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It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive

tn_islandofthealivePart 3 is from 1987 (nine years after part 2) and it ups the ante even more. This is a great series because each is inventive and doesn’t just follow the formula of the previous one. This one opens with an outstanding standalone scene about a woman giving birth in the back of a cab. A cop is trying to help but as soon as he sees the baby he pulls out his piece and starts firing. Next we see police investigating a church where the baby crawled to die. They talk about the off screen corpse at the end of the trail of blood – more of the expertly staged unseen-mutant-baby that’s the trademark of the series. “It took four bullets to put this thing down,” one of them says.

mp_islandofthealiveBut the story is about Stephen Jarvis (Michael Moriarty), father of a mutant baby going to court to try to save it from being executed. He admits the baby scares him shitless but he doesn’t want it to die. So after a lengthy court room drama scene debating whether is son is even human, Jarvis makes the selfless decision to walk up to the cage, tell the baby he needs to prove to “these assholes” that he’s human, and puts his hands inside the cage. The judge is impressed enough to order no more executions of the babies, instead they find a remote island to exile them to. Not just an ordinary island, though. An ISLAND OF THE ALIVE!

One thing I like is the episodic structure. It has a bunch of things on its mind, not just the island. As in part 2, we see how the mutant baby has affected the parents’ relationship. They don’t even talk, and blame each other. He gets screamed at like a rapist when a girl who picked him up realizes who he is. His career as an actor in commercials is over because nobody wants their product associated with him and his defective genes. The lawyers on the case convince him to cash in with a tell all memoir, but he still ends up selling children’s shoes a few years later.

Of course, we also get to the island. A few years later the government wants to find out what happened to these babies. It’s kind of like THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK 2. Jarvis goes with the team, which was not a good idea on the Man’s part. He wants his son to be left alone, he’s not gonna help the government out. It turns out the babies have grown to full maturity and even reproduced. They look like giant babies crossed with John Merrick. I’m not sure what they’ve been eating or what type of mutant baby pasttimes they have been enjoying, but they do not welcome the humans to their island. That is unless clawing and eating is the mutant equivalent of giving them a lei.

Moriarty makes the movie great. His sense of reluctant humanity makes him heroic, and he deals with his dilemma with a dark sense of humor that makes people uncomfortable. He tells jokes that nobody laughs at and he doesn’t care, because they’re for his own benefit anyway. His business card says “Father of the Monster.” When they get to the island he says they should’ve brought some clowns. “Kids love clowns.”

The baby effects this time are mostly stop motion. They look really cool but take you out of the movie more than the puppets did. Once they’re grown up they’re rubber suits and you can’t help but laugh whenever you get a glimpse of those goofy fuckers. But part of what I love about these movies is that they take such an absurd concept and treat it seriously – even more seriously than most exploitation movies since they’re obviously interested in reproductive issues, STDs and other Serious Shit of the time.

IT’S ALIVE is the rare series where each chapter is great in its own way. I don’t want to say it’s a trilogy since it wasn’t designed to tell one overarching story. But they do a good job of topping themselves each time they decide to do another one. Good job islanders.

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 Friday, July 31st, 2009 at 9:46 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.

43 Responses to “It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive”

  1. Sounds terrific, and like many Larry Cohen efforts, it sounds intriguing.

    He usually seems to work very well with Michael Moriarty. I mean shit even people who don’t like Q: THE WINGED SERPENT thought Moriarty and his character was just fantastic.

    Vern you bring up the gene discrimination….funny but thats a real fear many have about gene therapy or any such advances, such more the likely people with “inferior” genes will be greatly prejudiced in the future. So yeah without realizing it (or DID HE?), Cohen was years ahead of everyone else on that topic.

  2. I love the title of this movie. “It’s Alive” was a great title to begin with, but it doesn’t lend itself to sequels. “It Lives Again” was pushing it, but where could they go after that. Instead of going the lame “I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer” route, they said fuck it and went with a completely crazy nonsensical title like “Island of the Alive”. I’m surprised they didn’t call it “Island of the It’s Alive”.

    I also love Moriarty in this. He always plays it straight even in the most absurd plots (killer yogurt, for instance, is pretty fucking absurd). Pity he doesn’t do more movies.

  3. I recommend everybody to check out PICK ME UP, Larry Cohen´s episode of MASTERS OF HORROR Season1. It´s a cool, clever “movie”. Oh, and it stars Michael Moriarty!

  4. I have a topic for everyone. Can anyone name some sequels that really took a left turn and changed styles or even genres from the original? It’s always interesting when that happens.

    ALIENS did it to a certain degree, although it’s not a drastic departure. CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK dropped PITCH BLACK’s monster movie motif and become more of a sci-fi fantasy.

