I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

It Lives Again

tn_itlivesagainAfter seeing the surprisingly-good-although-probaly-still-shouldn’t-have-been-made remake of IT’S ALIVE, I got to thinking that I’d never seen the sequels to the original. And I was wondering about this ISLAND OF THE ALIVE concept in part 3, so I figured I better get part 2 out of the way first. I wasn’t really sure how you make an exciting sequel to a movie about a killer baby, it’s probaly just gonna be more of the same for the first sequel. Even the title, IT LIVES AGAIN, seems to indicate it’s gonna be a rehash.

mp_itlivesagainBut it’s not. It starts out with a big house party, a baby shower. And as the guests start to leave the happy couple realize that neither of them knows the guy still sitting on the couch – it’s Frank Davis (John P. Ryan), the poor father from part 1, and there’s an uncomfortable social situation when he won’t leave without talking to them. And then they realize they saw him in Time Magazine as the father of “the Davis Baby.”

Frank talks to them about his monster baby and that others like it have been popping up. This was 1978, you remember how it was back then. Cocaine, disco, fear of babies that will eat your throat out. He says the doctors are testing mothers’ blood to find out who might have a mutant bun in the oven. And even now the government has a team on hand to handle it – he points out a guy staking them out from across the street.

But he’s not the crazy old man warning them of a killer in their midst. He feels bad about shooting his baby, and wants to help them protect theirs. When the mother goes into labor it turns out everything Frank said is true – the government is spying on them, the doctors are ready to kill the baby on sight, and Frank has an underground operation in place to fight back. He takes the mother out of the hospital at gunpoint, brings her to a team of doctors in a mobile labor room and then brings the baby to a secret laboratory where they have another baby in a cage.

Man, this is a cool movie. The good guys are trying to save these babies, they’re doing the right thing, they’re very humane, and they’re taking their responsibility as parents seriously. You could see it as a parallel to a parent who finds out their kid is gonna be deformed or disabled or something, and choose to have them anyway, and love them. Or it’s kind of like our version of the “Australianess” I was talking about in DARK AGE and THE HOWLING III, where people try to protect even “monsters” as part of nature. But the unfortunate part is the babies don’t give a fuck if you help them or not. They’re not grateful, they’ll betray their parents at the drop of a hat. They have claws. They have sharp teeth. They’ll fuck you up. I’m not sure if they ever explain how anybody can change their diapers, it seems like that would be hard.

I’m not sure what this movie says about abortion. Again, there is a pretty strong argument for aborting these particular babies. On the other hand the way the government tries to kill the babies seems like a paranoid right wing fantasy straight out of some nutbag’s anti-Obama political cartoons. But I don’t think it’s seriously arguing that this is the world we live in. It’s just getting drama out of a crazy situation that would happen in a world of killer babies. You will believe a baby can kill.

When the father is first taken to the lab where the babies are kept in cages he seems to regret his decision. Except for a little back-of-the-head shot the babies are kept off screen for this scene. You just hear their gawd awful catfight wailing and see the look on dad’s face. He looks as uncomfortable as David Thewlis did on the Island of Dr. Moreau. When you do see the babies later on the effects are great. The claw closeups are still kinda silly but when they show the head it looks great, a little baby Chucky kind of dude crawling around. One of them gets loose and attacks a kid’s outdoor birthday party (see poster).

There’s also a bunch of cool subterfuge involved in the underground baby protecting organization. The mother gets picked up by a fake city bus and taken to safety. Meanwhile the government are sneaking around trying to find her. There’s a meeting that takes place at a showing of ENTER THE DRAGON. This scene is not very believable though because the people in the crowd look completely unimpressed and disinterested in the movie.

By the way, TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE director of photography Daniel Pearl is credited for “additional photography.” I’m not sure how much of the movie he did, but Larry Cohen explains on the commentary track how he shot the opening credits in Cohen’s swimming pool.

