[Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)]
The first franchise being reviewed here is Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive Trilogy which has been given a Blu-Ray boxset release. Today, we’re looking at the trilogy’s second installment; It’s Alive 2: It Lives Again!
As mentioned previously, the original It’s Alive (1974) was a hit for Warner Bros. However, being a box-office boffo was not an immediate result for the film. Unlike today, movies weren’t generally given a wide-release right off the bat. To the contrary, most films were “Platformed.” A platform release is when a movie is released in some regions of the country, followed by other areas. After a certain amount of time, films that performed well on their initial platform runs would be re-released and usually given a wide or at least wider distribution. It was only after having had several successful platform theatrical runs that Larry Cohen (God Told Me To) convinced WB to give It’s Alive a nationwide release. After agreeing to do so, the flick proved to be a smash hit. So much so that even before the movie’s wide-release in 1975 had concluded, the studio reached out to Cohen; offering him the opportunity to do a follow-up. Not surprisingly, the writer/director/producer jumped at the chance. He already had something in mind; having teased it at the end of It’s Alive.
Picking up mere months after its predecessor, It’s Alive 2: It Lives Again is a direct sequel that finds Frank Davis (John P. Ryan) in San Francisco. With his wife safe back at home, Frank has a new mission in life. That being to help couples expecting a mutant baby. One such pair is Eugene (Frederic Forrest) and Jody (Kathleen Lloyd) Scott. Frank explains to The Scotts that not only is their impending infant most likely a mutant, its life is also at risk. You see, an epidemic of mutant births is sweeping the country; as such the government and local police are executing the mutant babies upon delivery. With or without the consent of the parents. Sure enough, the Scotts do give birth to a mutant who immediately attacks a doctor. Now, the Scotts, their baby, Frank, and the group of scientists from the previous film must evade the police. The opposition is of course led by Mr. Mallory (John Marley) expounding on his role from the original movie. Adding to these stakes, we soon find that there are two orphaned mutant babies as well.
It’s Alive 2 does an excellent job of setting its tone immediately. As with its predecessor, the same beautiful, dark cinematography is once again employed. The opening credits are presented as we look at a shot of a wall covered by the shadow of a pram (baby carriage). Once again, utilizing Bernard Hermann’s (Taxi Driver) original score (posthumously at that point in time); Cohen lets the viewer know that this sequel will be a reasonably dark ride. With this second installment, Cohen does precisely what one with a follow-up. He takes the original concept and expands upon it. In doing so, he also furthers his allegory of the potential horrors of parenthood and childbirth.
Adding to that allegory, Cohen also examines the complexities, not only of abortion versus pro-choice opinions, but also the potential of parents having their child taken away by an overly powerful government agency. Now mind you, those allegorical themes are all under the surface. When it comes down to it, It’s Alive 2 is ultimately still just a fun exploitation film, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But perhaps the most exciting aspect of this sequel is that it’s a multi-genre picture. Like many of its contemporaries of the time, It Lives Again isn’t just a horror flick. It is also a paranoid political thriller; which I thought added a nice layer to everything. Granted, it’s not quite the genre hop that say House of 1,000 Corpses (2003) to The Devil’s Rejects (2005) is, but it doesn’t need to be either.
Now, while you’ve read the praise I have for this film, it’s by no means perfect. This picture focuses more on the characters of The Scotts and Mr. Mallory to keep things fresh. Whereas Frank was the protagonist of the first film, he has a supporting role here. While I appreciated the changing of protagonists, I did find one small problem with it. Frankly, I find the character of Eugene Scott to be nearly insufferable. Now, that’s no fault of actor Frederic Forrest (Apocalypse Now), who portrays Eugene. Forrest turns in a good performance, it’s just that his character is a jerk for the majority of this movie. Thus, I found it difficult to root for the character. Beyond that, the slow pace that added to the original film’s atmosphere just feels a bit laborious this time around. Lastly, Cohen makes a small and classic franchise mistake by thinking more is better. Aside from multiplying the monsters, he shows more of them. By doing this, the horror and mystique of the mutant babies is severely reduced. Though, it should be noted that Cohen realizes as much; albeit, in retrospect.
In the end, It’s Alive 2: It Lives Again is not as good as the movie that came before it. However, it’s a worthy and entertaining follow-up. As mentioned earlier, this movie does everything a sequel should. By successfully building and expanding its story, the second installment manages to create a franchise. Thereby, I declare it to be a successful Franchise Expansion!
As with the previous disc reviewed for this set, It’s Alive 2: It Lives Again has been given a gorgeous restoration from the original negative by Shout/Scream Factory. Once again, the picture is presented in full 1080p, and it looks fantastic! All those dark and muddy colors of the 70s are wonderfully preserved in this transfer. The film’s audio track is also given a nice upgrade. Lastly, this Blu-Ray also features reversible cover-art.
Now, as for the Special Features:
Audio Commentary with Writer/Producer/Director Larry Cohen – The auteur once again delivers an informative and entertaining commentary. However, I couldn’t but occasionally notice large gaps of silence. As you might imagine, that breaks the momentum of the track a bit.
Theatrical Trailer – While this trailer does have a vintage quality; it suffers a bit in that it shows too much of the film in my opinion. Sound familiar?
Still Gallery – Lastly, this disc again features a still gallery. Consisting of thirty or so black and white stills, this is a nice enough addition.
Yes, this release is a bit lacking in the Special Features department. Despite that fact, I feel it’s still worth the purchase as this movie is worth seeing! Of course, it helps that this film is (currently) only available in the It’s Alive Trilogy Box-Set from Scream Factory.
THE IT’S ALIVE TRILOGY BOX-SET IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY-RAY EVERYWHERE!
Join me next time for the third installment in Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): IT’S ALIVE III: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE!