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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

It's Alive Trilogy (It's Alive/It's Alive 2/It's Alive III: Island of the Alive)  (1974/1978/1987)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Films
    It's Alive (1974)
    2.5 Stars
    It's Alive 2 (a.k.a. It Lives Again) (1978)
    2.5 Stars
    It's Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987)
    2 Stars
(Release Date: May 15, 2018) – Writer-producer-director Larry Cohen's "It's Alive" trilogy, released by Warner Bros. in 1974, 1978 and 1987, forms what feels like a complete whole. The original picture can stand on its own, to be sure, but the proceeding sequels served to expand the scope of the premise and more deeply explore what becomes a compelling, progressive—if not terribly subtle—metaphor for human rights and (in the case of the third film) miseducated fears related to the HIV/AIDS crisis.

In "It's Alive," the quiet trepidations Frank (John P. Ryan) and Lenore Davies (Sharon Farrell) have about becoming second-time parents takes an altogether more horrific turn when Lenore gives birth to a murderous mutant baby who promptly murders the hospital's delivery staff before narrowly escaping from authorities. As the body count rises across Los Angeles, the baby slowly but surely makes his way back into the arms of his parents. Problem is, they don't know whether to protect or kill him. "It's Alive" plays like a classy B-movie of the mid-'70s. It's a little talky and on the tamer side by today's standards, but it also commands attention and offers committed dramatic performances from John P. Ryan and Sharon Farrell as Frank and Lenore, the couple's lives torn apart by their new bundle of terror. Special credit goes to Rick Baker's sparingly used but always effective effects work, as well as acclaimed composer Bernard Herrmann's (1960's "Psycho") stirring music score.

"It's Alive 2" focuses on Eugene (Frederic Forrest) and Jody Scott (Kathleen Lloyd), a Tucson couple whose baby shower comes to a concerning close when uninvited guest Frank (John P. Ryan) informs them their genes have the same characteristics as those of other parents across the country who have given birth to homicidal mutants. Frank's attempts to protect the couple and their baby quickly unravels when the newborn and two other test subjects escape from protective captivity and set off on a murderous spree of their own. "It's Alive 2" (also known as "It Lives Again") is a solid sequel—more far-fetched than its predecessor, but also ably ratcheting suspense while keeping close ties on the reality of Eugene and Jody's distraught circumstances.

Arriving nine years after its immediate predecessor, "It's Alive III: Island of the Alive" takes the wild premise another step forward as Stephen (a typically inspired Michael Moriarty) and Ellen Jarvis' (Karen Black) mutated infant is sentenced, along with four other deadly babies, to a state of exile on an abandoned island off the Florida coast. Five years later, Stephen reluctantly agrees to join an expedition back to the island where havoc inevitably ensues. The concept of "It's Alive III: Island of the Alive" is more enticing than the ultimate delivery—think "Aliens" meets "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," but with bloodthirsty, claw-handed giant babies. Writer-director Larry Cohen makes the mistake of too quickly wrapping up the strong, even creepy, middle act set on the island in preference for a comparatively uninspired climactic return to the mainland, and the film suffers for it. Still, one has to admire any movie that dares to take things in such a weird, over-the-top direction, even if the predominate use of stop-motion effects over Rick Baker's puppets in the first two pictures is on the dodgier side. "It's Alive III: Island of the Alive" is the weakest entry in the trilogy, but also, in its own odd way, the most memorable—for better and for worse.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound
It's Alive: A-/A-
It's Alive 2: A-/A-
It's Alive III: Island of the Alive: A-/A-

The "It's Alive" trilogy crawls, coos, and claws its way to Blu-ray, each installment receiving a new 2K remaster from original film elements. "It's Alive," originally released in 1974, impresses time and again with a 1080p transfer that appears fresh and accurate to source, a steady, fine layer of grain accompanying the increased detail and resolution of its image. Clarity falls away in a few nighttime scenes due to its low light sources, and in these moments black levels verge on dark gray tones. Late in the film, in a sequence set in a sewer lit only be flashlights, there is an approximately five-second period of what appeared to be image judder. This minor issue is negligible; the overwhelming majority of the film is eye-opening in its vibrancy and dimensionality. Skin tones appear natural, the uptick in detail is substantial over the previous DVD release, and there is absolutely no age-related blemishes or other film damage. This is clean and clear and, simply put, a remarkable transfer of a 44-year-old film. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is solid—full-bodied and never ringing hollow or sounding tinny. Bernard Herrmann's music score comes off wonderfully here, and dialogue is well-mixed within the soundscape.

1978's "It's Alive 2" features a similarly confident 1080p transfer. The film kicks off with brief print damage over the opening shot, but then immediately clears up thereafter. There are more soft-verging-on-blurry shots than the original film has, but my suspicion is this is how the film was originally lensed and is not a result of a remastering issue. Otherwise, this is smooth sailing all the way, an impeccable high-def transfer with consistently resolved grain, pleasing detail and clarity in everything from facial features to backgrounds. Colors are healthy, and black levels are arguably even deeper and richer than in the first film; a nighttime sequence set in a woodsy, green-leafed environment where Frank attempts to flee with one of the babies is simply gorgeous to behold. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is also on par with its predecessors aural treatment, right down to the sterling mix of dialogue and soundtack and in Herrmann's terrific score.

We finally come to 1987's "Island of the Alive," released nine years after the last sequel. Although this film was produced for the direct-to-video market (but reportedly did receive a limited theatrical release), its production values do not suffer in any noteworthy ways (save for the aforementioned stop-motion effects). This 1080p transfer fares every bit as well as the previous two films, with beautifully resolved grain, a new vivid HD clarity, and robust colors that rarely have the faded look of a decades-old effort (see Karen Black's pink dress as she works at a boardwalk restaurant in the first act). Only during the opening credits are there signs of print damage, no doubt due to the optical effects of the titles. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio kicks off with a rousing onscreen thunderstorm that booms off the screen and fills the soundfield. If this is as active as the audio presentation gets, not to worry; the rest of the film includes a confidently modulated sound mix with few, if any, issues worth noting.

Blu-ray Features
  It's Alive (Disc One)
  • Audio Commentary with writer/producer/director Larry Cohen
  • "Cohen's Alive: Looking Back at the It's Alive Films" Featurette (18:14, HD) – featuring new interviews with writer/producer/director Larry Cohen, actors James Dixon, Michael Moriarty and Laurene Landon, director of photography Daniel Pearl, and others
  • "It's Alive at the Nuart: The 40th Anniversary Screening" Featurette (13:27, HD)
  • Radio Spots (1:49, HD)
  • TV Spots (1:05, HD)
  • Theatrical Trailer (3:03, HD)
  • Still Gallery (4:44, HD)
  It's Alive 2 (Disc Two)
  • Audio Commentary with writer/producer/director Larry Cohen
  • Theatrical Trailer (0:42, HD)
  • Still Gallery (3:40, HD)
  It's Alive III: Island of the Alive (Disc Three)
  • Audio Commentary with writer/director Larry Cohen
  • Interview with special effects makeup designer Steve Neill (10:11, HD)
  • Trailer (0:45, HD)
  • Still Gallery (2:50, HD)
Bottom Line
The newborn babies may be mutated and homicidal, but Scream Factory has given birth to another heavenly Blu-ray release with the "It's Alive" trilogy boxed set. New 2K high-definition remasters. Strong DTS audio presentations. Beautiful packaging. A solid bevy of bonus content (including director's audio commentaries on each film). What's not to love? Highly recommended.

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© 2018 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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