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It's Alive Trilogy
Shout! Factory does right by horror fans with this Blu-ray release of Larry Cohen's It's Alive Trilogy, collecting the three ‘killer baby' movies that the writer/director made for Warner Brothers in 1974, 1978 and then finally in 1987.
The first picture introduces us to Frank Davies (John P. Ryan), a successful businessman who works in the public relations industry. He and his wife, Lenore (Sharon Farrell), are looking forward to the imminent arrival of their second child, but when she goes into early labor, there are unexpected complications. Their young son is sent off to stay with a friend while Frank escorts Lenore to the hospital. The baby is born, but it isn't quite… human. It's something else, something capable of biting through its own umbilical cord and slaughtering the hospital's delivery team before making off into the night!
Understandably, Frank and Lenore are quite upset. With their newborn ‘thing' on the loose, a media frenzy puts the Davies' in the spotlight (not a good thing for Frank's career) while the cops try to figure out who or what is behind a rash of murders in the area. Soon enough, the cops close in on the Davies' offspring, but Frank… he just can't quite let go.
The first film in the series is the most serious of the trilogy. Cohen plays things fairly straight here, though his penchant for dark humor definitely works its way into a few scenes here and there. Still, It's Alive is as smart as it is tense, wisely keeping the creature in the dark for most of the film in an effective tactic that adds in building suspense. The effects work featured in the picture, which comes courtesy of a young Rick Baker is quite cool and unsettling enough to work, while the fantastic score from none other than Bernard Herrmann is reason enough to want to see the movie all on its own.
As cool as the monster is, however, it's John P. Ryan who really shines here. Sharon Farrell is quite good in her role as his wife but Ryan is at the top of his game here. He's tough, resilient and sensitive all at the same time, meaning we feel his frustration just as easily as we feel his loss. He's really great in the part, perfect really. Supporting work from Guy Stockwell and Andrew Duggan is also good and it's cool to see Cohen regular James Dixon show up here as Lt. Perkins (the only character to appear in all three of the films in the series), the cop trying to stop the Davies baby from wreaking even more havoc than it already has. Dixon also showed up in Cohen films like Hell Up In Harlem and Black Caesar, God Told Me To, Q The Winged Serpent, Maniac Cop and a few others, his presence here is quite welcome indeed.
It's Alive II: It Lives Again:
The second film picks up more or less where the first one left off. This time around we meet loving couple Eugene (Frederic Forrest) and Jody Scott (Kathleen Lloyd) just as they're hosting a baby shower to celebrate the upcoming arrival of their first child. They become concerned when they don't recognize the man sitting on the couch after everyone else leaves… at least they don't recognize him at first. Eugene calls him out and they quickly realize that this is Frank Davies (Ryan again). He's come to warn them about their child, pointing out that there are agents outside their home keeping an eye on things. Neither of the Scott's wants to believe that their baby might turn out to be a monster, but eventually they learn the hard way that Frank is right.
But there's more to Frank's presence than just an ominous warning. After the Scott baby is born, an agent named Mallory (John Marley) wants to see it put to death but with Davies' help, they get the thing to a crew of scientists led by Dr. Perry (Andrew Duggan) and Dr. Forset (Eddie Constantine) who are hopeful that they can find out what's behind all of this. The Scott baby is kept in captivity with two others, but killer babies being what they are and all, eventually the trio makes its escape and once again go on a killing spree. Oh, and Lt. Perkins shows up here again as well.
Once again Ryan steals the show. The writing in both the first and second film is strong enough that anyone with even half a heart will feel for the situation that these parents find themselves in and it's hard not to get just a little worked up as all of this plays out. Yeah sure, these babies are bloodthirsty killing machines but they're still babies and Ryan's character knows this, as do the Scotts. There's good character development here and the relationship that develops between Frank and the Scotts is really well-handled. Forrest and Lloyd have good chemistry here together and with Ryan, they're quite believable as a couple. Dixon is also really fun in the film, while recognizable character actors Duggan and Constantine are just fine as the scientists out to try and help.
Of course, this is a horror movie after all and with Rick Baker once again handling the effects work on the picture, that end of the production holds up quite well. We get some top-notch monster mayhem in the second half of the film and more great Bernard Herrmann music to back it all up. The pacing is tight and the black comedy a bit more prevalent this time around. Cohen's direction is as strong here as it was in the first movie making for a sequel that is just as entertaining as the film that came before it was.
It's Alive III: Island Of The Alive:
The third film in the series takes things a bit more over the top right from the start. We get an opening scene in New York City where a flustered cab driver pulls over to the side of the road, a pregnant woman about to give birth in the back of his car. The cop on the corner runs over to help, and the delivery… well it's just what you'd expect it to be at this point.
From there we meet Stephen Jarvis (Michael Moriarty) who, along with his lawyers, is arguing against another lawyer named Ralston (Gerrit Graham) for the life of his newborn son. The Jarvis baby is wheeled into the court so that Stephan can make a point: the poor thing is scared, what with all the bright lights on it and the armed guards everywhere, and it deserves to live. The judge decides that the best thing to do would be to send the Jarvis baby and all the other mutant offspring off to a remote island where they can live out their lives naturally without hurting anyone. Some time later, an excursion run by the drug company that may or may not be responsible for the mutant babies sends a small but armed team to the island to do away with any evidence. The monsters make short work of them.
