Judge Dennis Prince maintains that every baby is beautiful in its own way...except for the ugly ones.
From It's Alive 2: It Lives Again—The "It's Alive" baby is back…only now there are three of them.
From It's Alive 3: Island of the Alive—They'll do more than kill…they'll multiply.
Larry B. Cohen shows us that you just can't keep a bad baby down. In these sequels to his first horror-infant installment, 1976's It's Alive, he shows us that the Davis' baby was only the first. Now, there's a veritable epidemic of monstrous baby births, and gives us two potential options for dealing with them: hide and nurture them secretly, or ship them off to an island of their own. Unfortunately, no matter what the parents might try, it seems you just can't take the "killer" out of a killer baby.
Facts of the Case
At the conclusion of It's Alive, after Frank Davis' monster baby was brutally gunned down outside the Los Angeles drain system, we learned that another clawed creature had just been born in Seattle. In It's Alive 2: It Lives Again, we catch up with Frank Davis (John P. Ryan) several years later and learn he's mobilized a covert band of doctors and scientists in an effort to track and save monster babies, who generally have been killed on sight in delivery rooms across the nation. He infiltrates the baby shower of expecting parents Eugene (Frederic Forrest) and Jody Scott (Kathleen Lloyd) to tell them they're about to give birth to another monster child. Disbelieving, the Scotts dismiss Frank's ridiculous claims, only to find a police squad bearing guns, ready to gun down the child in the delivery room as it's entering our world. Frank rescues the couple and their about-to-be born child, spiriting them to a secret home deep in the woods, where their child will join two others that have been saved. But when the persistent Lieutenant Perkins (James Dixon) locates the refuge, it becomes a fight for survival as the police wage a war on Frank Ryan and his band of renegade wet nurses while their terrifying toddlers strike out with deadly force.
Eight years later, Stephen Jarvis (Michael Moriarty) finds himself in court battling to defend his own monstrous baby's right to live in It's Alive 3: Island of the Alive. In a frightening confrontation, Jarvis convinces the judge that his monster baby and the many others in captivity deserve a chance to live in a place where they won't pose a threat to mankind. After having been turned loose on a remote island, Lieutenant Perkins (James Dixon) sends a team of hunters to track and kill them in their isolated environment. The hunters, naturally, become the hunted. Relenting, Dixon agrees to tranquilize and study the now five-year-old creatures, agreeing to allow Jarvis to come along to find his own son. Deception ensues, of course, as Dixon and his other cohorts secretly decide to slaughter the hideous monsters.
Well, It's Alive certainly wasn't the greatest horror film of the 1970s, and its low-budget production could hardly be missed, but it was a well-told story that took deliberate aim at matters of parenting and birth defects. The film was successful enough for Cohen to launch a first sequel, one that followed the potential hinted at from the first: what if this was not an isolated occurrence but an epidemic? While he never spent much time elaborating on the cause for the monster babies, he does assert that this might be caused by prescribed drugs, the doctors who administer them, and the pharmaceutical companies that develop and market them. In It's Alive 2, there is a more deliberate sequence exposing the pharmaceutical executives' greed, hoping to dodge any responsibility for the monster babies while laying low until they can re-launch their potentially dangerous (though profitable) medications under the guise of a new brand name. Mostly, though, Cohen further explores the parents' bond to their babies and their unstoppable drive to protect their children, even to their own demise.
James P. Ryan's portrayal of Frank Davis picks up exactly where it left off from the first film; his steely glare and stone-faced resolve plays just as well here as it did previously. This is an excellent continuation, really. We saw Frank transformed from hunter to hero in regards to his unnaturally misshapen son, and now he's as committed to saving the monster children of other parents, traveling across the nation and heading a covert rescue operation. It's another fine performance, to be sure, from actor Ryan. Unfortunately, Frederic Forrest (as Eugene Scott) cannot raise his performance to a similar level. As the beleaguered father of a monster baby himself, his performance vacillates between a rather snotty display of denial and an arguably reticent conviction to protect his child. Applause goes to Kathleen Lloyd, though, for a much more believable and engaging performance as terrified-yet-tender mother Jody Scott. She seems genuinely annoyed at Eugene's mercurial overreactions and sincerely seems the hero of this picture, unafraid to confront and comfort her baby amid the persecuting police. From a production values perspective, the picture is just as low-budget as the first film (awkward camera setups and generally listless lighting) but, again thanks to actor Ryan, the picture overcomes those financial shortcomings. Rick Baker was also back to provide more baby busts, monstrous masks, and other such appliances. The babies, unfortunately, remain scantly seen as in the first film.