    But my favorite example is the CAT PEOPLE series. The original is an old b&w monster movie. The sequel, CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE, has some of the same cast playing the same characters, however there are no cat people in it, and it’s not a horror movie. Instead, it’s more of a whimsical fantasy about a little girl with an over-active imagination, more akin to last year’s THE FALL. And not only that, but if I recall they kind of try to imply that there weren’t even cat people in the original, that the bad guy was just a crazy woman. It’s a weird retcon, and I imagine if you hadn’t seen the original you’d find the title of the film completely mystifying.

  5. It always amused me that they use the ‘birth in the cab’ scene in “The Dead Pool” as a clip of a ‘Peter Swan’ film.

  6. Dan, all I can think of right now is the completely obvious example of HALLOWEEN III. Instead of the slasher angle, it went into more of a gorier version of the 50’s world-is-fucked horror movie….

  7. HALLOWEEN III is a good example of an in-name-only sequel, although at least it essentially stays in the same genre.

    I don’t know if this is true, but a friend of mine told me that the sequel to THE 36th CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN is a comedy that pokes fun at the original. Similarly, GREMLINS 2 and ESCAPE FROM LA are less sequels and more so spoofs of the originals.

  8. caruso_stalker217

    August 1st, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE is a great movie.

    Hmm… RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II?

  9. The Miike Dead or Alive series features a radical tonal shift from the first to second films, then it becomes cyberpunk for part three.
    When Miike was asked about a character pulling a bazooka out of nowhere at the end of DOA he replied “Well why shouldn’t he have a bazooka?” More directors can learn from Takashi Miike. This has nothing to do with anything.

    Back to topic, since it’s going to happen eventually they should skip the It’s Alive II remake and head straight for the Island. Only that one can star Busy Phillips.

  10. Great review, Vern. Felt like I was right there on the island, laughing at bad rubber suits.

    As far as sequels switching it up, Blair Witch 2 got all meta with it and was drastically different from the first film. Wasn’t any good, but they tried.

  11. Good ones everybody. My brother just thought of another one: THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. Went from horror movie to weirdo crime comedy-drama.

  12. Umm guys…MAGNUM FORCE?

  13. Disagree on Magnum Force – it’s still just Harry in San Fran dealing with some crap. That the crap is imitators who force him to question his core values is a pretty common thing in sequels (Dark Knight).

    Mad Max III – from cheap exploitation film to sprawling big budget Spielbergy thing

    Highlander II – Competent fantasy action film to sci fi environmentalist mess

    What about those sequels where there’s a completely new main character searching for the main character from the prior films? The only example I can think of is the Pink Panther film they made from outtakes after Sellars died. There must be better examples of this type of sequel…

    OOO can I be a total bitch and say CARAVAN OF COURAGE?

  14. Escape From LA is not a spoof. It’s clear that John Carpenter wanted to make a legit sequal and ended up making a giant smoldering piece of shit.

  15. Didn’t Troll 2 completely ignore the events of the first one and just make up a bunch of shit? Didn’t the Leprachaun go into space, and the filmmakers tried to create some sort of fantasy story-line, ala Star Wars. What about Wrath of Khan? The first Star Trek was a super long and boring speculative sci-fi story about the nature of God and whatnot, and then the second one was just a badass revenge movie with Shatner and Montalban swallowing scenery whole.

  16. Hey man, watch what you say about ESCAPE FROM LA. I happen to love that movie. And yes, I also happen to believe that it deliberately makes fun of the first movie.

    TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is some sort of goofy comedy, while the first one is a far more serious horror movie. You could say something similar about the EVIL DEAD series.

    PROM NIGHT was a slasher movie, HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT 2 is more of a ghost movie with no connection to the original, and PROM NIGHT 3 is a comedic sequel to part 2 that spoofs it to a certain degree, then PROM NIGHT 4 is a slasher movie again with no connection to the others. But they are all basically horror movies so it’s not that radical of a shift.

    Also, I’m siding with Andrew on this MAGNUM FORCE issue. It’s an action movie very much still in the style of the original, it’s just that the politics change a little. Not really a shift in genre.

  17. Dan Prestwich – I like ESCAPE FROM LA too. Sure the editing is a tad off, since Carpenter had like a week or two to cut the fucker. But overall EFLA is no more or less a B movie than ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. Both really are Italian comic books if you think about it.

    Plus, EFLA prophecized Dubya years earlier, with Cliff Robertson’s terrific (if too short) performance.

    Why do geeks hate EFLA? Is it because in their memory EFNY had been built up into such a classic great movie…and its a classic mind you…that nostalgia overclouds judgment?

  18. RRA,

    You’re probably on to something there. Also I think because EFLA is overtly more goofy and comedic, people tend to interpret it as being accidentally funny or corny or something.

