|Review||It's Alive (1977)||Director||Larry Cohen|
|Starring||John P. Ryan, Sharon Farrell, Andrew Duggan, James Dixon, Shamus Locke and Guy Stockwell|
“We can’t rule out genetic damage” – The Doctor
Frank and Lenore Davis (John P. Ryan and Sharon Farrell) rush to the hospital anxiously awaiting the birth of their second baby. Turns out that the baby is not only abnormally large but it has claws and razor sharp teeth and fights for it’s life by attacking everyone in it’s way. As soon as it’s born it’s already killed a few doctors and nurses and escaped from the hospital.
Lieutenant Perkins (Dixon) heads the search for the mutant baby with orders to kill it on sight. Doctors speculate whether the baby’s condition is the result of some manufactured drugs and desperately want it destroyed as well. So does Frank…at least until he meets his offspring and suddenly paternal instincts kick in.
This is what potentially exploitative stuff can do in the hands of an expert. Larry Cohen taps into the fear of parenthood in a B-movie way but also throws in some ecological, sociological and plain old human fear of what mankind has done to the environment and what can possibly come of that. A killer mutant baby on the loose is enough to entice any cult or horror fan but Cohen manages to make this intelligent material that’s quite thought provoking and handled in a most respectful manner. For one thing; the actual baby occupies precious little screen time and when seen it’s only in brief glimpses; the attacks aren’t very gory although they do pack a punch and there’s some old fashioned suspense set pieces that work very well (and couple of seat jumpers as well).
Performances are very, very much above average and the biggest credit goes to the late John P. Ryan. This character actor never made it big and was mostly relegated to supporting roles in everything from big movies (“The Right Stuff” – 1983) to numerous TV shows but his meatiest role came here and he nailed it. His Frank Davis goes through a whirlwind of inner turmoil as he comes to grips with the fact that his baby is a mutant freak and wanted dead by everyone. The rage inside him makes him hate the offspring and even going as far as shooting it himself but once he sees the helpless creature wounded and alone he goes through a heartbreaking transformation and fatherly instincts make him see things very differently. It’s a tough transition to sell in a short time but Ryan really delivers.
And let’s not forget the wonderful Bernard Herrmann score that graces the film; truly top notch.
The ending, while predictable, caps the film off well and leaves a lasting impression with the viewer. And the last sentence here, “Another one’s been born in Seattle…” gives promise of more to come.
It Lives Again
|Review||It Lives Again (1978)||Director||Larry Cohen|
|Starring||Frederic Forrest, Kathleen Lloyd, John P. Ryan, John Marley, Andrew Duggan, Eddie Constantine and James Dixon|
“Please don’t smoke. The babies don’t like it” – Dr. Perry
Eugene and Jody Scott (Frederic Forrest and Kathleen Lloyd) host a baby shower and they anxiously await their first born child. One man stays after everyone leaves; Frank Davis (John P. Ryan), and he has something to tell the Scott’s that they don’t want to hear. They are being watched by authorities as it’s suspected they are expecting a child like the one Frank had. A small epidemic of mutant babies is ongoing and they are killed at birth.
Frank, along with Dr. Perry (Andrew Duggan) and Dr. Forest (Eddie Constantine) help Eugene and Jody disappear to a secluded facility where the offspring is looked after and studied. Once there it turns out that these radical mutant baby savers have two others in their care and it’s just a matter of time before they escape from their confines and law officials spearheaded by Lt. Perkins (Dixon) is hot on their heels.
“It Lives Again” (also known as “It’s Alive 2”) manages to add another layer of intrigue to the mutant baby universe and deliver another scathing social critique on how authorities handle delicate matters with extreme prejudice and force. But, being a Larry Cohen movie, it’s also got a very solid dramatic core while being a fun ride of thrills and mutant mayhem. I actually prefer this movie to the original in many ways as it’s constantly exciting and on the move, very well acted with believable protagonists and antagonists and an unpredictable final third that unfolds well. The whole scenario of a radical group protecting the mutants (and lead on by Frank, the father of the first mutant) sets the story up well and really expands on the initial premise with more thought provoking material.
The acting performances are very solid and Ryan once again delivers the goods as Frank Davis but a scene stealer here is legendary character actor John Marley. He’ll always be most remembered for his horse-scene in “The Godfather” (1972) but the man really turned in some good performances in low-budget 70’s efforts (“Deathdream” – 1972, “The Car” – 1977) that won him acclaim amongst cult enthusiasts. His character here, Mr. Mallory, looks to be somewhat one-dimensional but writer Larry Cohen creates anything but those kinds of characters for his mutant baby universe and old pro Marley makes the most of an individual who’s carrying a lot of rage inside.
Once again the ending caps the film off well; not as dramatically downbeat as the first one but still gives some food for thought.
It's Alive III: Island of the Alive
|Review||It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987)||Director||Larry Cohen|
|Starring||Michael Moriarty, Karen Black, James Dixon, Laurene Landon and Gerrit Graham|
“You’ve seen my kid, haven’t you? That’s just a glimpse of the animal in me” – Stephen Jarvis
Stephen Jarvis (Michael Moriarty) is the father of a mutant baby and fights successfully in court for it’s life to be spared. The Jarvis baby along with a few others are sent to a secluded island where they are to live in solitary from the outside world.
A few years pass and Jarvis alongside others (including Lt. Perkins) visit the island and the mutant babies, now practically grown-ups, attack and kill the visitors. Jarvis is the only one spared and the mutants set sail for the US with some agenda in mind.
The last but least in the “It’s Alive” series takes the mutants full circle and details their short life span which is sadly riddled with disease and sadness. Somehow many have tied the movie in with the AIDS crisis and the prejudice passed on those infected and there’s definitely something to that. That however gets somewhat lost in the jovial tone the movie displays at times with some definite improvising from Michael Moriarty that completely drowns any serious attempt at suspense or horror.
Having said that; Moriarty is fun to watch as the delves into his character’s dilemma of being the father of a monster baby. His marriage goes down the drain (Karen Black playing his ex-wife), his career as an actor completely stalls and he opts to publish a non-fiction book to keep afloat. Once the action heads to the island viewers may expect the horror to flourish but those scenes are brief and to the point and then there’s the set-up for the finale which is more sad than terrifying. Again Cohen reaches a good emotional core and Moriarty and Black are more than up for some dramatic acting when needed but the film is virtually suspenseless with some out of place humour that feels more improvisational than thought out. The ending is good though and concludes the trilogy on a high note, a level of optimism but with some bitter sweet sadness.