Release Date(s)1974/1978/1987 (May 15, 2018)
Studio(s)Larco Productions/Warner Bros. (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: C+
- Overall Grade: B
Larry Cohen’s career has been peppered with a number of genre favorites, including Q: The Winged Serpent, The Stuff, and God Told Me To, just a name a few. His emphasis on strong characters put into extraordinary situations within a framework of social commentary have made him a favorite amongst filmmakers and audiences alike. He had directed a couple of movies before It’s Alive, but he was in a class all his own thereafter. Although it wasn’t initially a hit, the film went on to do bigger business upon its re-release. He would go on to make two sequels: It Lives Again and It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive, furthering the series’ success.
“There’s only one thing wrong with the Davis baby... IT’S ALIVE.” Four years after its initial release, It’s Alive became the surprise hit of 1977, touching upon themes of marriage, childbirth, and the complications that can arise from both. The film features John P. Ryan as Frank Davis, a man who takes his pregnant wife to the hospital in the middle of the night expecting a healthy baby boy. Instead a murderous mutant infant is born that kills its way out of the hospital and into the city, with the cops and its father hot on its trail. Darkly comic, a tad schlocky, but ultimately dramatic and touching, It’s Alive terrified audiences, seemingly reaching them on a primordial level of sorts. Ryan’s performance as a man driven to take action against this child that has ruined his life slowly morphs into a father horrified and heartbroken when he is eventually face to face with it.
“The It’s Alive baby is back... only now there are three of them.” A year after the film’s success, Warner Bros. immediately wanted a sequel, which Larry Cohen was happy to make. In It Lives Again (aka It’s Alive 2), we’re now in a world where there are two factions: one that hunts down the unborn mutant babies to destroy them, and another that tries to save them. Truth be told, I find the sequel to be the most entertaining of the three films in the series. It advances the story in a way that most horror sequels don’t, which normally try to do the same story over again, just with different characters. It Lives Again is the next phase, getting more into how something like this would affect relationships, throwing in hot-topic issues like abortion and government conspiracy for good measure. It’s a really smart film with plenty of horror moments to spare, including a vicious laceration to a doctor at the hands of one of the infants.
“The It’s Alive babies are back. They do something worse than kill. They multiply.” Last but not least is the final sequel from 1987, It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive. This time around we meet a man who is fighting for the rights of the killer infants, convincing a judge to relocate them somewhere away from society, a secluded island. Things begin to go wrong when scientists secretly make their way to the island to study them, only to find them getting older and making babies of their own. In complete honesty, I find this entry to be the least of the three. Michael Moriarty and Karen Black give nutty and transfixing performances, but the story and the way that it’s told aren’t quite as electric. Perhaps it’s one film too many, or maybe the idea has simply run its course, which seems to have been the case since no further installments in the series were ever made. Still, one can’t help but admire the It’s Alive trilogy for making it this far. What seems like such a simple idea for a horror film had more legs than most films like it, which is mostly thanks to the genius of Larry Cohen.
Each film in the It’s Alive Trilogy Blu-ray boxed set comes with a new 2K transfer from interpositive elements, all carried out at Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging on a Lasergraphics Director scanner (all of this according to the inner artwork of the third film). The results are impressive. Organically-appearing transfers with solid grain levels and high levels of fine detail are on full display (as well as the original opening and closing logos). The first two films retain their slightly soft 1970s look, but appear much more crisp and precise. The color palette, particularly for the third film, is strong with good skin tones and potent reds and greens. Blacks are deep without any evident crush, particularly during the sewer searching scene in the first film. Brightness and contrast levels are all appropriate as well. Each transfer is also clean and stable with little to no damage leftover. The only real visual flaw, which can’t be fixed, is in the third film. It’s a bad process shot of a stop-motion animated mutant baby against a rear-screen projection. It stands out more than any other shot in all three films, but thankfully is brief. Also for the first two films, English 2.0 mono DTS-HD audio tracks are provided, while the third film features an English 2.0 DTS-HD track. Narrowness is present on the first two, but fidelity, particularly Bernard Herman’s and Laurie Johnson’s musical scores, is palpable. There’s also clear and even dialogue (aside from noticeable overdubs) and sound effects that are a tad thin, but register quite well. For the third film, some of the sound effects are a little more spaced out, such as whirring helicopter blades and background music, but there isn’t much in the way of speaker to speaker activity. All of the tracks are clean without any noticeable leftover hiss, crackle, or dropouts. Optional subtitles are also provided in English SDH.
IT’S ALIVE (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B+/A-/B+
IT LIVES AGAIN (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B+/B+/B
IT’S ALIVE III: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C+/B+/B
The majority of this boxed set’s extras are including on Disc One, which contains an audio commentary with writer/producer/director Larry Cohen; Cohen’s Alive: Looking Back at the It’s Alive Films, a 20-minute featurette which I would have liked to have been longer and gone into a bit more detail, but still there are some nice interviews with folks who worked on the three films; It’s Alive at the Nuart: 40th Anniversary Screening, a 14-minute Q&A session with Larry Cohen; 3 radio spots; 2 TV spots; the original theatrical trailer; and a still gallery with 56 images. On Disc Two, there’s another audio commentary with Larry Cohen; the theatrical trailer, and a still gallery with 42 images. On Disc Three, there’s another audio commentary with Larry Cohen; a 10-minute interview with special effects makeup designer Steve Neill who discusses working with Larry Cohen and Rick Baker; the theatrical trailer; and a still gallery with 33 images. It should go without saying, but all of the audio commentaries are essential listening. Any Larry Cohen commentary is filled with plenty of honest insight and great stories about the film itself, but also his approach to filmmaking, the people he works with, and other stories outside of the films.
Having the It’s Alive Trilogy on Blu-ray finally via Scream Factory and their sublicensing deal with Warner Bros. is certainly a blessing. It’s a great set of films that were long overdue for high definition upgrades, and they pass here with flying colors. The rest of the extras, outside of the commentaries that is, could have been beefed up a little bit more, but just having such great A/V presentations is more than enough. If you’ve yet to see these classics, this is your best ticket. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons