Time for trip back to “back in my day” land. In the mid-70s, there was basically two ways to experience a scary movie when you were an elementary school kid. The first was to have cool parents who didn’t mind taking you to a horror movie matinee. The second was to be friends with a kid who had very cool parents who took them to a horror movie and they didn’t hide under their seat. You’d see an ad for a scary movie on TV or the ad in the newspaper. But since there was no home video and HBO wasn’t provided by the local cable company in 1977. There was no way to sneak a viewing at home. When It’s Alive came out, there was no way my folks were going to take us to see it at the Cross Creek Twin. But during recess, I found a classmate that swore he got to see it. While hanging out near the monkeybars, he related all the nightmares of a couple that discover their baby is a man eating monster. He even gave away the ending because we didn’t care about spoiler alerts in the ’70s. For all I know he was lying and trying to sound like the coolest 5th graders that day. But It’s Alive sounded like a scary movie. Now thanks to the It’s Alive Trilogy boxset, I know he was telling the truth and he had cool parents. What he said was the truth.
It’s Alive was under the radar when it was originally released by Warner Brothers in 1974. The studio stuck it out on double and triple bills with minimal promotion. But even under such lame circumstances, the horror film had decent attendance numbers. During the spring of 1977, the studio came up with a more effective marketing campaign and re-issued the film as if it was brand new. The film became a massive hit in the weeks before the launch of Star Wars. What drew people into the theaters? The movie dared to address the biggest fear of expecting parents: what if something is wrong with the baby?
It’s Alive starts out so normal. A woman wakes up feeling the labor pains. She’s not in a panic since this is her second kid. She and her husband take it easy including dropping their son off with a pal. Frank (Three O’Clock High‘s John Ryan) and his Lenore (Night of the Comet‘s Sharon Farrell) know exactly what to expect until they get in the delivery room. Seems the baby is bigger than expected. Remember that this is the early ’70s before sonograms so most doctors would just thump a pregnant woman’s tummy to see how things were doing like picking out a watermelon at Piggy Wiggly. As she pushes, something horrifying busts out. When Frank gets into the delivery room, he finds his wife in shock and most of the medical staff dead on the floor. What happened? Seems their child turns out to be a mutant baby with claws and jagged teeth. How could it happen? Turns out that this might have something to do with a drug the mother was taking. The pharmaceutical company wants the child dead and destroyed. Frank and Lenore return home trying to come to grips with what went wrong. The baby also wants to come home and there’s a trail of carnage. The film could easily been just a quickie scare flick if not for the contributions of two masters. First was special effects master Rick Baker (American Werewolf in London) who created the babies. Writer-director Larry Cohen made sure the baby wasn’t completely seen during attacks so it frightened from its parts. The second names is complete unexpected since who would guess that Bernard Herrmann would score a low budget horror film with the same impact of his soundtracks that accompanied his legendary Alfred Hitchcock work? Herrmann goes beyond the spooky notes and elevates the film the same way Curtis Mayfield made Superfly sound like a bigger budget. It’s Alive is as scary as the day I heard it described on the playground.
It Lives Again was produced after the re-issue of the original film became a number one hit. Jody (The Car‘s Kathleen Lloyd) and Eugene Scott (Apocalypse Now‘s Frederic Forrest) are having a baby shower. As the party clears out, they discover Frank Davis (John P. Ryan) lingering in the living room. He has shocking news for the expecting parents. Turns out their baby is a mutant baby. He warns them that there are police and others eyeballing them so that when she delivers, they can destroy the baby. They don’t believe the him, until they show up for the delivery and discover a wicked doctor (The Godfather‘s John Marley) waiting for them. Frank and his crew rescue them and let the baby be born. Their baby is one of three that Frank’s group are raising to see why this happened. But there’s no time for science as the police and the doctor track them down. Once again Larry Cohen wrote and directed the film. He expanded out the concept so it wasn’t a retread of the original.