Five years later, after Jarvis has written a book, he and a few others, including Lt. Perkins, head to the island for the purposes of conducting legitimate scientific research. Before you know it, the mutant babies, now fully grown, have made their way to the coast of Florida and Stephen's ex-wife/baby mama Ellen (Karen Black), who works at a goofy late-eighties style ‘punk' club, is in grave danger…
By far the goofiest of the three movies, Island Of The Alive is still pretty fun stuff. John P. Ryan is missed, but Michael Moriarty does make an excellent replacement. He's a lot of fun in the part for the same reason that Ryan was: he brings a good mix of tough guy posturing and understandable sensitivity to the situation that works very well in the context of the story Cohen tells. Moriarty, who worked with Cohen earlier on Q and The Stuff, also made Return To Salem's Lot with the filmmaker the same year (as did Dixon). He's got a great screen presence and the movie does a solid job of exploiting that, allowing him to really go for it and chew just enough of the scenery to work. One of the scenes where he gets to really ‘act' involves his meeting a prostitute (Laurene Landon) at a carnival. They go back to her place, which is all decked out with classic rock posters, and are about to get it on until she recognizes him. It's maybe a corny scene on the surface, but the two of them make it work and you can't help but feel for Moriarty's character here. Likewise, Karen Black's Ellen Jarvis finds herself in a similar situation, hiding from the world working at this dive bar, eventually being essentially blackmailed into having sex with a man named Tony (Rick Garia) who stumbled across her husband's book in the ‘back of the store, where they keep all the porno.' If Cohen takes things to more ridiculous extremes with the monsters in this movie, it isn't at the expense of developing his main characters.
A fair bit gorier than its two predecessors, the movie benefits from some interesting ideas but features some pretty uneven effects work. The stop motion bits are well done and quite cool to see, but the full-sized monsters just look like dudes in goofy rubber suits and are never particularly convincing. Still, if this isn't as good a movie as the two that came before it, Island Of The Alive still manages quite easily to entertain us.The Blu-ray
All three films are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in transfers taken from ‘new 2k scans of the original film elements' and presented on their own separate disc. All three films look quite good here. The transfers are clean and boast accurate color reproduction and strong black levels. There are no noticeable issues with any obvious compression artifacts nor is there any evidence of overzealous noise reduction or filtering. The picture quality for each of the films is very film-like, so expect a natural amount of grain, but very little in the way of actual print damage outside of a small white speck here and there. Skin tones look realistic and quite lifelike and we see very strong upgrades over past DVD editions in terms of depth, detail and texture. No complaints here, all three films look very good.Sound:
The first two films are mono, the third film is stereo. All three are presented in DTS-HD format with optional English subtitles provided. Levels are properly balanced throughout and there are no audible issues with any hiss, distortion or sibilance. There's some decent left to right/right to left channel separation in the third film that adds to the fun. For each picture, however, we get clear dialogue and nicely reproduced music and effects work. Range is understandably limited on the first two pictures but all in all, everything sounds just fine here.Extras:
Each of the three films in the set gets an audio commentary from writer/director Larry Cohen, whose commentary tracks are always a blast to listen to. Cohen's got a pretty great sense of humor and tends to shoot from the hip, providing honest feedback about his time on each film, discussing his relationships with the different actors and actresses that he worked with here, discussing the locations and effects work, his writing process, where he got some of the ideas from and plenty more. Each of the three commentary tracks previously appeared on the older DVD release that came out via Warner Brothers years ago, so fans with those discs will be familiar with what's covered here, but if you haven't heard them and want to know more about the history of this quirky franchise, there's no better way to do it than to her it in Cohen's own words.
As to the rest of the extras, they're specific to each film they represent and, not surprisingly, it's the first film that receives the lion's share of the supplements.
First up is the Cohen's Alive, featurette that looks back at the three films in the series by way of eighteen minutes of interviews with Cohen, cast members James Dixon, Michael Moriarty and Laurene Landon, music historian Jon Burlingame, writer F.X. Feeney, cinematographer Daniel Pearl and producer Paul Kurta. It's an interesting piece that covers each picture well enough to be of interest but that does leave us wanting more. It does retread some of what Cohen covers in the commentary tracks (how could it not?) but getting insight from those who aren't Cohen into the series and its history definitely makes this more than worthwhile. It's quite good. Up next is It's Alive At The Nuart: The 40th Anniversary Screening With Larry Cohen, a thirteen-minute piece where Cohen engages in a Q&A session after an audience takes in a screening of the film. There are some interesting anecdotes here about how and why we see the monster the way we do in the picture and what his career was like during this very busy period for him.
Outside of that, the first film also gets a few radio spots, a collection of TV spots, the film's original theatrical trailer, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.
It's Alive II: It Lives Again:
Aside from the commentary, the second film's extras include a theatrical trailer, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.
It's Alive III: Island Of The Alive:
The third film does have an exclusive featurette in the form of a new interview with Special Effects Makeup Designer Steve Neill. He speaks for ten minutes about moving to Los Angeles and getting his start in the business, connecting with Rick Baker and then after that sharing some specific memories of his work on the film and his relationship with the director. Outside of that, look for the film's original theatrical trailer, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.
Each of the three discs sits inside its own standard sized Blu-ray case and contains some nice reversible cover sleeve art. These three cases in turn fit inside a cardboard box with the iconic baby carriage image on the front atop a jet-black background. It's pretty cool looking.Final Thoughts:
Shout! Factory's Blu-ray release of Larry Cohen's It's Alive Trilogy is a good one, presenting three ridiculously entertaining horror pictures in excellent shape and with a nice array of extra features accompanying them. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.