In the final picture, It's Alive 3: Island of the Alive, Cohen had more money to spend and filmmaking technology improved; the result was a better-looking picture. Unfortunately, the better look is immediately lost thanks to the downright eccentric performance from Michael Moriarty, one that borders on just plain bizarre. The opening sequence in the courtroom was extremely well done (role player Gerrit Graham from Phantom of the Paradise portraying a heartless and conniving prosecuting attorney), and we witness a rather suspenseful encounter between Moriarty, his monster baby, and the judge. Karen Black (Burnt Offerings, Trilogy of Terror), who plays Ellen Jarvis, who divorced her husband after the birth of their monster child, is rather unnerving to behold here. Sporting a bright blond perm and a rather constricted face, she's rather grating and uncomfortable to watch. After a brief appearance near the start of the film, she's not to be seen again until the final 10 minutes.
Makeup effects technician Dan Frye (Resident Evil) steps in to wrangle a few foam babies based on Rick Baker's original design, then develops quasi-adult versions of the creatures that aren't too terribly frightening, somewhat resembling a cross between an unmasked Jason Voorhees and the bulbous-headed Talosians from the Star Trek original pilot episode, "The Cage." Being R-rated, Frye unveils a decidedly gorier vision of the babies' rampages, including numerous displays of facial gouging, limb wrenching, and even an evisceration. Most curious about this picture, though, is the use of stop-motion animation to depict the infant creatures. At times this looks rather intriguing (if not apparent), yet the sculpture of the baby armatures is strange, showing them with significant muscular development that resembles the Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth.
In concert with the first film's release on DVD, Warner Brothers Home Video presents It's Alive 2: It Lives Again and It's Alive 3: Island of the Alive on a double-feature flipper disc. Both films are offered in anamorphic widescreen transfers, framed at 1.85:1. Sadly, the source print used for It's Alive 2 appears significantly damaged, marred by numerous specks, pops, and scratches. The colors, while muted per the original production design, are relatively consistent, and the contrast is managed decently to prevent the many nighttime scenes from becoming too murky. The print used for It's Alive 3 looks much better than its predecessor; the overall image is brighter and better detailed. Both pictures are accompanied by Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mixes; nothing special but suitable for the content here.
Likely enduring a marathon screening, writer/director Larry B. Cohen sat down to offer a feature-length commentary for both of these pictures, just as he did for the first. His comments are less enthusiastic and noticeably more sparse for both features here, as compared to the energetic monologue he offers on the It's Alive disc. Nonetheless, it's nice to hear him further elaborate on the making of these pictures, his development of the ideas presented, and the many ways he managed to save money along the way. You'll also find trailers accompanying each film (they appear to be TV spots, actually, but aren't billed as such). And, just as with the first film, Warner has chosen to use the preferred Amaray keep-case rather than the cheap-o cardboard snapper case.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Sadly, these sequels progressively dilute the elements of suspense and social commentary that made the first film rather compelling. It's Alive 2 is the better of the sequels but still somewhat of a letdown from the flagship feature (thank goodness for John P. Ryan). The final film, though it showed sincere promise in the opening courtroom sequence, simply falls apart under the seemingly schizophrenic quirkiness of actor Moriarty. B-movie fans should find the seafaring sing-along during It's Alive 3 to be especially worthy of a cinematic raspberry ("blthhhht!")—it practically rivals the infamously bad "la-la" lyrics from the schooner song in Japan's 1963 Attack of the Mushroom People.
The only additional note here is that Bernard Herrmann's listless score from the first picture is repurposed and augmented in both of these sequels. Herrmann had since passed away and likely would have protested at its recycling. Just ask Brian DePalma about the lashing he got when the freshman filmmaker temporarily scored a rough cut of Sisters with Herrmann's score from Psycho.
"Sequel-itis" certainly is afflicting these two films, but profiteering Larry Cohen still managed to deliver some interesting moments between the two pictures. These aren't the best sequels around, that's for sure; but they're certainly not the worst. Lower your expectations a bit and you'll likely have a bit of fun with this double-bill baby barrage.
The alleged offenses here are deemed inconsequential, though actor Michael Moriarty is officially on the court's watch list to ensure his unstable behavior doesn't further deteriorate and pose a threat to unsuspecting genre fans.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Running Commentaries
Review content copyright © 2004 Dennis Prince; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.