It Lives Again
The 'It's Alive' Baby is back... Only now there are three of them.
Year of Release: 1978
Also Known As: It's Alive II
Running Time: 91 minutes (1:31)
Director: Larry Cohen
Frederic Forrest ... Eugene Scott
Kathleen Lloyd ... Jody Scott
John P. Ryan ... Frank Davis
John Marley ... Mr. Mallory
Andrew Duggan ... Dr. Perry
Eddie Constantine ... Dr. Forest
James Dixon ... Det. Lt. Perkins
Dennis O'Flaherty ... Dr. Peters
Greg Cannom ... Baby Monster (uncredited)
This is the fourth in a series of flicks I'm reviewin' in tribute to the ten guys that I feel made the biggest, and in some cases, most important contributions to the Horror genre, and this week's hat-tipping goes to Larry Cohen for his uncanny ability to craft the most outrageous, absurd premises and keep them totally grounded in reality. Dow Jones up +127, child rescued from a well in Topeka, giant prehistoric reptile nesting in the Chrysler Building - that was Larry.
Frederic Forrest and Kathleen Lloyd star as the loving parents of a monstrous mutant the government would rather see dead than alive. John Ryan reprises his It's Alive role as the courageous father who helps the new parents evade government officials and hide the child with two similar creatures in a shelter run by a well-meaning but inept scientist.
Parental love and good intentions are no match, however, for the viciousness of these hell-spawn babes, who escape to embark on a wild blood binge that can only be stopped one way... if Forrest and Lloyd set themselves up as bait for their own child.
Will the next stage of human evolution become our species' murderous, survival-of-the-fittest last? You'll have to see the heartstopping conclusion of It Lives Again to find out. But be warned: Only the fit will survive.
It Lives Again, remindin' us that there're times in the delivery room when ya gotta skip the spankin' and go straight to the S.W.A.T.
And speakin' of rhythmic slaps you'll live to regret, it's that time of year when all the mothers out there get greedy and decide we owe 'em somethin' 'cause they got gonged on Purple Hooter Shooters one night at the bowlin' alley and squeezed into the backseat of a Yugo with a guy wearin' a sleeveless Female Body Inspector shirt. I spoze if you wanna get technical about it, Bambi Mastrude came by this condition in the bathroom stall at the Prime Creek theater durin' a screenin' of Twilight, but I'd never tell 'er kids that 'cause that's the kinda revelation some people never come back from.
I only bring this up because Bambi's two kids who aren't currently servin' time in juvie for assaultin' a man in a Santa Claus costume set their sights on a gift that they could neither afford nor carry off under the cover of night, and when they came to me for help with those pitiful, pimple-caked faces I just couldn't say no. That, and Harley had me covered with a wrist rocket at the time.
"This is not how adults conduct business, you two," I asserted, tryin' to avoid settin' 'em off.
"Yeah, well, we're not adults," Harley grinned, showin' off his contempt for dental hygiene.
"True enough. But if you think Sheriff Hardassian's gonna pass up the opportunity to try you that way you really oughta think about wearin' a battin' helmet for Little League this year," I suggested.
After a brief conference with his brother Harley lowered the slingshot and we were able to discuss their dilemma like civilized people.
"We wanna get mom a present for Mother's Day, but that RETARD next door won't sell it to us," Rowdy summarized, reflexively clinching his right hand into a fist.
"So? Whaddya want me to do? Go stick 'im up and risk gettin' arrested for armed commerce?" I asked.
"Will you? We can go borrow Grandpa's truck and get you outta there WAY before the cops show up," Harley promised.
"Just what'n hell is this present you think Bambi can't live without anyway? You kids find one of Flea's stage-worn socks or somethin'?" I prodded.
