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Blu-Ray Review: Scream Factory’s It’s Alive Box Set

Scream Factory's It's Alive Trilogy Box Set

Adam hails the King… Larry “King” Cohen with the new It’s Alive Blu-Ray Box Set from Scream Factory.  In a word… Amazing!!!

 

The Films

It’s Alive

So much of what makes Larry Cohen’s work so vital is his ability to mix the gonzo and socially relevant.  Few of his films have that balance down to an exact science as the first (hell… the second and the third ones as well) It’s Alivefilm.  A deft mixture of Bad Seed, Monster movies, ecological terror, and overwrought family drama.  All done with such straight face earnestness you can’t help but laugh at not just the audacity but just how he is able to pull off what he’s attempting to accomplish with sincerity and a huge dollop of style.

The plot is simple; expecting parents Frank Davis (John Ryan) and Lenore Davis (Sharon Farrell) are terrified to learn their baby is not “normal”.  The how’s and why’s of the plots and where the story takes Frank, Lenore, their eldest son, and the newest edition of the Davis clan is too deliciously awesome to ruin for an unsuspecting audience. What transpires after the birth of the IT of the title is the meat of Cohen’s film.  Part of the genius of the film is how Cohen is able to create a subtle arch for Frank and where he goes as the patriarch of the family.

Ryan and Farrell are flat out wonderful s the Davis’ who slowly crumble over the course of the film only to come to a surprising place at its end. Ryan’s ability to make even the most ridiculous situations and moments feel grounded in reality is a testament to an actor that never got a huge shot but should have.  Farrell has the most cliched role as the Mother of the monster. Her work defies the cliché, imbuing Lenore with so much heart and sadness it feels like something altogether different at the end of the film.

This is one of the few times that Cohen was given studio backing and it does show.  Warner Brothers gave Cohen a decent budget that allowed him to make things look bigger than they were.  Though WB was so confounded by the film they let it sit on the shelf for a few years before resurrecting it to much acclaim and success.  Special mention needs to be made of Composer and in some ways the number #2 to Cohen’s leader, Bernard Herrmann.  The score elevates the film to the true blue forgotten classic it is.

Many will find It’s Alive another horror entry from the 1970’s.  Those with open minds will find an engrossing movie beyond the horror framing. Cohen’s knowing script and sharp direction elevate the film to something unique, engrossing, and ultimately beautiful in the same way that the Universal Horror films were. Yes, It’s Alive is one of the greats of the genre and should be hailed as such.

It’s Alive 2: It Lives Again

How does one up the ante on an already delirious and overwrought classic? Add a healthy amount of Government conspiracies, mad scientists, bigger set pieces, and Fredrick Forrest at FULL FREDRICK FORREST.  In every way, It’s Alive 2: It Lives Again is a Larry Cohen film at peak Larry Cohen which makes it all the more special.

A true sequel/continuation of the original, It’s Alive 2 finds Frank (Ryan) now attempting to help other couples with similarly affected pregnancies.  The now fugitive father attempts to warn Eugene (Forrest) and Jody (Kathleen Lloyd) of how the government has been watching them in order to take their baby to kill it.  Of course, the expecting couple refuses to believe Frank (there wouldn’t be much of a movie if they did).  As with any good sequel, everything is bigger while never forgetting to deepen the mythos of the original.  The film is oddly enough modeled after another Cohen Sequel; Hell up in Harlem.  So, much so, it shares an almost beat by beat action set piece in a hospital.  The writer/director shows a complete control over the medium and his story, having some of the wildest story beats come off believably.

As with the first film much of the success is in the hands of it’s stars. Cohen smartly cast Forrest as the put-upon father to be.  Rather than hobbling him as many a director has done in the past, Cohen unleashes the actor to go unhinged in a way that few are allowed.  The result is a sweaty Fredrick Forrest performance to end all performances.  The director allows both he and Ryan to go full on arched and heightened in a way that’s controlled and purposeful.  Other directors would have allowed things to slip into the maudlin or histrionics. Cohen understands these types of horror films, the troupes, and conventions, so well he balances the tone in every aspect of the film with so much style he makes things almost an afterthought.  As though everything he does is easy, which none of it is.

Part of what makes this series so good and open for conversation is Cohen’s ultimate refusals to give answers to the how these infants came to be. Though he allows for speculation within the film, the ultimate answer remains a mystery for one to decode themselves. That is where It’s Alive 2 (and the entire series) draws his powers from. That a truly bug nuts performance by Fredrick Forrest.

It’s Alive 3: The Island of the Alive

Michael Moriarty.

