Review Date: October 30, 2004
Released by: Warner Brothers
Release date: 10/5/2004
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Larry Cohenís Itís Alive
trilogy very much parallels Romeroís Dead
trilogy both in terms of scope and intent. Both first films in their respective trilogies opened very modestly, only to achieve both critical and cultural acceptance upon subsequent re-releases. The subsequent sequels were no doubt bigger, but they also envisioned a similar world where eventually the monster (be it baby or zombie) would overcome repression to become a dominant societal class. The rural threat of the zombies in Night of the Living Dead
would eventually escalate to consumer culture in Dawn
and finally the world in Day
. Similarly, what started out as a familial threat in Itís Alive
spread to multiple families in It Lives Again
and finally to the mass population in Island of the Alive
. As each film got larger in scope, it became clearer what each trilogy was truly trying to say. Both were a commentary on the wrongdoings of our culture, demonstrating how it has been rotting from within because of hyper-capitalism and a blatant disregard for our natural environment.
It must be said that Cohenís Alive
trilogy in no way rivals Romeroís in terms of quality. They are shoddy by comparison, but as I stated in my review of the first film, Itís Alive
is still very much required viewing. Do the sequels, paired together on this new DVD by Warner Brothers, deliver in the same respect as the first, or are they merely stillborn? Letís take a look at this baby.
It Lives Again
takes place a few years after the first film, with a new family anticipating a child. At a baby shower, the Scott family, Eugene (Frederic Forrest
) and Jody (Kathleen Lloyd
), prepare for life with a new family member. With the happenings of the first film long in the past and mere tabloid fodder, the family looks onward without worry. Their optimism is disrupted when Frank Davis (John P. Ryan
) crashes the party with news that the Scott baby will be just like his childÖit will be alive! Ryan informs the Scotts that they are being watched by the government with intents on murdering their child. Mr. Mallroy (John Marley
) sits outside their house, watching their every move, waiting to rid the world of this horrible mutation.
Ryan arranges for the Scotts to be transported in a semi-truck, where Jody is to give birth to her little monster. Immediately after birth, the monster is caged, but not before it ravages a doctor to increase the body count. The Alive babies, all three of them now, remain caged while the Scotts deal with life after birth. The disrooting of the baby has caused their relationship to fall apart, and as long as the baby remains alive, they will not be able to patch up old wounds. The Scotts must again confront their child, deciding ultimately whether or not to accept the baby into their home or abort it for good.
This second Alive
picture by Larry Cohen is not nearly as satisfying as the first film. The first thing it lacks is depth, eschewing the social commentary of the first with standard monster movie clichťs. Although it initially seems like the film will deal with abortion, with Frank Davis informing the Scotts of the ill-fated future of their pre-natal child, little comes of their advanced knowledge of their child. They give birth, and the film jumps into the clichť of government conspiracy to usher it through the second act. Gone are the heartfelt monologues that Davis gave on Frankenstein and his child in the first film as the film instead seems just a rehash of old ideas. Naming the child Adam hints at some sort of biblical allegory to the creation of a new life form, but Cohen fails to mine this premise as well.
Not only does the film fail to rise to the narrative depth of the original, but it also comparably fails in generating suspense. Cohen makes a big mistake by having the children caged up for a large portion of the film, since bottling up the threat removes any sort of unease or urgency from the story. This approach becomes even more clumsy when the babies kill random people who take them out of the cage, since no man in his right mind would reach into the cage after the babies have become notorious killers. Nobody opens Hannibal Lecterís cage for a quick peak. The story also fails in regards to John Ryanís character. Such a strong character in the first, and equally effective in the filmís opening sequence, he is dispelled of in a particularly unsatisfying manner. Implausibly killed because the story no longer has need for him since he has ushered in the new story. It is just bad screenwriting, something not often attributed to Larry Cohen.
Island of the Alive
takes place even further into the future, where babies have been popping up all over New York and have now been recognized as a true epidemic. There is something drastically wrong with the earthís environment, and these babies are payback for years of environmental abuse. After a brief prologue, the film begins with a court battle over the future of these mutated babies. It is suggested by the state that these babies be killed by execution squads on sight. Stephen Jarvis (Michael Moriarty
) fights on behalf of the children, attempting to protect their constitutional rights. His wife Ellen (Karen Black
) gave birth to one of the mutants, and its birth subsequently ended their marriage. Nonetheless, Stephen fights for the rights of his child. The prosecutor asks him to touch his child if he loves it so much, thus establishing the central character quirk of the entire film. Stephen is afraid of the babies, and this fear is what drives the character and film throughout the rest of the way.
Eventually, the court makes a decision to banish all the babies, including the Jarvisís, onto a deserted island (itself an act of environmental pollution). The characters return to the island five years later, when the babies have had a chance to grow. In an act of imperialism not foreign to the United States, the government wishes to intervene on their lifestyle to conduct medical research. Of course, the babies murder and eventually find themselves on a boat back to the Big Apple. They have acquired a disease and are on the brink of extinction, and the film ultimately ends up with a decision by Stephen to either rid the world of the Alive or give his baby the father it never had.
