive and sadistic the next.
It’s Alive! opens as the tourists drive past dinosaur statues in the woods. Craig writes that the film was made in the Ozarks but says the dinosaur statues were filmed at Dinosaur Valley State Park and the cave scenes at Longhorn Cavern State Park, both in Texas. IMDB does not mention those Texas locations but says the dinosaur attraction shown was the abandoned Dinosaur World at Beaver (Carroll County) and mentions Onyx Cave in Eureka Springs (Carroll County).
For additional information:
Albright, Brian. Regional Horror Films, 1958–1990: A State-by-State Guide with Interviews. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2012.
Buchanan, Larry. It Came from Hunger!: Tales of a Cinema Schlockmeister. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1996.
Craig, Rob. The Films of Larry Buchanan: A Critical Examination. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007.
“It’s Alive!” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0063145/?ref_=fn_al_tt_4 (accessed October 6, 2020).
Little Rock, Arkansas
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