  19. I know it’s probably a critical cliche right now to compare the two series, but both TETSUO II: BODY HAMMER and BABE: PIG IN THE CITY are pretty different from their predecessors. Just because it’s a cliche doesn’t make it any less true.

    And I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard CINDERELLA III: A TWIST IN TIME is about the evil stepmother traveling back in time to prevent Cinderella’s marriage. Maybe to stop a future resistance leader from being born? I don’t know, but it definitely sounds different from what I remember of the original.

    You can put me down as another lover of ESCAPE FROM L.A. I think I like it even more than the first one because of the satirical tone and the great ending.

  20. BABE 2! Of course, how did I not think of that? Awesome call, Jake.

    I’ve seen the first TETSUO but not the second. What makes them so different? No penis-drills in the sequel?

  21. EFLA really plays like those European comic books, which if you’ve ever read, are more satirical and self-jabbing campy than American books tend to be. So if EFNY tries in tone to be an Italian spagetti western (i.e. Leone) with the unapologetic anti-hero, mood and style over plot, etc. Then EFLA is an Italian comic book.

    That’s how my logic goes. And yes the EFLA ending does kick ass. Though Bruce Campbell’s cameo is hilarious: “Oh my God, THEY’RE REAL!”

  22. Well, it’s in color, for one. And it has more of a plot. I think it’s a revenge story, though it’s been a while so I don’t remember it well. And I think they did dispense with the penis-drills. I feel kind of bad for all the penis-drill fetishists who must have been eagerly awaiting this sequel. But you can’t just pander to the public. You have to move from penis-drills to chest cannons. That’s how you mature as an artist. But it is still a cyberpunk horror film so it might not be different enough to count. (This post was about TETSUO 2, not BABE 2, for those who were confused.)

  23. Damn, Jake beat me to the punch with BABE 2. So I’m gonna go with another example: BEST OF THE BEST 2. I found it very amusing how a PG-rated ROCKY/KARATE KID competition movie with one of the most sappy, emo, forgive your enemy, We Are the World, hold-hands-and-sing-Kumbaya endings ever, was then followed up by an over-the-top R-rated revenge tale filled with broken bones, bloody squibs and colorful villains straight out of a Luc Besson production.

  24. Carlos, I’m pretty sure you’re telling me to put BEST OF THE BEST 2 on my Netflix queue. I just want to make sure I’m understanding you correctly.

    Jake, thank you for the funniest post I’ve read in years.

  25. So does this film end with them nuking the site from orbit (it’s the only way to be sure) or does it leave things open for IT’S ALIVE IV: WORLD OF THE ALIVE, a post-apocalyptic world where the survivors are constantly besieged by armies of mutant babies and pregnancy is strictly forbidden.

  26. My theory on the ESCAPE FROM LA hate is that people were disappointed because they dreamed of a sequel for years and then what they got was more like a remake. And if they could let that go they could enjoy it but maybe they never went back and watched it again.

    Overall I would say NY is the better movie, but I honestly think Snake Plissken is cooler in LA. He grew into the role. He’s a much more convincing badass, and less obvious about trying to imitate Clint.

  27. My vote is EFNY, if only because the editing was consistent, a slow burn if you may. But both are terrific. EFLA certainly has the better ending.

    EFLA was somewhat rediscovered on my campus, because of those Dubya parallels. Not as much as THEY LIVE, but you know better than total obscurity I suppose.

  28. Exorcist 2: The Heretic.

    I win.

  29. ESCAPE FROM L.A. is plodding, abusively verbose and fails to capitalize on its second greatest weapon: Pam Grier. (Carpenter partially redeemed himself with GHOSTS OF MARS but not by much.)

    The ending is ballsy but not much more than a “gotcha!”; it’s not thematically relevant to anything in the film as a whole other than “the world sucks, let’s wipe it clean.”

    Snake Plissken on a surf board is on the same level as the Fonz on water skis.

    Finally, it has all the symptoms of sequelitis: instead of a lean, efficiently told, simple story we get a convoluted mess with half-a-dozen walk-on parts and more eye candy.

    John Carpenter achieved true greatness with BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. It’s all been finishing spurts since then. Which is fine: the man gave us THE THING, CHINA, HALLOWEEN, PRECINCT 13 and the original ESCAPE. More than Micheal Bay will ever contribute if the past is any barometer of the future. . .

    Respectfully submitted,
    SirV

  30. I honestly think I like Escape from LA better. Sure, EFNY is the cooler movie. It had the idea first and it set the ground rules, and it has the better look and music. And obviously, New York is better than LA in every possible way. But there’s the little problem of EFNY having that thirty-minute chunk of total boringness in the middle where nothing happens. It derails the movie every time for me. EFLA is full of crazy shit from start to finish, and the decision Snake makes at the end is the most badass thing ever. What other movie ends with the hero destroying civilization as we know it?

