The second and third parts of Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive trilogy are by turns silly and sublime. It Lives Again, released four years after It’s Alive, picks up soon after the original film’s conclusion with the monster babies now being born at an ever increasing rate. The gleefully over the top scenario involves parents on the run from government death squads charged with executing the babies and a hidden laboratory where sympathetic scientists are determined to uncover the secrets of the children and reintroduce them into society. Cohen carefully regulates the humorous hysteria of the material to present a scalding portrait of societal intolerance without ever losing sight of the fundamental sadness of his story. That grief, though, is tempered by a deepening of his critique; with the multiplication of the “monster” babies comes a raising of the stakes of Cohen’s portrait of prejudice. The overwhelming parental fear of having children that are “different,” so powerful a theme in the original film, becomes, in the sequel, a fear not only of one individual aberration but rather a horror at the prospect of an emerging aberrant society—the allegory of the anxiety within the parent-child relationship is articulated even more explicitly in the second film. For example, one can read the hysterical fear of parents wondering if their child is going to be “one of them” as a representation of the dread of homosexuality—and that society promises a challenge to previously held mainstream notions of what is “normal” and “right.” The third film in Cohen’s series, It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive, stretches the darkly comedic aspects of the trilogy to the breaking point. Five years later, the mutant children have begun to grow up, and placed on a secluded island, they are now starting families of their own. Overwrought and narratively awkward, the film’s clumsy attempts at humor only blunt the film’s satiric bite. Most of the blame has to be laid at the feet of Michael Moriarty’s mumbling, sleepily neurotic performance as a father whose life is ruined by his need to protect his child. Yet Cohen also seems at a loss to take his story in any substantially new direction. Island of the Alive feels like a mish-mash of themes already explored far more cogently in the previous two films. This is not to say that the final part of the trilogy is without any merit—the brief sequence in Cuba and its narrative resolution is an absurdly brilliant move on Cohen’s part, as is Karen Black’s heroically grotesque performance as one of the creatures’ mothers—but that the spark has dimmed and what is left in its place is a warmed over collection of almost meaningful moments.
Much the same as the first film, the best thing about this DVD is that it does away with the need to watch crummy VHS copies of both films. Having said that, it is frustrating to watch the opening of It Lives Again and see dirt pass on the image while the soundtrack warbles ever so slightly. The very fact that Warner Home Video packaged these two films together while separating the first for individual release, however, goes to show where they think the higher sales are going to come from. Overall, the films look fine though.
Each film features a commentary from Cohen, and while the tracks are not quite as illuminating as his observations recorded for It's Alive, both are still enjoyable for the insights they do provide. The DVD also features rather disappointing trailers for both It Lives Again and Island of the Alive.
While perhaps not as necessary a purchase as the release of It's Alive, the two-for-the-price-of-one approach of this DVD is certainly appealing.