If you’ve been reading my reviews for awhile, you will know that I’m just beginning my dive into most B-horror movies of the 70’s and 80’s. My latest quest brought me to iconic cult filmmaker Larry Cohen’s IT’S ALIVE trilogy. Having been familiar with the title, and the title alone, I prepared myself for to binge watch so that I could finally understand why this trilogy was so beloved. I came out the other end with a better appreciation for Cohen’s films, practical effects and the nostalgia that surrounds so many 80’s horror films.
IT’S ALIVE (1974) introduces us to the Davies family who are about to welcome their second child into the world. While in labor, Lenore (Sharon Farrell) senses that something is wrong and during the delivery someTHING is expelled from her body, killing everyone in the delivery room except for her. Lenore and her husband, Frank (John P. Ryan), quickly learn that she has given birth to a monster – a monster that kills when it’s scared. As a man-hunt forms to locate the creature, the Davies must decide if this creature is nothing more than a cold-blooded monster or their misunderstood baby confused and terrified.
Following IT’S ALIVE, I immediately jumped into the sequel IT LIVES AGAIN (1978). In this follow-up film we learn that more mutant babies have been conceived in other parts of the United States. John P. Ryan returns as Frank Davies, hell-bent on warning soon-to-be parents, Jody (Kathleen Lloyd) and Eugene Scott (Frederic Forrest), of a possible conspiracy that the government is killing these mutant babies as soon as they are born. As with IT’S ALIVE, a couple is once again faced with a decision to either make peace with their creation, no matter how monstrous it is, or possibly be murdered at the hands of their newborn.
I’ll be honest, after I finished IT LIVES AGAIN, I needed a little bit of a break before jumping into completing this trilogy. After a couple days away from these creature feature films, I was finally ready for IT’S ALIVE III: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE (1987). We are introduced to Stephen Jarvis (Michael Moriarty), a father who is fighting for the rights of his newborn creature. Labeled as a joke by the legal system, media, and his estranged wife (Karen Black), Stephen sets out on an expedition to a distant island to locate the mutant babies that have been placed there by the legal system and to set free these now full-grown monstrosities.
Now that I’ve successfully finished the trilogy I can finally discuss my thoughts. Though not my favorite films, I do appreciate what Larry Cohen was going for with IT’S ALIVE. On the surface, these films may seem like throw away popcorn flicks, there is a lot to digest overall. Now, maybe this is the weed talking, and it very well could be, but I feel like Cohen shines a light on how we treat those that are different from us – whether that be a newborn baby or an adult. It says a lot about how we are quick to judge that which we don’t understand and pass judgment on someone based strictly on superficial qualities. By doing this, we are ostracizing people who may resent us and turn on us when the opportunity arises.
As a fan of practical effects, all three movies delivered, especially since legendary special effects makeup artist Rick Baker was at the helm. To some, the creature design may seem cheesy, but I can see how this could be slightly terrifying back in ‘74. Cohen also does a great job of teasing the reveal of the creature throughout all three films, most notably in the first and second. He keeps his cards close to his chest, only allowing the viewer quick glimpses of the creature. It’s not until we near the end of the first film when he finally plays his hand and we get to see the mutated baby in all its glory.
As for the overall story, I enjoyed it for what it was. If I had to pick a favorite out of the three films it would most likely be IT’S ALIVE III: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE as I felt it was more fast paced and exciting. I also enjoyed Michael Moriarity’s portrayal of a father who was becoming a tad bit unhinged. What I found to be most important was the story was able to flow throughout each film in a continuous manner which really worked to the film’s advantages. Though I didn’t come away from this with my mind completely blown, I still have a lot of respect for what Larry Cohen and Rick Baker were able to create for the IT’S ALIVEtrilogy.
Now, I’m sure you are asking yourself, “Where can I get this glorious boxset?!” Well, let me tell you! Scream Factory just released the trilogy yesterday as a beautiful Blu-ray box set that includes all three films and loads, upon loads, of special features. Each film looks beautiful, which is no surprise, since it got updated to a 2K scan. Larry Cohen also does commentary for each movie but the real gem is the Cohen’s Alive: Looking Back at the It’s Alive Films which features interviews with Cohen, and actors James Dixon, Michael Moriarty and Laurene Landon, to name a few.
If you are wondering if you should pick up this box set, the answer is yes, absolutely. I still have a lot to learn from all the special features, but I fully believe that the more I uncover the more I’ll appreciate this series, especially when I go in for round 2 of re-watching it. For more information, and/or to purchase, visit ShoutFactory.com.