They insisted that once I saw this marvelous idol for myself I'd agree with their assessment, so I hung the "back in 5 minutes" sign up at the Videodome and they took me over to Lunk's Trunks of Fantastic Junk to show me what it was that was gonna revolutionize Bambi's life as a sentient sofa cushion. Turns out Lunk had gone to one of those storage unit auctions and won himself a buncha shredded campin' gear, a nest of rats big enough to debone Ernest Borgnine, and an authentic gavel used by Ed Koch on The People's Court safely entombed inside a glass display case.
It mighta been the first time in my life that I'd been simultaneously impressed and depressed at the same time, but whatever else you wanna say about those boys - they love their mama, and if I could figure out some scheme to schmooze Lunk outta that gavel it would certainly become Bambi's prize possession right behind the reputations of every guy she's diddled.
"Alright, I admit it - that's probably the best gift she could hope to receive even if she lived to be 100 and married Rupert Murdoch. I'm not disputin' that. But what do you expect me to do? You shoulda came and got me yesterday before I put my last $8 into Tawny Sissel's g-string at Walleye's Topless Dancin' & Bait Shop last night," I shrugged.
"Mom told us that you're the weaseliest, sneakiest, fast-talker in town, and that if we ever got into a pickle to come and find you," Rowdy explained, watchin' Lunk watch us with one hand on the loose piano leg he keeps under the counter.
"That's touchingly insulting," I chuckled, leanin' back against a pillar adorned with stolen street signs to have a think.
Lunk was askin' $50 for the gavel and between the three of us we managed $12.48 after I went rootin' through the Topaz' ashtray, but any way ya slice it I could tell Lunk was not in the mood to haggle from the way he put his fist through an old Apple II monitor after losin' a game of Solitaire. I prolly coulda talked 'im down $20 if those kids hadn't tipped their hands and left their acne grease smeared all over the display case, but that was water under the bridge, and it was clear that gettin' this deal closed was gonna require a little finesse.
"I've got an idea, but first we get a few things straight," I began.
Harley and Rowdy nodded expectantly.
"I owe your mom a favor for gettin' me outta that mess with the Redbox machine that went missin' a couple months back. So if I get this prop for you she and I are even, and you two owe ME a favor, understand?" I posited.
Harley stifled a giggle.
"It's not missing - it's in the river," he smirked.
"Figured that was you. Pretty smart to trash somethin' that'd be immediately traced to someone else; not so smart to turn around and claim credit, though," I scolded.
"Come on, man, you hated that thing," Rowdy deflected.
"True. And since you probably used Abel's truck to drag it," I paused, allowing a moment for them to offer a brief nod of acknowledgment. "Hardassian probably wouldn't have been able to pin it on me. Nonetheless, you're the reason I owe your ma' a favor to begin with, so when we're done here she and I are square, and you two JV hoodlums owe me TWO favors," I leveraged.
"Nice goin' dumbshit," Rowdy growled, layin' a shot into Harley's shoulder.
"Ow! Son of a bitch! My tattoo's still healin', asswad," Harley whined, barely resisting the urge to rub the location.
"Well?" I waited.
"Yeah," Rowdy agreed.
"Fine," Harley affirmed.
It's situations like this where a guy's compulsive hoarding disorder really comes in handy, 'cause now all I hadda do was find somethin' I could pass off as a collector's item to trade for the gavel, and after rummagin' through the attic awhile I found just the ticket - an old toy pistol I'd been holdin' onto as collateral since 1978 after Opie Boehm couldn't pay the 53 cents he lost pitchin' pennies durin' recess.
I figured I could convince Lunk of its tremendous value on the Antiques Roadshow circuit given all the nostalgic boomers who long for the days when you could refer to women as "sweet cheeks" without fear of cancelation, and so I ran back to the Topaz before the boys' ADD took hold and took 'em joyridin' down I-84 and we squealed on outta there to present Lunk with our artifact.
"Normally I'd never sell it, but these kids have their heart set on buyin' that gavel for their mom," I explained.
Lunk paused his examination of the toy to fire a pellet at one of the rats that'd made the journey along with his storage unit bounty and grunted somethin' unintelligible.
