Twice the terror…three times the cheese!
When the Sterns decide to see the USA in their Chevrolet, they couldn't conceive that they would soon be meeting a large behemoth from a stench-filled underground bog with a hideous face and nothing but evil on its mind. But sure enough, the intensely sweaty madman Greely, owner of a less-than-impressive roadside reptile attraction featuring Carls-less-bad caverns, PETA-able critters, and intense human body odors, has a sadistic Stuckey's with their name on it. Norman and Leilla are tourist-napped by the profusely liquid lunatic (he must be angry at them for not spending a quarter in the plastic mold injector souvenir machine) and he intends to feed the couple to his only friend, a forced-perspective gigantic monster with a couple of table-tennis eyes and a maw of misshapen rubber teeth. Paleontologist Wayne Thomas is amazed. He has never seen a massasaurus, archaeology's most obscure whatsit, this far from the plantation big house. When horrified housekeeper, Bella, decides to help the prisoners, her idea of creature defeating is to tell a 10-minute, plot-derailing flashback about how she became accustomed to Greely's tormenting underarm funk. Eventually a few sticks of dynamite are employed to rid the backwoods of a lumbering odiferous fiend from the Prehistoric era. And as for the massasaurus? All that can be said is that instead of meeting its TNT maker, It's Alive!
It's THE DAY AFTER the DAY AFTER TRINITY and the THREADS of society are starting to unravel. Somewhere inside a geographically and geologically safe rock formation, a young woman, Joanna, and her megalomaniacal father, former naval captain John Ramsey wait for her irradiated fiancé, Larry, to return. He is lost in a WORLD GONE WILD. Wishing they were ON THE BEACH, these CHOSEN SURVIVORS are soon joined by FIVE more atomic refugees. There's Timothy, a well-known "worthless old coot." There is Jada and Mickey, preserving vice for future societies (she's a stripper and he's a stripper's apprentice). Finally, the hunky monkey Steve shows up, a youthful yahoo with a contaminated brother named Granger in tow. The LEVEL SEVEN survivors try to find a way to make their limited rations stretch (sadly, all Hamburger Helper was obliterated) and argue over who can start repopulating the planet. The Captain sees himself as the ULTRA WARRIOR against infiltration from the outside wasteland. Little does he know that surrounding this so-called safe house is the beginnings of new life, the CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS, or at least some really lame stunt men in badly manufactured monster masks. As tempers flare, passions play out, and moonshine is consumed, our fusion fiends stumble amok. Thus, this is the TESTAMENT of how the WORLD WITHOUT END almost dies in the YEAR 2889.
If you like your movies more on the professional side, filled with sane stories told with artistry and proficiency, then you are probably not a fan of the drive-in monster mania of the 50s and 60s. It was an era when giddy kiddie creature features were turned out by the film-stock gross to feed an endless need for drive-in and late-show fodder. Many answered the call, and, as a result, our collective consciousness is today filled with more men in suit zipper-backed BS than humans should be exposed to. It's Alive by Texas auteur Larry Buchanan (Attack of the (the) Eye Creatures, Mars Needs Women) is a perfect example of this homemade seat-of-the-pants style of cinema. Contracted by AIP to crank out some remake-oriented product for the boob tube, Buchanan called on his local cast of creative co-conspirators and started to churn out the chum. It's Alive (not to be confused with Larry Cohen's 1972 classic) is just one of a series of shoddy stories tossed up for consumption, almost all of which suffered from no-budget productions and less-than-stellar effects. But Buchanan didn't care. He tended to believe that his movies made their own unique and highly personal statement, whether or not the aliens or boggy boogiemen looked believable.
And who can really be upset with his rationale. He gave Tommy Kirk a post-Walt-cicle second chance. He made conspiracy theory movies about subjects that had no real mystery to them. And here he gives It's Alive!'s beast ballyhoo so many vile and despicable human ogres that we really don't much mind the plastic-masked artificial Creature from the Bleak Lagoon. Between Greely, who gives lax personal hygiene a new and disturbing definition, to Bella, the ex-schoolteacher/kidnap victim/housekeeper who seems like a domestic on the verge of a nervous breakdown, the unappetizing character stew is served hot and sticky in this warped weirdness. The cavernous set (another genius move—find a sucker with a failing theme park and rent it for a few days), torture montage (note to future tormentors: the Chinese whistle blow seems very effective), and peculiar setup (the Sterns end up at Greely's place after seeing some full-sized fake dinosaurs (?) along the roadside) turn what is just a bit of mundane monster-in-the-closet crap into a goofy guilty pleasure. While it could easily be confused for a Yucca Flats fiasco (Greely has a real Coleman Francis feel about him…ewww!) or a sequel to Manos: The Hands of Fate (Torgo is dead and the master is running a very peculiar petting zoo), Buchanan simply points and pukes, upchucking a dandy mix of the insane with the inspired to thrill and chill you…almost.