It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive appeared nearly a decade later and basically turns into what Steven Spielberg ripped off for The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Not to completely give it away, there’s a remote island where mutant babies have been allowed to run free. But their freedom can’t last long as a baby’s father Jarvis (The Stuff‘s Michael Moriarty) is hired to go see how the babies are doing in the wild. Turns out they’ve grown up and are more fierce than ever. The children end up back in a city and attacking the world that created them and wanted them dead. Can Jarvis save the children? Is Jarvis insane or are the children misunderstood? Moriarty is trippy bringing his own loopy charm with the previous Frank’s desire to understand the mutant children. It’s brings the saga of It’s Alive to a perfect low budget end.
What’s amazing with It’s Alive is that Larry Cohen kept control over his horrific creation. Think of all the other movies during this time that found box office success and found the initial creative crew no longer involved. Either the writer and director don’t want to be pigeonholed or the studio wants to control the shots. This was Cohen’s baby to the degree that he willed it to be a major success instead of it just vanish into a triple bill at a trashy theater. He was like Frank in wanting this mutant baby to thrive and not be destroyed as a monster. He made it so It’s Alive deserves to be seen in a triple feature except now it includes the sequels.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic for all three films. The 1080p transfer brings out so much of the darkness. Audio is DTS-HD Master Audio Mono for the first two films. Island is Stereo 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. The levels bring out the beauty of Herrmann’s score. The movies are subtitled.
Audio Commentary from Larry Cohen is on all three movies. He gives a lot of details about the production and the cast.
Cohen’s Alive: Look Back at the It’s Alive Films (18:14) explains how involved he was in the film. He made the opening credits at his house with a few flashlights. He hired Bernard Herrmann (Psycho) to do the score with an unusual offer. He recounts Rick Baker’s model for the baby. He did use his house for a few locations. You might recognize his pool from a couple films including It Lives Again. Other cast, crew and film historians discuss why the film had such an impact. Cohen recounts how he got the new regime at Warners a chance to re-issue the film. This led to success and an immediate sequel. Island of the Alive was made for Warner’s straight to video division in the mid-80s.
It’s Alive at the Nuart: 40th Anniversary Screening (13:27) has Larry talking about the movie at the cool Los Angeles cinema. Larry talks about sparingly using the baby monster. He wanted to keep the spook factor of Rick Baker’s creation. He mentions that Bernard Herrmann’s funeral was at his house. Cohen made It’s Alive at the same time he shot Hell Up In Harlem.
Radio Spots (1:49) makes it sound like a series of news reports on the original release. The second ad is the re-issue and focuses on the nightmare of child birth.
TV Spots (1:05) has the rotating baby basket with the hideous hand reveal.
Theatrical Trailer (3:03) has the nightmare of the maternity ward mixed with cops shooting guns. It’s not nearly as effective as the baby basket teaser.
Still Gallery (4:44) has promo pics, production stills and more from the film.
Trailer (0:42) is the teaser with the baby’s hand hitting a birthday cake. They don’t want to give away the horror of It Lives Again.
Still Gallery (3:40) gives more details to the baby delivery space.
Interview with Special Effects Make Up Designer Steve Neill (10:11) talks about how Larry Cohen reacted to a realistic bullet hole in one of the giant babies during the making of Island of the Alive. He remembers shooting at Cohen’s house.
Trailer (0:45) is from the video release of Island of the Alive. The babies want to come home and they’re hungry is the tagline.
Still Gallery (2:50) has plenty of shots of the grown up babies.
Scream Factory presents It’s Alive Trilogy. Directed by: Larry Cohen. Screenplay by: Larry Cohen. Starring: John Ryan, Sharon Farrell, Michael Moriarty and Karen Black. Rated: PG & R. Boxset Contents: 3 movies on 3 Blu-rays. Released: May 15, 2018.
Tags: Island of the Alive, It Lives Again, It's Alive, Scream Factory