For the deepest of deep-fried Larry Cohen fans, that name is all they would need to go anywhere with the director.  Moriarty and Cohen bring their specific magic back to the big screen with The Island of the Alive.  This proves to the genius move of the series as Moriarty is an inspired choice as the newest father to be put under the King Cohen microscope in this series.

Part family drama, monster movie, and a healthy dose of King Kong& The Island of Dr. Moreaugive you the slightest indication of the gonzo lunacy in store for you.  Cohen has created the ultimate Drive-In/Grindhouse film with The Island of the Alive.  A film that has no fucks to give about anything an audience would want or expect from it.  The film goe from Sydney Lumet style Court Room Drama to an Island Adventure film to a Cuban/Immigration parable to a searing family drama.  Cohen throughout expertly handles these radical tonal shifts with so much grace and style your head will spin.

Complicit in the journey into the bizarre is Michael Moriarty.  For most, Moriarty is the progressive sometimes eccentric actor that went head-to-head with NBC while still employed on the very popular Law & Order.  Those of us steeped in Cohen’s filmography or the Low Budget exploitation films of the 70’s and 80’s know Moriarty as the juggernaut acting titan of films like Q: The Winged Serpent.  A film where the actor manages to out-crazy a flying Incan Dragon terrorizing New York City.  Here Moriarty plays struggling actor Stephen Jarvis and father of the It at the center of this newest story.

The role and film feel tailored for Moriarty’s specific talents as an actor.  The actor is almost defiantly fearless, tempting fate and ruination with bold choices that Cohen almost feels delighted by.  There is an entire section of the film where Moriarty sings, very off-key, with a crew on a boat.  This is not a scene but an entire movement within the film. Other actors would have sunk under the weight of a single bold choice like this.  Moriarty has dozens of them in the film.  The performance is nothing short of brilliant.

There is so much in The Island of the Alive that must be seen rather than described.  Any fan of the truly crazy and deranged horror will find themselves a masterpiece.  Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive series ends as it began, perfectly.  If It’s Alive is the appetizers, and It’s Alive 2 is the main course, then The Island of the Alive is the triple-decker chocolate cake covered in strawberries and whip cream dessert to top it off.

The Transfers

Scream Factory’s new 2K Scan Of The Original Film Elements that are nothing short of flawless. The transfers were graded to perfection, allowing for the grain structure to be retained, but bringing out the sharpness and contrast in the transfer.  At their best Blu-Rays should look like a wonderful newly created archival print. All three films on disc fill that bill to a tee.  Bravo to Scream Factory for the impressive work.

The Extras

They Include the following

DISC ONE

  • Cohen’s Alive: Looking Back At The It’s Alive Films
  • It’s Alive At The Nuart: The 40th Anniversary Screening With Larry Cohen
  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Producer/Director Larry Cohen
  • Radio Spots
  • TV Spots
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Still Gallery

DISC TWO

  • Audio Commentary With Writer/Producer/Director Larry Cohen
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Still Gallery

DISC THREE

  • Interview With Special Effects Makeup Designer Steve Neill
  • Audio Commentary With Writer/Producer/Director Larry Cohen
  • Trailer
  • Still Gallery

The best features are the three commentaries by writer/director of the series Larry Cohen.  Anyone that has listened to previous commentaries by the man they call King Cohen will not be disappointed.  The commentaries are Cohen at his most relaxed and conversational.  Each commentary is filled with the type of anecdotes, behind the scenes insight and general knowledge any fan of this series would want to know.  They are worth the price alone.

Cohen’s Alive: Looking Back At The It’s Alive Films is an 18-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that gives a brief look at the It’s Alive series as a whole.  The featurette feels like a good primer for the commentaries giving you a bit of insight about each of the films by their cast and crew, including Michael Moriarty, Laurene Landon, and Cohen himself.

It’s Alive At The Nuart: The 40th Anniversary Screening With Larry Cohen is a thirteen minute Q&A with Cohen held at the Nuart theater in Santa Monica back in 2014.

Interview With Special Effects Makeup Designer Steve Neillis a 13-minute interview where Neill discusses the challenges to bring the monsters to screen in the third film in the series and taking over the films from Rick Baker.

Rounding out the box set is a series of TV Spots, Trailers, and Still Galleries.  The Galleries are of note as they are more animated and set to the legendary score by Bernard Herrmann.  Well worth checking out.

The Final Thought

The It’s AliveBox Set is a grand slam success.  Armed with beautiful transfers, great commentaries, and fun additional features this isn’t just a no-brainer for Cohen and Horror fans but any serious Cineaste.  HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATIONS!!!!

Scream Factory’s It’s Alive Box Set is available May 15th!

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