Thursday, May 10, 2018

IT’S ALIVE TRILOGY (1974-1978) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)

IT’S ALIVE TRILOGY (1974-1978) 

Label: Scream Factory

Release Date: May 15th 2018
Region Code: A
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Larry Cohen

For the first time on Blu-ray, and in a new, deluxe box set, the It’s Alive trilogy is reborn! On May 15, Scream Factory will release the It’s Alive Trilogy in a 3-disc set packed with bonus features, including new interviews, and new 2K scans of each film.

IT’S ALIVE (1974)
Rating: PG 
Duration: 91 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Larry Cohen
Cast: John P. Ryan, Sharon Farrell, Andrew Duggan, Guy Stockwell, James Dixon, Michael Ansara

Synopsis: It's newborn and … It's Alive … and murder is what it knows best! A proud couple's bundle of joy is really a newborn terror in filmmaker Larry Cohen's cautionary cult hit that tapped into environmental fears. The horror grows when multiple child monsters rampage in the first sequel It Lives Again as two brave parents try to stop them by becoming the bait for their spree. The now global mutants are rounded up and relocated to a far-flung island in It's Alive III: Island of the Alive. Will a parent's greatest nightmare become the world's gravest fear? Find out ... if you dare.

In Larry Cohen's 70's killer-kid classic we have L.A. couple Frank Davis (John Ryan, Runaway Train) and his wife Lenore (Sharon Farrell, The Premonition) expecting their second child, it was an unexpected pregnancy as she was on birth control, but they are happy nonetheless at the prospect of another kiddo around the house, as is their adolescent son Chris (Daniel Holzman) who will be a big brother. When she goes into labor they head to the hospital and as she begins to give birth while Frank sits in the lobby with the other expectant fathers, as was the tradition back in the day, not like now when father's are almost always in the delivery room. However, the birth is abnormal, and what emerges from his wife's womb is a toothy-mutant offspring that chews through it's own umbilical cord before slaughtering all the medical staff in the delivery room, the aftermath looking a bit like that scene fro Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 when Doctor Ock's sentient tentacles go ape-shit. The wife goes into hysterics as Frank wanders into he bloody aftermath, soon after a manhunt is launched for the ferocious killer-kid with Frank initially being on board with hunting it down and killing it, until his paternal instincts kick in. 

The film is a bit of a slow-mover by modern horror standards but I've always loved it, Cohen made a classic 70's monster movie here with early make-up effects by none other than Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London) who sculpted quite a fearsome kid with a bulbous, vein-y head, fangs and clawed hands. Rightfully they keep the visuals of the kid to a minimum, showing it in fleeting glimpses and among the shadows. There are a lot of killer POV shots from the point of view of the homicidal baby, a double-vision image thing that worked pretty well. The film can be read in several different ways, informed by real issues like abortion, eugenics and the Thalidomide baby-deformities, with this one containing a corrupt drug company trying to erase evidence that their contraception pill which might be the root cause of the hideous mutation to begin with. 

John P. Ryan (Three O'Clock High) as the father really sells the expectant father part of the story as well as the conflicted post-hospital slaughter reality of the abnormal birth and ensuing man-hunt for the demon-toothed kid, he gives it some real depth and layers. While the film is a tiny bit slow and we don't see the killer-kid a bunch the film is very effective, plus it's well lensed with a sweeping score from Bernard Herrmann (Psycho) with loads of blood, particularly for a PG-rated horror film! I'm not totally convinced this will play all that well with a younger audience watching it for the first time, I grew up with it so it has some intrinsically nostalgic appeal, but I will say that my seventeen year old son enjoyed it quite a bit.  

This was Cohen's first time directing a horror film, it's a serious effort that's handled with a modicum of class, it's not quite as oddball and quirky as some of his later genre efforts, and I think that serious tone gives this monster-kid cult classic some legs.

Special Features: 
- NEW 2K scan of the original film elements
- NEW Cohen’s Alive: Looking Back at the It’s Alive Films featuring interviews with writer/producer/director Larry Cohen, actors James Dixon, Michael Moriarty and Laurene Landon and more… (18 min) HD 
- NEW It’s Alive at the Nuart: The 40th Anniversary Screening with Larry Cohen (13 min) HD 
- Audio Commentary with writer/producer/director Larry Cohen
- Radio Spots (2 min) HD 
- TV Spots (1 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (3 min) HD 
- Still Gallery (4 min) HD

Rating: R
Duration: 91 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Larry Cohen
Cast: John P. Ryan, James Dixon, John Marley, Andrew Duggan, Eddie Constantine

Synopsis: Is it human? Is it a beast? Whatever it is, It Lives Again in this second film in cult filmmaker Larry Cohen’s Alive Trilogy. Once again, Cohen brings to the screen a hideous threesome of mutant baby monsters that are the evolutionary response to man’s polluted environment. These frightened creatures lash out with deadly claws at what they don’t understand. There are only three, but they could reproduce into uncontrollable millions if someone doesn’t destroy them. Fredric Forrest (Apocalypse Now) and Kathleen Lloyd (The Car) star as the loving parents of one of the monstrous creatures. Parental love, however, is no match for these hell-spawned mutants. Their wild blood binge must be stopped. Will the next stage of their evolution become our last?

