It's Alive Collection (1974 - 1987)
By: Julian on October 15, 2010  | 
DVD
Warner Bros | Region 4, PAL | 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English Dolby Digital 1.0 | 264 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Larry Cohen
Starring: John P Ryan, Sharon Farrell, James Dixon, Frederic Forrest, Kathleen Lloyd, Michael Moriarty, Karen Black
Screenplay: Larry Cohen
Country: USA
External Links
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Connoisseurs of fine American exploitation should immediately recognise the name of Larry Cohen, but elsewhere, he is sadly underrated. Of the films Cohen has directed (and the more prodigious volume of those he has authored), It's Alive is probably his best known and, ever-entrepreneurial, Cohen milked two decent sequels from the cash cow, assembled by Warner in this trilogy collection.

There is only one thing wrong with the Davis baby... it's alive!

It's Alive begins where all of us had hoped Rosemary's Baby would end – the birth of a mutant, rabidly homicidal child. Well, I'm being facetious but also a bit misleading: Frank and Lenore Davis's (John Ryan and Sharon Farrell) newborn isn't demonic and although the reasons for the child's condition is not made explicitly clear in Cohen's screenplay, we're invited to assume that it had something to do with Lenore taking experimental fertility drugs to facilitate the child's conception. It's Alive proceeds as a typical stalk-and-slash movie: the Davis baby is born a hideous creature that massacres the entire medical staff in with Lenore to make the delivery, before escaping and hunting down those that gets in its way.

It's Alive is devilishly inventive and endlessly fun. The actors aren't much chop, but Cohen's intelligent screenplay and command of the screen certainly is. In an interview for Films in Review, Cohen said that his inspiration was a picture of domestic violence between a father and his son, wherein the father fatally took to his son with a shotgun when the long-haired, drug-taking youth had become a 'monster'. It's not an interpretation I would have taken – the comment on Thalidomide and other experimental medications is the obvious path to take. Regardless, it is pretty clear that the writer/director seeks to make some sort of broader comment here. Cohen has also brought two valuable crew members on board: Bernard Herrmann for It's Alive's famous screeching strings score and make-up artist and puppeteer Rick Baker. They lend the film a technically proficient veneer and, coupled with Cohen's lean direction and competent pacing, It's Alive firms as an underrated cult favourite of the seventies.

The monster child returns. But now there are three!

It Lives Again is the weakest of the three films, a surprisingly unengaging redux of the original. Released four years after the first film, It Lives Again follows the Scotts, Eugene and Judy (Frederic Forrest and Kathleen Lloyd) who find themselves assailed with one of the freak kids. Frank Davis makes an appearance to provide the unfortunate parents with some advice.

It Lives Again is barely better than a TV-movie of the week, an inferior, drab effort that is really beneath Cohen. There's a bit of fun to be had with the three terrors though, but this second instalment is mostly vaguely done and quite uninteresting.

They do something worse than kill. They multiply.

It's Alive III: Island of the Alive was a surprise: a successful horror-comedy and a rollicking adventure flick. Violent, psychotic newborns are being birthed across the country, and when the issue fronts the courts, Judge Watson orders against the babies' execution, instead deciding to place the lot on a deserted island jungle. Five years later, the government sends an expedition out to the island to find out how the freaks have been doing – hysterically amongst them, the father of one of the banished children (Michael Moriarty, one of the director's go-to men; the two collaborated most recently in Cohen's 'Masters of Horror' episode Pick Me Up).

Island of the Alive was the first film in a back-to-back deal Cohen did with Warner, coming before Return to 'salem's Lot, and it's an appealing thought, finding out how our antagonists are doing five years into their lives. And while this belated sequel plays the premise (mostly) for laughs, this tends to be a bit nastier than its predecessors. The broad scope of Island of the Alive is absolutely farcical, but you have to hand it to Cohen for departing from the It Lives Again road and merely reprising the successful formula of his original. Island of the Alive comes undone at the end though – perhaps Cohen is overwhelmed with the wider scope of the narrative, but he struggles to make connections; the island rescue scene is particularly implausible. But looking too hard for plausibility in a film like this would be churlish anyway.

It's Alive and Island of the Alive are energetic and impassioned horror films that are just great fun, and definite repeat viewers. It Lives Again is an odd beast; it's not without the merits, but sucks the life from its source material in an unfortunate manner.

In the same interview referenced above, Cohen addresses an eastern European-produced 2008 remake directed by Josef Rusnak, for which Cohen wrote a script that was largely ignored: "it's a terrible picture. It's just beyond awful... I would advise anyone who likes my film to cross the street and avoid seeing the new enchilada". I haven't seen the remake for myself, but the Big Man's judgment on his 1974 moneymaker's newest progeny is good enough for me.
Video
All three films are presented in 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. The quality is fine, but the colours can be quite dull in the first two films. Fenton Hamilton lensed It's Alive and It Lives Again, his final two entries in a surprisingly short career as a cinematographer. Daniel Pearl, DP of Hooper and Nipsel's Texas Chain Saw Massacre, was recruited for Island of the Alive. Both men do a fine job.
Audio
It's Alive and It Lives Again is presented with English, French and German Dolby Digital mono soundtracks. Island of the Alive has an English 2.0 Dolby surround track, and the French and German monos. A fistful of subtitles are also included.
Extra Features
Each film has an audio commentary with Cohen. Theatrical trailers are included for each. Domestically, the films aren't available individually. It's a surprisingly spare set, but this release is as good as any on the market..
The Verdict
I love It's Alive, a charming and regrettably underrated effort. It Lives Again is a watchable failure, and Island of the Alive is just great fun – a big, dumb movie with some surprising dollops of crowd-pleasing gore. This set comes recommended.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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