  31. Frank Booth – EXORCIST 2 is like nuclear war: Nobody wins.

    Though I’m fa fan of Blatty’s #3 and Paul Schrader’s DOMINION is…pretty fucking good.

    SirVincealot – You’re wrong about the ending. Carpenter is a libertarian/anarchist, and that ending is…well, we don’t get that much sort of finale in the movies. Also, couldn’t “plodding” be used of sorts to describe EFNY?

  32. Why are there posters like frankbooth?

    No, I kid. EXORCIST 2 is a good call. In fact, I’ve noticed that most of the movies we’ve thought up have been horror films. Is this an actual trend in the genre, or have I simply posed this question to a group of horror movie fans?

    Also, SirV: of course the ending is thematically relevant to the rest of the film. Snake is the most misanthropic hero in genre movie history, and what he does at the end is the logical conclusion for his character.

  33. One reason I think people give Escape from LA such a hard time is that they failed to notice that Escape From New York was supposed to be funny, too. Snake is a parody of The Man With No Name archetype. His entire iconography is over the top, from the eye patch to the pithy one-liners delivered in a self-consciously Eastwoodian rasp. But when you see a movie for the first time when you’re 10, you tend not to notice these things. To Carpenter, it was tongue-in-cheek, but to the 12-year-olds watching it, it was 100% serious. When Escape From LA came out, what was once considered “meta” about Snake is now standard for action heroes (this is the post-Arnold world, remember), so Carpenter has no choice but to ramp up the satirical aspects. The old fans think their hero has been turned into a parody of himself, but the truth is that he was always a parody. It’s just that they didn’t notice before. You could make the argument that Carpenter (and Russell himself, let’s not forget. He gets co-screenwriter credit) went too far and diluted the character, but I always thought Snake was faintly preposterous. That’s his appeal. He’s gone so far into badass that he’s a cartoon. He can handle any situation and perform any task without ever changing his facial expression. Why not drive this point home by letting him surf, play basketball, and hang glide?

  34. Very astute observations you two.

    And besides, who didn’t dig the “Shot Clock” in EFLA?

  35. I guess it just has to do with your sense of humor. People always complain about the surfing being ridiculous. Yeah, exactly, that’s why I always loved it. Maybe it comes down to “if you think Plissken surfing is funny then you will like the movie, if you don’t think it’s funny you won’t like the movie.”

    My favorite part was always the basketball scene though. I never would’ve guessed that Snake was good at basketball. Maybe they should do a prequel that explains that.

  36. Andrew asks a great question about another type of sequel, which is the sequel which brings in a new cast but also features the original character(s?) in a smaller role. I’d like to mention Planet of the Apes II in this regard, which is an especially specific kind of sequel, wherein
    the new characters are sent looking for the original characters (Andrew above also astutely mentions “Trail of the Pink Panther” as an entry into this specific sort of sequel structure). I know there are more.

    The flip side, of course, is where a minor character from the original gets bumped up to the lead, ie Evan Almighty, Short Circuit 2, The Rise of Taj. Um, I’m sure there are examples of that which aren’t as bad.

  37. Subtlety,

    As for the first category, what first comes to mind are those horror sequels that start with the survivor of the first film getting murdered, and then introduce a new cast. Examples include FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4, HOSTEL 2.

    As for the 2nd category, with the prevelance of DTV sequels these days… well, let’s just say that I bet Vern could think up a big list of these.

  38. Dan — I think the challenge would be to think of a few examples where it actually works!

  39. A good series that has both stylistic changes between films and major characters becoming supporting roles is Lucas Belvaux’s TRILOGY. Three films, each a different genre (crime drama, thriller, romantic melodrama) where the stars of one become supporting characters in the others and vice versa. It’s a pretty cool and ambitious set of films.

  40. Isn’t that how that Danish PUSHER trilogy works, too?

  41. @ Brendan: Troll 2 doesn’t even have any Trolls in it, and it happens to be my favourite ‘bad movie’ of all time. i would absolutely love a Vern review of T2.

    and yes, the EfLA basketball scene is perfect film badassery. give Snake any random task, you’ll find out he’s surprisingly good at it.

  42. As much as I love TROLL 2, I’m not sure it should count in a sequel discussion because it’s one of those films that’s re-named retroactively to tie it to an existing franchise and give it some credibility (TROLL isn’t a great film but compared to TROLL 2 it’s a frickin’ masterpiece). Seems to happen a lot with horror films (DEMONS 3: THE OGRE and ZOMBIE 5: KILLING BIRDS) and there’s also some Laura Gemser films that were renamed to cash in on her role in the BLACK EMMANUELLE series.

  43. M. Moriarty makes everything right in the world. He can do no wrong. And I grew up watching the first two on VHS. Didn’t get the subtext, as a kid, but love them even more, as an adult. Great going, Cohen!

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