"She's takin' the cancellation of The People's Court and Judge Mathis pretty hard, and if I'm bein' totally honest, I'm afraid she may do somethin' rash when she finds out Jerry Springer kicked the bucket," I said gravely.
Lunk looked at the zap gun and then back at the gavel one more time.
"I reckon that's fine. Here," Lunk agreed, passin' the gavel to Rowdy.
"You boys thank Lunk, now," I instructed.
"Thanks, man," Harley nodded.
"Yeah, thanks," Rowdy waved as we left the buildin'.
Three days later Lunk sold what turned out to be a Buck Rogers "Atomic Disintegrator" on Ebay for $475 and I've been so depressed ever since that when Bambi came by to "thank" me for my part in securin' her gift I couldn't even muster the strength to fight 'er off.
Apparently I handle the various stages of grief differently than some, 'cause after I got done feelin' sorry for myself I got so P.O.'d that I thought about cashin' in my two favors and instructin' Harley and Rowdy to pound the tar outta each other before ultimately realizin' that'd be throwin' good money after bad. Instead, I decided to channel my anger constructively, so I spent the evenin' shotgunnin' Larry Cohen's mutant baby trilogy and tearin' apart a WWF Ultimate Warrior Wrestling Buddy until I went and checked Ebay to see what those were goin' for and hadda go have a manly cry in the backyard. Don't worry though, it was nothin' eight cans of Pole Cat couldn't fix.
The flicks helped a lot though, 'cause as mosta you know, the best way to stop feelin' bad about your mistakes is to watch somebody else make the exact same mistake you made in a way that makes your screw-up seem quaint by comparison. I mean, sure, I tried helpin' out some kids and got my finances rearranged, but the guys tryna protect them mutant babies? The doctors're still tryna scrape all the chunks of face out from under those kids' fingernails. Food for thought to be sure. And in case you're still hungry, I've got three more informational morsels you can expect to see prepared to perfection by the late, great Larry Cohen. Bon appetit.
First, sometimes pro life means pro death. Second, sometimes pro choices come back to bite you on the ass. And third, sometimes it's fun to throw those smug obstetricians at Planned Parenthood a curve ball.
The movie begins with the monster baby daddy from the first flick (Frank) crashin' a baby shower to tell this couple (Gene and Jody) they're bein' surveilled by Child Rejective Services and that he's got some insider in-utero info suggestin' their fetus has Miley Cyrus Syndrome and that it's lookin' like wreckin' ball city for the delivery room. He goes on to warn 'em that if they try deliverin' in a regular hospital the feds're gonna perform an extremely late-term abortion before it can add to the nation's medical staffing shortage before shiftin' gears and explainin' how everybody only ever talks about the downside of havin' a baby you can only breastfeed once. It seems Franky's workin' with a coupla sympathetic doctors from Gilead (Forest and De Silva) who've constructed a mobile delivery room in the back of a Uhaul, only later that night when the little Vaginasaurus Rex monster starts playin' bounce house in Jody's uterus Gene tries phonin' Frank and he misses the call 'cause a buncha hippies in the motel room next door are droppin' acid rock. So now Gene and Jody have no choice but to drive to the normie hospital for women not carryin' ovarian terrors, and when they get there every cop in Tuscon's waitin' with their service revolvers drawn like they've been tipped off about a family of illegals plannin' to drop an anchor baby.