This is a great sequel. It builds on the concepts of the first one, the world-wide implications of what happened. It’s not just more killer babies, it’s what would happen after killer babies. It ups the ante, it goes where you don’t expect. I think I kind of like it better than the first one.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, July 23rd, 2009 at 11:17 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

24 Responses to “It Lives Again”

  1. Wow, I have to see these movies, I didn’t even know they existed, shame on me

  2. I’ll be really interested to see what you think of the third one Vern, while I enjoyed it, I though it was a bit of a letdown, where the fantastic premise never really materialises.

    Larry Cohen is a really fascinating writer/director, and I urge any one with an interest to get hold of Incredibley Strange Films on Re/Search to read a fantastic and lengthy interview with him.

  3. “You will believe a baby can kill.”

    Classic.

  4. I second the Larry Cohen love. Q: The Winged Serpent is one the two or three best B-movies of all time in my opinion, and God Told Me To is hands-down the greatest of all the killer jesus movies. Also, The Stuff is some pretty awesome satire, and now that you mention it, Bone is not too shabby, either. There’s no getting around it: I love me some Larry Cohen.

  5. Vern… I almost interpret these movies as a commentary on addiction or mental illness, rather than abortion. The right thing to do always seems to be to save your family member, no matter what. But once they cross a certain point, its might also be dangerous and irresponsible to not hand them over to the authorities. A killer baby is like someone in the grips of a strong addiction — they’re still the body of a person you have to love, but you can’t argue with them, can’t reason with them, can’t trust them, and can’t control them. Sure, the first thing you think of is to hide them from the government in an underground lab where you try to cure them. But what if they can’t be cured? How long can you try before the risk to everyone else is unacceptable? I mean, the government’s plan seems cruel, but if the father hadn’t saved those babies, they never would have gotten out, caused havoc, eaten people, etc. Killing babies saves lives. I kinda hope it IS what Obama would do under these circumstances. I guess to me, then, these killer baby movies are about whether sometimes doing the wrong thing is the only moral choice… or, conversely, if the only way to do right is to protect your family, even if that means a few neighbors are gonna have to die?

  6. Mr. Subtlety, I think you’re on to something. Given the ever-widening generation gap of the period the first couple of films were made, I think it had a lot to do with the fact that a lot of parents didn’t recognize their kids anymore. They were out there dressing weird, growing their hair long, doing drugs, fucking in the streets. I think a lot of parents at the time had the attitude that the father had in the first film: “That’s no kid of mine.” Obviously, since it’s a horror film, the metaphor is stretched to grotesque extremes, but it’s playing on the same fear of the young that made The Exorcist such a hit.

  7. I think what was terrific about writer/director/producer Larry Cohen was that he always cooked up fucking GOOD ideas for movies…which he’s pulled off (GOD TOLD ME TO) and not (SPECIAL EFFECTS), but regardless I can see why he got along well with Alfred Hitchcock when Cohen worked as a writer on the old Hitchcock program.

    Of course this is the basis supposedly for that legend where Hitchcock wanted to make a movie about a guy stuck in a phone booth for the full 2 hours and told this to Cohen in the 1960s…who thought up a sniper angle and thus PHONE BOOTH came to being but Hitch didnt get around to it and Cohen kinda locked it in his drawer until he sold it for a shitload of cash. Whether that story is true or not, its a good story.

    Also, Cohen wrote MANIAC COP. How can anyone not like the guy?

  8. I watched a murderous baby movie last night. Pet Cemetary. Hadn’t seen it since I was a kid. Didn’t remember it being so goofy.

  9. Yeah, they kind of backed themselves into a corner with Pet Sematary. A real baby is not scary, but a rubber baby is ridiculous, unless you want it to be an evil mutant baby like in the film under discussion. And if they did it nowadays, the inevitable CGI baby would be really distracting. You’d keep expecting it to start dancing. It’s the kind of idea that is horrifying on paper (Pet Sematary is possibly King’s scariest book) but is really hard to pull off on film. Our brains are simply not wired to be afraid of babies. Quite the opposite, in fact.

