James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
- James Cole Clay // Film Critic
IT’S ALIVE TRILOGY
One may arrive at the conclusion that a film series about mutant monster babies will beat you over the head with a bloody bottle, but Larry Cohen’s (director of THE STUFF and FULL MOON HIGH) subtle trilogy is more of a family drama taken through a ride of surrealism, guilt and paranoia.
Distributed by Warner Bros. — before the home video boom of the 80s — IT’S ALIVE (1974) found its life three years after the initial theatrical run, “spawning” two moody and haunting sequels rooted in reality. Cohen’s trilogy — IT’S ALIVE, IT LIVES AGAIN (1978), ITS ALIVE III: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE (1987) doesn’t find feat with its images and jump scares but within the horrific psychology within its characters.
IT’S ALIVE (1974) – Frank and Lenore Davies (John P. Ryan, Sharon Farrell) are just as excited as any parent would be to welcome their second child in the world. But something just isn’t right. Their monstrously deformed baby comes out looking for blood complete with fangs and claws, or is it reacting out of fear? What Cohen is able to accomplish in this film amounts to more than just schlocky entertainment. Combining a sense of dread with a potent social commentary akin to FRANKENSTEIN and A QUIET PLACE.
Ryan stands out as a father caught between the pressure to kill his son from a rogue gang of police and the unconditional love a parent has for their child. His anguish brings out a sense of fear and absolute sadness that provides scares that lasts long after the credits roll. With an absorbing score by the legendary composer Bernard Herrmann of PSYCHO fame, IT’S ALIVE may not please fans of modern horror, but it sure creates a lasting atmosphere that has us talking 40 years later.
IT LIVES AGAIN (1978) – Shortly after the events of IT’S ALIVE, there have been multiple mutant babies that have been born, including one in Seattle (which was teased at the end of IT’S ALIVE). Frank Davies (Ryan) returns hellbent on atoning for his crimes as a father by making sure these monstrosities are born, but why?
He tracks down an unsuspecting couple Jody (Kathleen Lloyd) and Eugene Scott (Frederick Forrest), and he forces the mother at gun point in hopes of bringing the child to a facility to be held for research purposes. Truly a riveting sequel and devoid of feeling like a remake, due to the conviction of Forrest’s performance, in particular.
Stuck in a game of pursuit with ruthless police officers who want nothing more to exterminate the mutant, Davies and Eugene try to show theirs humanity even in the disgusting.
A worthy sequel of its original, Cohen brings back the cringeworthy tone that will disturb every would-be parent in America. This wedge of 70s cheese operates on a low budget, with suspense that will no doubt have you needing a juice box and a nap.
IT’S ALIVE 3: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE (1987) – Following the insanity of IT LIVES AGAIN, Cohen is back and has yet again raised the stakes as any good sequel should. Only this time there’s no escape. After an epidemic of the mutant babies takes America by storm, parents, such as Jarvis (Michael Moriarty), have become public figures and gained book deals from their trauma. Oddly enough, Cohen really builds the world and the premise up quite well, along with a weird performance from Moriarty.
By court order the mutant babies are cast out on an island were they have matured and reproduced. Things take a turn for the worse and ISLAND OF THE ALIVE is easily the the most absurd entry in the trilogy.
Cohen, who wrote all three films on his own, tweaked the tone just enough to not delve too deep into the camp while keeping his characters broad, yet grounded with all the glee that 1980s horror has to offer.
These films are pure fun, they break cinematic rules and redefine what some would consider a “good movie.” What’s most surprising is how much control Cohen has on the tone of each picture. While these movies run the risk of being ridiculous, they surely come from the heart.
Special Features: Scream Factory releases earn their renowned reputation from their packaging, artwork and special features. Taking a look inside this weird trilogy is a real treat namely with their documentaries and interviews from actors, writers, producers and directors that may have been out of the limelight for (sometimes decades).
*The shining feature on the 3 disc set is, Cohen’s Alive: Looking Back At The It’s Alive Films Featuring Interviews With Writer/Producer/Director Larry Cohen who for better or worse is an old school guy filled with stories and insight on the halcyon days of 1970s Hollywood. This 20 minute doc takes a shallow but sumptuous dive into the little trilogy that could.
* Q&A sessions are kind of awkward and boring at times but It’s Alive At The Nuart: The 40th Anniversary Screening With Larry Cohen has enough gusto to keep hardcore fans engaged and feel like you are right in the room with Cohen himself.
* Other features include tremendous 2k scans of each film whicb look quite good given the era they were shot.
* Audio Commentary for each film by Larry Cohen for those super weirdos out there.
* Theatrical, TV and Radio Spots