IT’S ALIVE TRILOGY BOX SET REVIEW

Late one night, I was flipping through the cable channels and came across Michael Moriarty's character, Stephen Jarvis, pleading for the life of his son. Everything is pretty vague and then they bring his son into the courtroom. His son is an infant, monstrously muscular, and looks as if he is right out of a nightmare. I hate to admit it, I was sucked in. I had to know what this movie was and where this was going. As it would turn out, thanks to TV Guide, I was watching the third installment of Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive Trilogy, It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive. A cinematic gem if ever there was one. A gem that is made of plastic, placed into costume jewelry and then sold for pennies at a flea market. Trust me, that is being kind. At the time I was able to venture out to the video store and grab the first and second film. I watched them, I swear that I did. So when Shout! Factory’s Scream Factory label announced a complete box set trilogy with a 2K scan on Blu-ray, I was all in. What happened next is a true mystery.

Like I said, I know I watched the whole trilogy. The local West Coast Video Store had more horror films than adult ones and the big black and green Warner Bros. clamshell box sticks out in my mind. The film started just as I remembered it, then boom, everything that followed was new. What happened? I must have blacked it all out or I watched one and two back to back and they just blended together, which is completely plausible. Ever watch two or three Friday the 13th movies back to back? You don’t remember who lived or died the next time you put it on. We should move on because I really want to talk about those monstrous little babies.

IT’S ALIVE (1974)

Ah, the joy of childbirth. A new life is growing inside you and it turns out to be… well, we’re not exactly sure what it is. A genetic mutation? A leap in the evolutionary ladder? Had fertility drugs gone wrong? All of this and more is hinted at or implied but the horror is what plays out as Frank Davis (John P. Ryan) starts hunting for his son. Frank’s son left his mother’s womb, killed all the doctors and nurses, and then took off. Now, there are some leaps in logic here. I say this because this film is very simplistic with its logic. There is no question that the baby killed everyone and left. However, it quickly becomes a massive manhunt with a full police force instead of a scientific research and capture. In fact, there is no sign of a government Black Ops team or anything trying to collect the little guy and run tests on him. This is a straight-up seek and destroy monster movie.

Sadly, that is all the film is. Terrifying monster, we had better kill it, and call in the cops quickly. There are a few saving graces here. First and foremost, future Academy Award-winning Make-Up artist Rick Baker designed the horrific little tykes. You’ll notice which ones are little monsters and which ones are guys in suits shot from a distance. It’s B-Movie Magic at its best, thanks to Rick Baker. The second stand out note literally arrives in the film’s score. The four-time Academy Award-nominated composer Bernard Hermann, composed the film’s music. How Warner Bros. talked him into it must be its own story (not to mention he scored the sequel, too). Finally, and most importantly, John P. Ryan’s performance as the Dad who has to hunt his own son. It’s not the greatest thing you’ll ever see, however, with what Ryan has to work with, he does deliver a gut-wrenching turn as a man who eventually embraces his child. I’m sure there was at least one review from 1974 that mentioned that.

So why make a sequel? Was there a lingering question at the end of the film? Were there actually twins born? Nothing so grandiose. In fact, It’s Alive was made for half a million dollars. It made over 14 million. In Hollywood, that equates to a sequel.

IT LIVES AGAIN (1978)

John P. Ryan is back. Only this time, he is the bearer of bad news. Ryan is now seeking out families that have similar odd pregnancy symptoms as his wife did. It turns out that the government is now “collecting” these babies and exterminating them. This opens up the door to a whole lot of questions about personal rights, property, evolution, and what rights the government has. We never get into any of that, but it does bear a decent conversation that you can have with someone as you watch the film. Why? Outside of the “good people” trying to protect these special babies and figure out how and why they are here, the rest of the film is very similar to the first one. Ryan plays a key role early on, but it is Frederic Forrest’s Eugene who is the Dad that is desperately trying to have his child born. Sadly, Eugene is not very likable, nor does he have the same type of scene at the end that Ryan had in the first film. Before you know it is over and the Bernard Hermann score reminds us that we just wasted 91 minutes of our lives.

IT’S ALIVE III: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE

I’ll admit, I had fond memories of watching this film. It was bizarre and felt as if it I was watching something I really shouldn’t be. A couple of things really stood out for me. The first is that Warner Bros. wanted the third film for their home video release. Yep, this baby is straight to video (well, it had a limited release). A keen eye will notice how low the budget it is. The creature effects are no longer by Rick Baker, but still based on his design, yet they do some fairly decent location shooting. They go to what looks like an island and at least convince us of that. They loop Larry Cohen in again for the third film and sign him to a two-picture deal with A Return to Salem’s Lot mixed in. Now he must have been busy in 1986 because he also cranked out a third film for a 1987 release, Deadly Illusion. Perhaps he was stretching himself a bit too thin or pocketed a lot of dough, but It’s Alive III looks like gorilla filmmaking with guys in monster suits. There is a charm to the film and a realism to what happens to the parents of one of these babies. This is more compelling than the first two films combined. The problem here is Michael Moriarty. How this guy ever won a Golden Globe and two TV Emmys is beyond me. There is just nothing there, not even the shell of what used to be the man who was looking forward to being a father. It was fun to go back and imagine how with a little less is more attitude, Island of the Alive could have been scary. The premise is great, let’s isolate these “beings” let them develop on their own and see what happens. Again, a decent, if not a philosophical conversation, out of a 95-minute crap fest.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Despite trashing the films, I still enjoyed the time I had watching them. Like I said, the conversation and the societal implications of children being born like this is interesting. The first two films had a brilliant score, then again with Hermann composing, how could they not? I often feel that aspiring filmmakers should watch these B-Movies and take notes. Many aspire to the likes of Citizen Kane, Vertigo, and Casablanca, but by watching the flawed films, you can learn a lot. There are a ton of lessons about what works in terms of character, make-up, lighting, and budget in watching this trilogy.

Not a ton of special features here, but Scream Factory delivered a fantastic 2K transfer that made me feel as if I watching the first two films in a theater the weekend they came out. As for the third one, it has never looked better and never will look any better, which doesn't really help those stuntmen in the monster getups.

THE IT’S ALIVE TRILOGY

IT’S ALIVE TRILOGY SPECIAL FEATURES:

IT’S ALIVE:

·        NEW 2K scan of the original film elements

·        NEW Cohen’s Alive: Looking Back at the It’s Alive Films featuring interviews with writer/producer/director Larry Cohen, actors James Dixon, Michael Moriarty and Laurene Landon and more…

·        NEW It’s Alive at the Nuart: The 40th Anniversary Screening with Larry Cohen

·        Audio Commentary with writer/producer/director Larry Cohen

·        Radio Spots

·        TV Spots

·        Theatrical Trailer

·        Still Gallery

IT LIVES AGAIN:

·        NEW 2K scan of the original film elements

·        Audio Commentary with writer/producer/director Larry Cohen

·        Theatrical Trailer

·        Still Gallery

IT’S ALIVE 3: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE:

·        NEW 2K scan of the original film elements

·        NEW interview with Special Effects Makeup Designer Steve Neill

·        Audio Commentary with writer/director Larry Cohen

·        Trailer

·        Still Gallery

*Rick Baker: Best Makeup for 1981: An American Werewolf In London; 1987: Harry And The Hendersons; 1994: Ed Wood; 1996: The Nutty Professor; 1997: Men In Black; 2000: How The Grinch Stole Christmas; 2010: The Wolfman

Bernard Herrmann – 1941: Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture, All That Money Can Buy

 

6 Total Score
Worth it, for the conversation

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