Meanwhile, Frank tries callin' Jody and when he doesn't get an answer he gets this look on his face like a Heisman Trophy winner who's just been drafted by the Cleveland Browns and goes barrelin' toward the hospital after givin' instructions to Forest and De Silva to pull the Pontiac Lamaze up to the emergency entrance. Then Frank gains access to the obstetrician (Mallory) with the help of consulting physicians Smith and Wesson and he tells Mallory that Jody and Gene would like a second opinion and that he'd best not to try anything funny or the last thing he sees bein' expelled from a body is gonna be the bullet exiting his authoritarian aorta. Frank makes Mallory drive the getaway clinic at gunpoint until Jody's slaughter breaks and next thing ya know the amniotic neurotic mauls De Silva before they can get it safely locked in its post-natal prison cell. The cops set up a roadblock at the nearest offramp but by that time Gene, Forest, and the cervical vertebreaker've already made their escape in a Volkswagen van and headed for L.A. so they can take Jody's beast infection to a top-secret Montessori nursery where two other little gaunch goblins're hidin' out from the paparazzi. While all that's goin' on, Jody's stuck at home with 'er battleaxe mother who's scared shitless that word's gonna leak out about the Cletus fetus and cost 'er her parkin' spot at the country club, and so mama has no choice but to cahoot with the feds and ends up plantin' a trackin' device in Jody's purse right before she hops on an underground railroad Greyhound set up to whisk the mothers of oppressed mutant minorities to safehouses in the Hollywood Hills.
Eventually Jody arrives at the clandestine head start facility and the three womb raiders (Adam, Eve, and Scott) take such a likin' to 'er that when she goes to bed they get P.O.'d and little Adam ends up usin' the administrator's neck for a teethin' ring when the guy tries to burp 'im. Then Adam springs the entire cell block and Scott crawls upstairs to get a change, only he goes to the wrong room and hasta clear cut Dr. Forest. By this point Gene and Jody're havin' a hard time adjustin' to what all this means for their relationship, so Gene heads outside for a swim until the pool lights turn off and Eve tries makin' 'im do the deadman float. Gene's sex life flashes before his eyes and it's lookin' like he's about to complete his tour of drown town until the feds bust in and unload their clips into the pool and throw the baby out with the bathwater. They think they've smothered the situation in its crib until they find the three cages in the basement, but by the time they can put Adam down for his dirt nap Frank's scooped Scott up and fled into the sticks where he runs into a night watchman who shines his flashlight into Baby Chewy's eyes and gets 'im so hacked off that the situation ends with a Frank breech. By mornin' Gene decides he's had it with his ungrateful offspring bitin' the hand that breastfeeds 'im, and he volunteers to crash at a nearby mountain retreat with Jody to try lurin' the ravenous runt into rifle range for a little postpartum ingestion. I'm gonna call it quits right here before either movie or baby suffer any further spoilage, but if you've got friends or relatives on Facebook who insist on showin' off pictures of their ugly-ass babies you know this flick isn't gonna end with the parents killin' their crotch critter in cold blood, so expect additional developments.
Alrighty, well, call me crazy, uncultured, unkempt, and the guy voted most likely to be escorted outta McDonald's for makin' a scene over the price of Boo Buckets, but I think It Lives Again blows It's Alive outta the water. I understand that sayin' this in public is like circulatin' a petition for the return of New Coke in the soda aisle of the Safeway, but I'm always gonna vote for the flick where mutant babies conspire to murder their home school instructors over the psychological portrait of a couple traumatized by their miscalculation and expectations about family life in modern America. It Lives Again owes its existence to Larry Cohen's unwillingness to accept the poor box office performance of the original flick and his endless badgering of the studio executives at Warner who, he felt, failed to adequately promote It's Alive in 1974. This continuous griping eventually convinced Warner to rerelease it in 1977 with a bigger ad campaign and this time it made a killing; prompting the company to sign on for a sequel that would go into production on the heels of the original film's successful theatrical rerelease.
