Independent producer/director/writer Larry Cohen's first dabbling with the horror genre came with IT'S ALIVE, a low budget effort of the "monster child" variety, so popular in the 1970s. Cohen's original, well-written film was a huge success when Warner Bros. re-released it several years after it was made, employing a clever newspaper and TV ad campaign, and the director went on to make two sequels within a 15-year time span. Warner Home Video now presents the entire trilogy on DVD, with IT'S ALIVE on its own disc, and IT LIVES AGAIN and IT'S ALIVE III: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE out as a double feature disc.
In IT'S ALIVE (1974), Public Relations man Frank Davis (John P. Ryan) and his wife Lenore Davies (Sharon Farrell), are expecting their second child, but not expecting the disastrous results that follow. She goes into premature labor, and when the offspring appears, it apparently bites off its own umbilical chord and massacres everybody in the delivery room. Disappearing from sight, nobody gets a good look at the thing, and the Davis' are now credited with spawning a "monster" child and stirring up a media frenzy for themselves. The demon-like tyke goes on a killing rampage through the city, offing a hooker, a milkman, and others before it is surrounded by the police in the sewage system.
Any movie about a monstrous child should be at least somewhat though-provoking, and this one is, with tense direction by Cohen. The film includes a multi-dimensional performance by Ryan as the father, who spends most of the time wanting to hunt down the child, but when he confronts it, his maternal instincts take over and with a tear to his eye, tries to save it from the trigger-happy police force. The mutant child (whose point of view is depicted as distorted double vision) devours people like a piranha, with its sharp teeth, claws and abnormal strength, and is intelligent enough to seek out its kin, whom it does not have the impulse to kill. The creature was created by Rick Baker very early in his career, and the pulsating score is provided by the great Bernard Herrmann, and was one of his last. IT'S ALIVE also has performances from such notable character actors as Guy Stockwell, Andrew Duggan, William Wellman Jr., Michael Ansara, Shamus Locke and James Dixon as Lt. Perkins, a part he would play in all three pictures.
In IT LIVES AGAIN, Ryan reprises his role as Frank Davis, crashing the baby shower of expecting parents Eugene Scott (Frederic Forrest ) and Jody Scott (Kathleen Lloyd), warning them that they are about to give birth to another mutant baby. A government security team led by the mercilessly determined Mallory (John Marley) is trying to destroy all the newborn monsters at the moment of conception, but Davis is working with some scientists (led by Andrew Duggan and Eddie Constantine) who want to save them and study their place in the human evolutionary ladder. Jody gives birth to her killer baby in a special mobile unit, and it is put in a cage. The parents eventually end up in s secret experimental center where their baby and two other mutant infants are in captivity.
Instead of rehashing too many elements from its predecessor, Larry Cohen expands upon the themes with this fairly effective follow-up. Although the Scotts are in the same situation that the Davis' where previously in, the outcome is very different, with their child being studied and protected (at least for a while) and not out killing on the streets. Frank Davis has now took a new turn as an advocate for these mutant babies, and the character's growth works to the film's advantage. Rick Baker once again creates the monsters (three this time out), and, like with the first one, we only get glimpses of the babies, playing on our fears of something mysterious lurking in the dark, rather than wallowing in graphic violence. Laurie Johnson ("The Avengers") reworks Bernard Herrmann's score from the first film (and he also did the score for the third film).
On the flip side of IT LIVES AGAIN is the third chapter, IT'S ALIVE III: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE (1987) which was shot back-to-back with RETURN TO SALEM'S LOT for a straight-to-video release. This time Michael Moriarity plays Stephen Jarvis, the father of a monster baby who is brought to trial to fight for its life, as prosecutors want it executed. With only five such tiny terrors left in America, and experts claiming that no more will be born, a judge (MacDonald Carey) decides to ship them to an isolated island where they can't harm anyone. Four years later, after Moriarity has written a book about his experience and failed to get back with his ex-wife (Karen Black), he sails with a scientific team to visit the island, where the now fully grown mutants reside. After a number of killings, Jarvis' offspring and the other creatures guide his boat back to Florida.
The third film even goes further with the themes, and the idea of secluding the creatures only to have them grow rapidly, is quite ingenious. This one is far more graphic than the previous entries, and with Baker not involved, some stop motion effects are employed. When seen full-sized, the unconvincing monsters somewhat resemble those in HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP. This one also tends to delve into comedy, unlike its dark predecessors, with Moriarity improvising and hamming it up to the max, so fans of the actor will not be disappointed. The film is fast-paced, in a far-fetched, campy sort of way, constantly shifting the action from one place to another.
All three titles arrive on DVD, appropriately letterboxed at 1.85:1 and given anamorphic treatment. The transfers look pretty nice, with IT LIVES AGAIN being the weakest of the bunch--having the most visible print damage and some muted fleshtones. The mono audio tracks are strong, with IT'S ALIVE III being the most impressive, and all three have optional French language tracks, as well as optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.
No stranger to DVD audio commentaries, Larry Cohen provides tracks for all three, giving us a lot of information about the cast (whom he often jokingly refers to as "Cohen's Irish Players") and crew, and other various details about the productions of the three movies. He also shares some great anecdotes about Bernard Herrmann, and reveals some other secrets, including when his daughter's pet dog substitutes as the mutant baby! The commentaries have a few silent segments, but Cohen is always entertaining to listen to and you come out with the feeling that you know everything there is to know about this horror trilogy. He also mentions that an IT'S ALIVE remake is in the works which he is involved with. The trailers for each appear with their appropriate title (the IT'S ALIVE disc has trailers for all three), but the latter two are only brief TV and video spots. (George R. Reis)
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