The second feature on the disc does us an equally effective public service, even if it doesn't understand it. Leaders of the world should be forced into a room, stripped of all distractions and attention getters, and compelled to view Year 2889 from beginning to end. Maybe twice. After witnessing this 88-minute talk-a-thon, they will never even consider launching nuclear weapons. Not because the movie makes such strong points about the threat of atomic annihilation and the struggle to survive. No, they will immediately understand that, in a post-Apocalyptic world, people just talk too damn much and the extent of boredom to be experienced within such an expositional environment is a crime against the very tenants of human dignity. Now, some of Buchanan's and writer Harold Hoffman's overplotting can be forgiven. After all, the future extermination of the human race at the hands of mass nuclear destruction is a weighty subject, brimming with potential problems, pitfalls, and philosophical ramifications. But did this duo of Texas small timers have to include every conceivable issue into their film? Honestly this movie is so ripe with subplots, back story and brave-new-world weariness that you can't help but feel a little bit of the same civilization discorporation that our characters are going through. And this was a remake too, a version of Roger Corman's equally creaky Day the World Ended.
You can sense that Buchanan felt he was making a significant anti-war statement. There are references to the Bikini Island testing (here renamed Masumoto or something), government propaganda on how to survive (the lone radio voice saying "not that many of you are listening to me"), and the psychological torture of isolation. But it is encased in another cheap-dime-store horror mask (the mutant looks more like mute uncles) and populated by actors (with the exception of Paul Peterson, who has a casual grace about him) that forgot method acting infers there is some manner of process to their thespianism. Between Capt. Ramsey, who delivers every line like he's overdue for shore leave, to Bill Thurman's Timothy, who takes his character's catchphrase description (the aforementioned "useless elderly dork" moniker) to unclean drunken heights, the level of performance here is equal to the script: it is all over the map and filled to the gills with overripe cheese. While Year 2889 has its unusual moments of no-nukes preaching, in the end all we are left with is the puff of smoke from the water-intolerant forest freaks (nice of nature to transform them into liquid liabilities, huh?) and the hot air pouring out of the actor's mouths. This bizarre, future-shock oddity is so far out and forced that you'll either snicker or snore.
Retromedia, through Image, has given these movies far more attention than other sane studios would have even considered. Both prints are just awful, though, so don't expect any remastered marvels. It's Alive looks the better of the two, and that's a lot like saying that spoiled milk is better than rotten milk. The underground scenes are dark, and whenever we move into shadow we lose all kinds of detail, but at least it is color corrected and fairly focused. Year 2889 is a mess. It is solarized and in desperate need of a hue overhaul. Characters glow with a weird halo (one could scream edge enhancement, but that would require actually caring about what the image looked like), and there are massive pixelization, flaring, and grain problems. It is hard to put a finger on just what is the worst part of the transfer: the fact that everyone looks either pink or white instead of flesh colored or the fade-to-black lack of anything noticeable in the frame. Sonically, the movies are equally aggravating. The original elements are at fault here, though, not the transfer. You can hear the echo of the bad mike handling in It's Alive (as well as the crystal clarity of the dubbing), and the same is true for Year 2889. The only time you can hear the actors clearly is when they are outside. Then the re-recording kicks in and everything is aural happiness.
Surprisingly, the extras are sparse. Buchanan has offered commentaries on other releases of his films, and there are several people who have followed his career who could have talked in his stead. So sorry, no commentary, folks. All we are offered is 10 amazing minutes of Paul Peterson walking down memory lane in an interview called Rappin' with Paul Peterson. Jovial, filled with trivia, and ready to defend his film (2889), Peterson makes an excellent subject. Even when he gets to his final plea for his personal crusade regarding child actors, he is still warm and funny. Which is a lot like both of the films here. It's Alive will not scare you and Year 2889 won't have you rethinking those bomb shelter plans anytime soon. But for a nostalgic trip back to the time of terrible monster movies, this duo of delightful duds will fit the bill perfectly.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• Rappin' with Paul Peterson—Interview with actor Paul Peterson
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