It Lives Again was a sequel with the rare opportunity to outshine its predecessor on the basis that the original flick was kinda slow and didn't deliver as much mutant baby action as some of us would have liked. Fortunately, the premise was so intriguing that when the sequel was announced audiences were still on board regardless of whether or not their appetite for psycho toddlers had been satisfied during round one and, like all good sequels, now that the cat was outta the bag and there was no further need to build up to a reveal, Cohen was able to cut loose and hit us with more of his trademark lunacy. He was a one-of-a-kind filmmaker, followingly closely behind Cronenberg and Lynch in terms of the pure, uncut insanity he brought to his films, yet Cohen managed to keep his absurd premises grounded in reality in a way that made them more accessible than his aforementioned peers -- whose movies often feel as though they're taking place in another dimension separate from our own -- and it is that bizarre brand of authenticity and sincerity that ensure Larry's flicks will endure.
Didn't mean to eulogize the guy like that but it's kinda unfair how Cronenberg and Lynch have become household names by bein' 15% stranger than Larry, whose personage seems to be relegated strictly to the horror community. In any event, it's about time we let these barbaric bambinos outta their cribs to see if they can stand on their own two feet.
The plot, or at least the concept, obviously couldn't have the same impact the second time around, but what it may lack in that respect it more than makes up for in superior pacing and in the exploration of what these gnarly little yard monsters mean for the evolution of mankind. Where It's Alive spent a lot of time trying to pin down a cause, It Lives Again moves the story forward by examining man's reaction and determinations about how this epidemic should be handled in what is essentially a pro-choice scenario where the script has been flipped and the woman fighting to keep her baby is being harassed and threatened by people seeking to see it killed; albeit for reasons of public security rather than a desire to impose their theocratic will over others. I may be completely alone in this, but I think Cohen's script finds a balance between telling the story of parents stricken by a nightmare brought to life and the first-hand effects of that nightmare in a way that It's Alive didn't, and although it could be argued that the sequel would have benefited from a few momentary pauses for reflection, I like the way the story hits the ground running and never lets up.
The acting is decent, if a bit subdued in light of the situation the characters find themselves in. I suppose in a world where patricidal/matricidal offspring are being born with some regularity it makes sense that both medical staff and government officials have seen enough of it as to be largely unmoved, but Kathleen Lloyd seems to be the only character in the flick who's especially alarmed by the proceedings. Frederic Forrest gets suitably animated in the well-staged sequences where he and Lloyd begin to grasp the fact that it's gonna take more than marriage counseling to fix their problems, but John P. Ryan, as a consequence of both the script and the "been there, done that" nature of his character comes across as dull. Seems like the script would have benefited from a character actor with a semi-crazy fanatical stance on the issue to liven things up a bit from time to time - like a Mary Woronov or a Brad Dourif; someone a little disreputable but dedicated, who could pop in and make everyone real uncomfortable between stoic infant assessment sequences. There is one scene that feels a bit shoehorned in just to add the (admittedly great) visual of a gnarly claw mark embedded in a children's birthday cake, and I mention it only because it's a gratuitous unforced error that leads to some pretty abysmal acting from a group of children attending a birthday party, but beyond that, the acting is perfectly competent if not especially thrilling.
Here's who matters and why: Frederic Forrest (Trauma 1993, Return 1985), Kathleen Lloyd (The Uninvited 1996, The Craft, The Car 1977), John P. Ryan (Class of 1999, It's Alive 1974, Futureworld), John Marley (The Car 1977, Deathdream, The Dead Are Alive!), Andrew Duggan (A Return to Salem's Lot, Frankenstein Island, A Fire in the Sky 1978, The Time Machine 1978, It's Alive 1974), Eddie Constantine (Alphaville, Blood Relations 1977), James Dixon (The Stuff, Q: The Winged Serpent, A Return to Salem's Lot, Maniac Cop 1 & 2, Wicked Stepmother, It's Alive 1974, It's Alive III, Full Moon High, God Told Me To), Dennis O'Flaherty (Capricon One), Melissa Inger (Full Moon High), Jill Gatsby (The Ambulance, Class of 1999, Vampire's Kiss, Maniac Cop, A Return to Salem's Lot, It's Alive III, Full Moon High), Bobby Ramsen (A Return to Salem's Lot, It's Alive III, God Told Me To), Alex Baker (Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker).