After the success of the first film a sequel was hatched, picking up a few years after the original we have John P. Ryan returning as Frank Davis who has traveled to Tucson, AZ (love seeing my city back in the 70's) to warn a young couple, Jody (Kathleen Lloyd, The Car) and Eugene Scott (Frederic Forrest, The Conversation), that their soon-to-be-born kid will most likely be a mutant, which since that last film have been being born at an alarming rate around the country. At first they don't believe him but they come around when they meet a menacing guy named Malory (John Marley, Deathdream) who has put together a death-squad who travel around the country exterminating the mutant kids the moment they're born. With the help of John the couple escape the hospital and she gives birth to the beastly kid in a mobile birthing unit built into the back of a shipping truck, and are taken to a retreat run by a group of scientists,  Andrew Duggan (Doctor Detroit) and Eddie Constantin (Alphaville), who want to study the babies, believing them to be the next evolutionary step of humanity, a sort of underground railroad for mutant babies, where they're kid gets to mingle with two other deformed monster-kids. 

The sequel is a nice continuation of the story, it's not just a simple retread, and it's great to have John P. Ryan back as Davis. Also returning are the special make-up effects of Rick Baker plus we get another score from Bernard Herrmann. While I don't love the sequel they way I do the first it's a solid sequel that expands a bit on the story and we get more moving parts, including the Scott's being betrayed by the wife's mother, ending with the authorities showing up at the facility where the monster kids are being kept. There's a bit more gore this time around too, but not a bunch, so keep those expectations in check.

Special Features: 

- NEW 2K scan of the original film elements
- Audio Commentary with writer/producer/director Larry Cohen
- Theatrical Trailer (1 min) HD 
- Still Gallery (4 min) HD

Rating: R
Duration: 95 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Larry Cohen
Cast: Michael Moriarty, Karen Black, Laurene Landon, Gerrit Graham, Neal Israel, James Dixon 

Synopsis: In It’s Alive III: Island Of The Alive, Michael Moriarty (Q: The Winged Serpent) and Karen Black (Trilogy of Terror) star as Stephen and Ellen Jarvis, the distraught parents of one of the new mutant children. They’ve watched in horror as government death squads roamed the earth, shooting the humanoids on sight. They’ve suffered through the court hearings that sentenced their child and other surviving mutants to a remote, uninhabited island. And their nightmare continues … because the abandoned creatures are now grown … and they are coming back home to the society that created and rejected them. And no one who stands in their way will live.

The second and final (so far, not counting the remake) sequel in the It's Alive trilogy throws seriousness right out the window in far or of a more humorous approach with the introduction of Cohen regular Michael Moriarty (The Stuff) as Jarvis, who opens the film in a courtroom fighting for the rights of his mutant born son to live, arguing for the death of his son is a lawyer played by Gerrit Graham (Phantom of the Paradise), the over-the-top trial ends with the killer baby busting out of it's steel cage with Jarvis managing to calm it down, showing the judge that it's not pure evil, and thus the judge (MacDonald Carey, End of the World) rules that the five surviving mutant kids known to exist are to be shipped away to an isolated island where they will no pose a danger to society.

The film moves ahead a few years and Moriarty's character has penned a tell-all book about the events, while his ex-wife Ellen (Karen Black, Burnt Offerings) wants nothing to do with him or the the damned kid, living her life out of the spotlight while Jarvis, a former TV commercial actor, has become an outcast of society. There's a great scene where the affection starved Jarvis meets a prostitute played by Laurene Landon (Maniac Cop) who beds him but goes ape-shit when she realizes why he looks so familiar, believing that the mutations gene can be passed by touch, sort of the ways the AIDS epidemic caused hysteria around the same time. 

Jarvis later is recruited to visit the island with a team to study the growth of the monster kids who have now grown into adulthood, and this is where I really started to miss the special effects work of Rick Baker who is not present here, instead we have men in rubber-suits that look real goofy, but there's also some fun Harryhausen-esque stop-motion animation which I enjoyed a bunch.