    That said, I think they did as good a job as was possible at the time, given the technology. And c’mon, it’s pretty awesome when Judd gets slashed up. And it has possibly the best theme song ever directly taken from the title of the movie, Dokken’s “Dream Warriors” notwithstanding.

  10. Mr M — interesting thought. I like that it ties into the parents/child dynamic in a way which my analysis failed to. It sort of takes that fear based on a lack of understanding and takes it all the way to the extreme: what if your punk rock nihilistic ex-hippie hedonist kids are really truly evil — do we let them take over and destroy everything, or do we protect them anyway? I was surprised to see this thing was done as late as 1978, but that’s still just a short and ugly decade of the “countercultural” experience in America really moving from annoyance to full-on culture war. And, the first one (1974) would have been right as the cultural backlash against the counter-culture was at its peak and even hippie idealism was turning to a hedonistic nightmare. I mean, to the 40s and 50s generation, this type of behavior in kids was so far outside their experience they might well have imagined they’d given birth to evil mutants.

    Rusty — Eh, I think Pet Semetary is pretty solid. Besides, its not a baby, its a toddler. And that evil fucking look on his face right before he goes for the ankle is pretty damn scary. Some of the long shots do rely on a silly looking doll, but I still think the concept is pretty scary, and Fred Gwynne adds a touch of class (although I always forget its him and remember Jason Robards being in it. Which is even classier). I like the idea that something that conceptually you’re just not hard-wired to be afraid of it now controlled by something evil. I guess I like the way your brain just struggles to accept that this could be happening (though with a toddler, its a little less silly than a baby since at least he’s expected to be mobile). But maybe I was just still residually scared from our little look at Zelda. That fucking freaked my shit out as a kid.

  11. Vern…do you now believe that a baby can kill?

  12. Anyone noticed that there seems to be a new wave of “horrific kids”-horror movies recently?
    I guess it started back when they did that remake of “The Omen”. Then we had “Joshua” with Sam Rockwell. More recently, Tom Shankland did his take with “The Children”, then we have “Grace” with Jordan Ladd. All in all, there seems to be a trend with filmmakers finding kids and teenagers horrifying again. “Eden Lake”? “Them”? Is this because the kids of the baby boomers are now old enough to make movies and are scarred for life from divorces? Is that why they find kids to be the most horrific thing in the world?
    Any thoughts…?

  13. Enjoy part 3 Vern. M.Moriarty and Cohn do good work together.

  14. There is nothing I hate more in this world (movie wise) than killer child films. Killer babies I’m cool with.

  15. Very good observation Thomas, I’ll have to think about that one. Also don’t forget ORPHAN which I think comes out this week. I had no interest in it until somebody spoiled the plot twist for me and now it sounds crazy enough that I’m afraid I have to see it (SEVEN POUNDS syndrome). I’ll probaly wait for DVD though unless a bunch of people tell me it’s great.

  16. This is the kind of horror movie sequel that I’m always hoping to get but almost never do, one that is directly connected to the first one but goes in a totally, or at least partially, different direction. I was actually hoping Hostel Part 2 was going to be like that because I naively thought how can they just rehash a movie that was three quarters setup to begin with? Oh wait, I see, with stupid American girl tourists this time. For a second I thought I walked into the wrong theater (just kidding, I never paid money to see it). The only ones I can think of off the top of my head are Texas Chainsaw Part 2 and The Devil’s Rejects. I’m sure there are others that I’m forgetting, can anyone think of more?

  17. Good question Zeke. Well, of course you got Aliens (if that counts as horror). Dawn of the Dead, somewhat. The Phantasm series. Not too many though. I agree, it’s a rare commodity.