Larry always had a way of conning accomplished actors into appearin' in his pictures, and those folks' credits are as follows: Frederic Forrest (Jay Hicks in Apocalypse Now, Mark in The Conversation, Dyer in The Rose), Kathleen Lloyd (Jesse Rogan on Equal Justice, Carol Baldwin on Magnum P.I.), John Marley (Phil in Love Story, Richard Forst in Faces 1968, Jack Woltz in The Godfather, Frankie Ballou in Cat Ballou, Vince Bannister on Three Stops to Heaven), John P. Ryan (Mickey Malnato in Bound, Warden Rankin in Runaway Train, Mr. O' Rourke in Three O'Clock High, Kennedy in The Postman Always Rings Twice, and the voice of Buzz Bronski in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm), Andrew Duggan (Col. William Henderson in Seven Days in May), Eddie Constantine (Col. Harris in Europa).
The special effects are noticeably improved over those of its predecessor, particularly where it concerns the mutant rugrats; same general construction and design, but with much better puppeteering and a few more years experience under the belt of returning effects creator Rick Baker. Cohen's confidence in the quality of Baker's design (and presumably improved budget) shows in his willingness to give the creatures a bit more screentime, and the effective use of silhouetting helps to supplement them when they're offscreen. The volume and consistency of the blood is largely unchanged, with only small amounts of the thick, paint-like substance appearing briefly on the kids' victims. Still, despite not getting the amount of screen time the quality of the effects allowed for, we do get more than we'd become accustomed to, and this boosts both the film's production value and audience satisfaction.
The shooting locations are adequate but ordinary, with the bulk of the movie taking place inside Forrest and Lloyd's residence, and later, the plush estate that serves as the monster sanctuary. I thought the hospital in the first flick had a better aesthetic, but the sequel compensates for that minor deficiency with the addition of the mobile delivery truck which, conceptually, is pretty absurd, yet in practice is both impressive and believable. The gratuitous children's birthday party leads to a game of hide-and-seek that takes place on a brushy hillside overlooking Tuscon - though this location's only real significance lies in the opportunity it grants to show the babies poking their heads up from behind downed logs. My favorite location is probably the old motel located off a patch of dirt where John Ryan crashes awaiting Kathleen Lloyd's delivery date, 'cause it absolutely screams Southwest roach motel and gives the flick some much-needed geographical grounding. Really, this story could have been set anywhere, but because they took the time to show a road sign that nails it down I think the film would have benefited from a few more shots that drive that point home.
The soundtrack, like Cohen's first outing with snarly goo monsters, was composed by Bernard Herrmann, and while it features a lot of that same bombastic brass from the first flick, his scoring for the sequel introduces a creepy synthesizer that helps bring it up to speed in terms of the sound that was becoming popular for genre movies of the era. You'll probably notice the horn sections and their similarity to those Herrmann had composed previously for the original Twilight Zone and the melodic string pieces for which he is best known as well, but that synthesizer really gives the score a shot in the arm and boosts the atmosphere. It's a bit snappier and everything clicks just fine, though admittedly, it's not especially catchy and probably isn't the kinda soundtrack you'd be likely to rush out and buy on vinyl. I mean, except for you guys who hafta own every horror soundtrack on vinyl. I'm not gonna name names, but you know who you are.
Overall, It Lives Again is a worthy sequel to Cohen's twisted take on Rosemary's Baby and another fine cinematic adventure through the sacred cow slaughterhouse. I've always thought that It's Alive was just a tad melodramatic when compared to Cohen's subsequent titles and that his films often benefited from a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor. Regardless, if there's ever a Mount Rushmore of horror weirdos from the '70s and '80s to be carved from the side of a sacred mountain range, it'd be incomplete without Mr. Cohen, and his warning about the dangers of jumpin' into parenthood ill-prepared resonates just as well today as it did in '78, so be sure to check it out marathon style with its companion pieces.