In comparison with It Lives Again
, Island of the Alive
is moderately more successful. Instead of mining the same territory of the first like It Lives Again
does, it considers the Alive epidemic well into the future, and offers a welcome change of scenery. The scenic change allows Cohen to comment, if only in subtext, on themes of imperialism. Not only does the West disroot the savages from their habitat for personal gain, but their contact also seems to trigger disease in a group that had previously been self-reliant. The themes are much more subtle than the first film, but their presence is welcome after the routine second film. The effects are also a noticeable step up from the first film, with much more shots of the Alive babies in all their glory. There are some cheesy stop-motion effects, but at least there is some sort of reveal.
The filmís largest detriment is Michael Moriarty, who is arguably the least charismatic leading man ever. Effective in more understated roles like De Niroís sidekick in Bang the Drum Slowly
, Moriarty is not good at projecting emotion. It is never convincing for an instance that he cares about his child, since his performance and emotional range is so one-note. Karen Black, a much better actress and much better in Island of the Alive
, gives the film a bit of credibility, but still no performance equals the effectiveness of John Ryanís in the first two films.
It is fitting that these two films have been bundled together on a single disc, since they aspire to be B-movie films all the way. They are incredibly hokey and depend on a gimmick that must be taken with a tongue somewhat planted in cheek. Like a bad monster movie double billing in the fifties, the Itís Alive
sequels at least entertain on a baseline bad movie scale. They donít quite reach the heights of the still hokey first film, but there is undoubtedly an audience for them. The series remains one of the last true monster movie artifacts of the latter 20th century.
Like the first film, both movies are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen on a single layer. This disc houses one film on each side of the disc. Unlike the first filmís transfer though, the quality is noticeably worse. It Lives Again
looks terrible, full of scuffs and scratches that dirty the film throughout. Shots appear very fuzzy, and the entire transfer has a soft haze that presides over it. There are some forms of digital noise that distract throughout, as backgrounds dance with a shimmering pixels. Colors seem to smear and the overall print just looks muddy and visually displeasing. It isnít much of a film in the first place, but this horrible transfer makes it seem all the worse.
Island of the Alive
looks better, but still is not quite as satisfying as the restoration on the first film. The print is much cleaner, and it also appears much sharper than It Lives Again
. Saturation is nice, and the dark finale has more depth than would be expected from such a low budget production. There is still grain present throughout, but it is much less than the other two films. Colors appear much more vibrant, with Karen Blackís horrid pink wardrobe and all the bloodletting looking particularly vivid. Not a great transfer by any means, but satisfying for a film of this ilk.
Both films are presented in French and English mono, and they sound it. The sound range is a little flat, and some parts are tough to make out. The film relies on an overabundance of sound effects throughout, and as a result many of the baby noises and stock scare sounds overpower the dialogue and at times make it tough to discern what actors are saying. This doesnít happen often, but it is a noticeable detriment to both films. Still, Herrmannís orchestral arrangements still sound classy, and this track suits the films just fine.
Despite being a cheap double bill, Larry Cohen still provides commentaries on both films. His commentary on It Lives Again
is full of fits and starts like his commentary on the first, with plenty of blank space. When he does get talking he is interesting, talking about working in a small town, the careers of various actors and how the film was received. He spends time talking about how advertising is the most integral element to an exploitation picture, and details how Warner failed to promote this film like they had done the first. Overall the commentary is satisfactory, but lacks the interesting backstory that made the first commentary such an enjoyable listen.
The commentary for Island of the Alive
is a bit better, as he talks about his career and how after Q
he had become somewhat pigeonholed as a proprietor of black comedy. He talks about his stock actors, the fans and his opinion of releasing these films on DVD. Fans of the film will want to listen. Short trailers for both films are also included on their respective sides, and they are both pretty effective. More teasers than actual trailers, I think the promote the film well, despite what Cohen says.
The Itís Alive
films certainly have their audience, but these two sequels are a noticeable step down from the cheesy charms of the original. It Lives Again
is more of a rehash than an original idea, but Island of the Alive
thankfully gives the film a welcome change of scenery. The video transfer for It Lives Again
is very poor, full of imaging problems, while the transfer for Island
is thankfully much better. Both sound decent in mono, and the Cohen commentaries are a nice inclusion. For two films with two commentaries for twenty dollars, it might be worth it for fans of the first film to pickup. To everyone else, these babies are only something that a mother can love.
It Lives Again
Movie - C
Image Quality - D
Sound - B
Supplements - B-
Island of the Alive
Movie - C
Image Quality - B-
Sound - B
Supplements - B
- Running Time - 1 hour 31 minutes (It Lives Again) - 1 hour 34 minutes (Island of the Alive)
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- French mono
- English subtitles
- French subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- Commentary on It Lives Again by Director Larry Cohen
- Commentary on Island of the Alive by Director Larry Cohen
- Theatrical trailers for It Lives Again and Island of the Alive