Jarvis and the team come under attack on the island by the mutants, who apparently miss home, they force him to pilot a ship back towards the U.S. mainland with his son saving his life by throwing him overboard when the other monsters - and their own monster kids - decide that Jarvis looks like a tasty piece of meat - stranding him in Cuba, where more off-kilter shenanigans take place. Eventually the deformed families arrive in Florida - where Ellen lives - and  the carnage begins with the mutants destroying a group of 80's punks down on the boardwalk before homing in on the whereabouts of Ellen, leading to a rooftop encounter/family reunion. 

This one is off-kilter and way more comedic than the first two entries, Cohen bringing in Moriarty guarantees plenty of hammed-up shenanigans which we get in spades, I love this guy, and even though it veers far away from the previous films, it's more akin to The Stuff than It's Alive, there's still plenty of low-budget horror and corny Cohen-Moriarty humor to make it a palatable straight-to-video sequel.

Special Features:
- NEW 2K scan of the original film elements
- NEW interview with Special Effects Makeup Designer Steve Neill (10 min) HD 
- Audio Commentary with writer/director Larry Cohen
- Trailer (1 min) HD 
- Still Gallery (3 min) HD 

Audio/Video: All three films arrives on Blu-ray from Scream Factory in 1080p HD framed in 1.85:1 widescreen and sourced from new 2K scans of the archival interpositive elements, the 2018 2K scans were performed by Warner Bros. and look great. The first film looks the best of the bunch with finely managed grain, saturated colors and deep inky blacks. There's a surprising amount of fine detail in those 70's textures and facial details. The sequels also look great, they lack some of the deep fine detail and clarity of the first film, but are solid. 

Each films sports an English DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 audio track with optional English subtitles, all are nicely balanced and clean without any hiss or distortion. The Bernard Herrmann score of the first film is certainly a highlight, if I was to niggle about an extra I would have appreciated it would have been an isolated music score for the films, particularly he first two which are scored by the legendary composer.  

Thankfully Scream Factory carryover all the Larry Cohen commentaries from Warner Bros. previous triple feature DVD set from 2009. New stuff begins with the 18-min 'Cohen’s Alive: Looking Back at the It’s Alive Films' which features interviews with writer/producer/director Larry Cohen, actors James Dixon, Michael Moriarty and Laurene Landon, cinematographer Daniel Pearl and historians John Burligame, FX Feeney. The main attraction here is Cohen who speaks volumes about the films, from the troubled beginning of It's Alive to the success when a visionary WB exec saw the merit of the film and gave t proper distribution, creating the opening credit sequences at his home (where much of the second films was shot), working with the cast and crew, Rick Bakers special effects, getting Bernard Herrmann to score the films. The cast and crew also reminiscence about shooting Island of the Alive, getting sea sick on the open sea, bit Larry using the sick crew as extras on the boat, posing as corpses, typical low-budget Larry Cohen workarounds. The talk here is moistly centered around the first and third film with the second getting short shrift in regard to content, but there's a lot of ground covered.

We also get a 13-min  Q/A from the 40th anniversary screening of the film at the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles from 2014, the audio on this one is a bit choppy and wonky in [paces but it's good stuff, Cohen is a great storyteller and he doesn't disappoint here. 

The last of the new stuff is a 10-min interview with Special Effects Makeup Designer Steve Neill who worked on the third film, he speaks about getting ti know Rick Baker, who offered him the job on this film. He speaks about wanting to create a different type of look for the monsters, but Cohen wanted to go a different route, leading to the rubber-suited creatures which emulate the look of the baby monsters from the previous films, he also discussed Mark Williams sculpting of the masks, and the use of stop-motion animation. 

The first film has a selection of trailers, radio spots, and a gallery, the sequels get a trailer and a gallery minus the radio spots. Onto the packaging we get pretty much the same packaging style Scream Factory offered with The Amityville Horror Trilogy, all three films get their own keepcase wrapped in a flimsy card-stock slipcover. Both It's Alive and It Lives Again feature reversible artwork while Island of the Alive features an image from the film on the reverse side. The discs themselves feature the reversible artwork options, except Island of the Alive which features the home video artwork which also adorns the sleeve. 

The Larry Cohen love continues with this impressive looking three-disc set from Scream Factory, Cohen's made so many great cult-films through the years, it's great to see many of them getting new HD releases from Scream Factory with new extras, I hope this is a trend that continues. I also hope there are kids out there discovering some of these for the first time and loving them, and that it's not just us old farts getting nostalgic cinema-erections every time they announce another one. 

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