  18. Well, I am not familiar witht the plot twist of ORPHAN but I hear good things about it, so I´ll probably check that one out. I was really looking forward to THE CHILDREN cause honestly, kids can be pretty damn scary, right? But that movie was just too much. There´s only so much of screaming, crying kids that I can take. It was too much in that one. Say what you will about Carpenter´s VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED but at least he had the sense to keep the kids quiet. That´s when it works best, I think: when the kids get to be creepy and ominous, not hysterical and shouting all the time.
    Another thing I´ve been thinking about lately with these “kids-on-killing-spree”-flicks is why the hell no filmmaker has taken advantage of using senior citizens as foundation for a horror flick? I´m sure that it has been done but the only really scary scene I can think of is the one in MULHOLLAND DRIVE. Let´s face it: old people can be extremely creepy.

  19. I’m actually pretty ambivalent to killer kid stories. There are a couple good ones out there, but mostly I think the reason it’s so prominent is its cheap visual irony that unimaginative filmatists think is so clever. You know, like the evil/violent Santa fetish which just can’t seem to go away (take a look at “The Box” trailer). “See? We can scare you with something you’d never think would be scary!!” And of course, once one movie with the gimmick does reasonably well, you can expect a few more greenlit projects with similar gimmicks following it. Now Scary Old People — that’s something I think could be explored a little further (see: Rosemary’s Baby — what’s scarier than evil Ruth Gordon?)

  20. I’ll take Evil Kids over Spooky Kids Who For No Good Reason Have A Connection With The Spirit World And Are Thus Able To Deliver Exposition Without Any Effort On The Part Of The Screenwriter. Need to explain the ground rules for ghosts? Just insert some pale-skinned, brown-haired kid with eyes that look too old for his face. How does he know? He just does! Kids just know stuff, didn’t you know that? Perhaps this storytelling convention is a reference to the William Wordsworth poem, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood,” in which the poet likens spirituality to the ocean and earthly existence to the land, so that children are born on the shore and are thus more aware of spiritual truth than adults, who have forgotten it on their journey inland. Or perhaps it’s just lazy screenwriting. The world may never know.

  21. Thomas – A good point. I seem to remember an early 1990s slasher movie about a dead Granny who comes back to life to revenge, in slasher bloody fashion, against the backstabbing asshole relatives/offspring of hers.

    Don’t remember the title, I saw it on HBO back in the day, but I do vividly remember a scene where she cuts some guy’s dick off with grass clippers…and then throws the dismembered “Tool” across the room like garbage. Probably shot was a dildo, which kinda makes it humorous.

    Any help here folks?

    Also, I was surprised to see we getting a STEPFATHER remake in September. The original with John Saxon was fun. I mean I can’t hate a movie where Saxon beats someone to death with the phone. That’s simple, creative, yet difficult to pull off without coming out as silly…yet it works.

  22. Just want to pipe in here, Vern, that ORPHAN was awesome. I think most of the complaints are with the fact that the story is implausible. And I agree, it’s not a believable story. But I could give a fuck about that, when the movie is this good. It has a plot nearly audacious enough for De Palma, strong acting all around, a sharp visual style and an unsettling tone that is well sustained throughout the movie. The set pieces are all well crafted, the movie is occasionally shocking (although I guessed the twist about 5 minutes into the film) and occasionally they cannily play with the audiences expectations.

    The director also did the HOUSE OF WAX remake, which I thought was way underrated. If you disagree with me there, ORPHAN may not be your bag.

  23. “There’s a meeting that takes place at a showing of ENTER THE DRAGON. This scene is not very believable though because the people in the crowd look completely unimpressed and disinterested in the movie.”

    you just made my day, Vern.

  24. RRA, you mean Terry O´Quinn, right? I´m pretty sure that John Saxon wasn´t in “The Stepfather”, although there is no doubt in my mind that the movie would have benefited from it if he were.

    Spekaing of this ORPHAN, which plot twist I do not know, I´m just hoping that it´ll be better than the last crazy-kid-“horror”-movie Vera Farmiga did, JOSHUA, which sucked pretty hard.

    I´m hoping that Vern will review ISLAND OF THE ALIVE soon, as well.

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