Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): Island Of The Alive

by Ben Martin

[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 III: Island of the Alive!

The Movie:
Unlike its predecessors, the third and final film in Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive Trilogy; It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987), had more of an organic development than its predecessors. The original It’s Alive (1974) and its sequel, It’s Alive 2: It Lives Again (1978) seemed to be projects of spontaneous development. As a result, they also seemed to be passion projects for writer/director Larry Cohen (Wicked Stepmother). On the other hand, Island of the Alive was a film made out of opportunity; not necessarily inspiration. By the time the late 80s rolled around Warner Bros. and Cohen had a successful working relationship for years.
Thus, Cohen went to the studio with a passion for a property WB owned. He pitched them his idea for a remake of the studio’s horror-classic, House of Wax (1953). Alas, The Brothers Warner ultimately rejected the writer/director’s pitch. (Although House of Wax did eventually receive the remake treatment in 2005.) However, Cohen was offered a sort of consolation prize as the studio wanted him to do a movie for their (at that time new) direct-to-video distribution line. Cohen was happy to do so for the studio, but with a catch. He convinced Warners that it would be more cost-efficient for them to let him use the same crew to make two films for their direct-to-video division. The studio agreed and allowed Cohen to shoot A Return to Salem’s Lot and of course It’s Alive III back-to-back. Both sequels ended up receiving a limited theatrical run in May 1987, followed by home video releases.
In making this third installment, Cohen wanted to do something a little different. In doing so, the following was Cohen’s approach, according to the writer/director himself:
I thought if I was going to make a third movie, I had to follow this story through to some kind of new and satisfying resolution. So, I asked myself some questions: What are these babies like as adults? What is the monster going to look like when it physically develops and ages? I thought those were important questions to answer and deal with. Otherwise, there was no point in making the movie if I was just going to have a load of monster babies running around again, killing people.In the third film, we got all of the monster birth stuff out of the way in the prologue and gave the audience their horror. The rest of the movie was more of an exploration of Jarvis’ character and the progress of the monster children. I thought that differentiation from the events of the previous pictures made Island of the Alive a worthwhile project.

By taking such an approach, this film is much different than the two that came before it. Island of the Alive starts with an interesting enough idea. While the mutant baby epidemic has slowed-down, it is still occuring. As such, one father of a mutant baby is a commercial actor, Stephen Jarvis (Michael Moriarty). While his baby does “Scare the shit out of him,” Jarvis does not believe the infant should be killed or be experimented upon like some guinea pig. To prove as much, Jarvis takes a case and his baby to the courts. The ruling of said case agrees with Jarvis and offers a compromise. Any mutant infants currently in existence or born in the future will be exiled to a deserted tropical island. There, these mutant, murderous babies can grow and live in peace and without human contact. This solution works well until a research expedition, which includes daddy Jarvis, to the island to check the mutants progress goes awry.

At one point in his commentary for this movie, Larry Cohen mentions that his approach to storytelling and filmmaking has changed over the years. Specifically, he talks about how he’s become more improvisational. Well, the changes in this filmmaker are quite apparent when looking at Island of the Alive. With the previous two installments of It’s Alive, I felt Cohen found the perfect balance of horror and humor. All the while, injecting those pictures with multiple doses of allegory. Sadly, he throws such a balanced approach out the window with this movie. Granted, the writer/director does attempt to make this film just as allegorical as the ones that preceded it. He looks at another aspect of parentage and potential government interference. Furthermore, Cohen was timely in explicitly making Island of the Alive an allegory for the AIDS epidemic of the era. Unfortunately, these allegories simply fall-flat; getting lost in the shuffle of total schlock.

Don’t get me wrong me; this flick isn’t utterly devoid of positive aspects. To the contrary, it’s still a good-looking film. However, it does abandon it’s dark and moody visuals this time around. As such, the film goes from visually being horror topical to all-out tropical. Island of the Alive is also front-loaded with decent horror and gore. After that though, the remainder of the film becomes silly. To my chagrin, much of this said silliness is boring as opposed to being fun to watch. Of course, the film isn’t helped by the terrible acting of its cast. Most notably, that of leading man, Michael Moriarty (Law & Order). Mr. Moriarty may be quite good in other things if his lengthy and ongoing resume is any indication. However, in this film, I found him nearly unwatchable as each and every one of his line deliveries seemed stilted. It’s clear that whatever balance in tone Cohen was able to also apply to his actors was lost here. I commend Cohen for trying to do something different here; I really do! Alas, for me going from goofy concept horror to straight-up schlock comedy didn’t work for me. As such, I declare It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive to be a Franchise Implosion!

The Blu-Ray
As with the rest of this box-set, Shout/Scream Factory has given Island of Alive a beautiful 1080p transfer; once again from the original negative. Now mind you, this film had a lower-budget than its predecessors, so it doesn’t look as crisp as the other discs in this box-set. Having said that, this is still a wonderful transfer as the sound was also given an upgrade. Now when it comes to special features, you’ll see a theme:
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Larry Cohen – Cohen is quite the raconteur; so once again he delivers an informative commentary track. However, I can’t say it’s as the others contained in the trilogy. I say that because this commentary track contains LARGE gaps of silence.
Interview With Special Effects Makeup Designer Steve Neill- This interview runs about 13 minutes in length and also contains behind-the-scenes stills. Mr. Neill provides an informative, albeit dry, interview about his and Larry Cohen’s long working relationship.
Theatrical Trailer– Once again, I’m a mark for vintage promotional materials. As such, I found this trailer to be a nice addition and a warm reminder of the nascent days of the direct-to-video market.
Still Gallery– As with the previous discs a still gallery closes out the special features. This still gallery contains about 40 still photos which can be viewed as desired. I found many of these stills to both interesting and fun.
Final Thoughts on The Franchise:

Even though I do think the installment reviewed here is a franchise implosion; I do still recommend the It’s Alive Trilogy overall. Particularly to any fan of the genre. Within the hordes of horror; these films are among some of the more unique. And again, the first two-thirds of the trilogy is quite good; containing the perfect mix of horror and fun. In turn, I believe this Blu-Ray box-set is well-worth the purchase. Sure, the set isn’t brimming over with special features. However, this is the best treatment these films will probably ever receive for home video. Thus at a price-point of $34.99 or less, I’d say you get an adequate amount of bang for your buck.


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