The It’s Alive Trilogy: Mama’s little bundle of Hell

It’s Alive Trilogy directed by Larry Cohen

The It’s Alive Trilogy directed by Larry CohenThe birth of a child is usually the high point of any parent’s life; one of the most blessed moments that he or she could ever imagine. The blessed newborn is a little adorable bundle from heaven, one that is showered with instant and eternal love by the doting mother and father. But what if that newborn is not all that one could have hoped for … is, in fact, a killer mutant monstrosity, with a very nasty and homicidal temper, to boot? That was the premise of Larry Cohen’s ingenious 1974 offering It’s Alive!, a film that turned out to be so popular that it resulted in no fewer than two sequels. Here, for your one-stop, monster-baby shopping needs, are some brief thoughts on each of the films in this three-part affair. And no, you will NOT be needing formula or talcum powder as we proceed…

The It’s Alive Trilogy directed by Larry CohenIT’S ALIVE!

Lots of parents call their children “little monsters,” but few of them with more cause than Frank and Lenore Davis in Larry Cohen’s 1974 offering It’s Alive! The Davis’ 10-pound, mutated bundle of hell has fangs, claws and one helluva temper, you see, and its first act as a newborn is to brutally slay the entire delivery team in the hospital! As compared to filmdom’s other famous mutant infant, the one in David Lynch’s 1978 film Eraserhead, I’d have to say that the Davis spawn is much worse. Lynch’s baby merely looked grotesque and cried incessantly, whereas Cohen’s manages to locomote himself all over L.A. and kill anyone he meets up with! Anyway, while this film has some good elements going for it, it remains something of a mixed bag. John Ryan is particularly fine as the father with conflicted feelings, and Bernard Herrmann contributes yet another wonderfully moody score that aids immeasurably in punching the film across.

But the picture has one tremendous problem, I feel; namely, that we hardly ever get to see Jr.! What few shots there are, are partial glimpses at best, and seen in darkened basements and sewer tunnels or obscured by shrubbery. Yes, we see numerous POV shots via Jr.’s ground-level double vision, but blessed little of mama’s little darling himself. This is no Val Lewton “power of suggestion” movie; if you’re gonna shove gory killings in my face, Larry, then at least show me the monster, or at least one good establishing head shot thereof! A definitive explanation for Jr.’s condition, and how he is able to find his parents’ house in all of L.A., would have been nice, too. Still, unsatisfied as I was left, I was still curious enough to take a look at Parts 2 and 3…

The It’s Alive Trilogy directed by Larry CohenThe It’s Alive Trilogy directed by Larry CohenIT LIVES AGAIN

Larry Cohen’s original mutant-baby movie, It’s Alive! (1974), was an intermittently entertaining film that ultimately frustrated the bejeebers out of me due to the fact that we hardly ever get to see the monster in it. In Cohen’s follow-up, It Lives Again (1978), which I was sufficiently curious to check out, we have a definite improvement. The film has more gravitas than the original, not to mention three times the mutants, and yes, we do get to see them more. Here, John Ryan returns as Frank Davis, father of the original little bundle of hell, but now he is on a quest to help prospective parents deliver their mutant progeny uninterrupted by the Feds, who only want to slay them at birth. The film focuses on one Tucson couple that has just delivered a little monster, and the pressures they undergo from without (Feds, cops) and within (emotional and sexual problems). Cohen manages the difficult task of making us sympathize with the lovelorn mutant babies at the same time that he makes us fear them (no easy task), and a (posthumous) Bernard Herrmann score, reworked by The Avengers alumnus Laurie Johnson, adds greatly to the suspense.

The It’s Alive Trilogy directed by Larry CohenIT’S ALIVE 3: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE

Not quite as good, IMHO, is Cohen’s It’s Alive 3: Island of the Alive (1987), in which Michael Moriarty, another mutant-baby dada, joins a team of scientists to see “what’s become of the babies” (a nod to my fellow Deadheads out there!) who have been marooned on a desert island for the past five years. This is easily the wildest, most way-out entry of the trilogy, in which we get to see the infants as full-grown children and learn that age has not improved their temperaments much. The picture manages to conflate court trials, island adventure, a side trip to Cuba, punk rockers, bikers, and a mutant invasion of the Florida mainland into one crazy mishmash of a film. It also features wild humor, better FX than the previous two, and nice (Hawaiian) photography, and I suppose is required viewing for everyone who wants to see baby grow up…

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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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  1. Oh, ick, these are too creepy!

    • Sandy Ferber /

      Just keep telling yourself: It’s only a movie, it’s only a movie….

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