1987, written and directed by Larry Cohen
Genre: Horror, Mutant Homecoming

{ It's Alive | It Lives Again | Island of the Alive }

The (Entire) Plot

New York. Taxi in the blue light district. Fare goes into labor and as the newborn crowns, Good Samaritan screams “Oh, shit! It’s one of Them!” and pulls his gun. Like the opening line of Hamlet, we know instantly that we’re in the middle of Something Big. This isn’t to say Cohen’s writing has become universally Bard like. In fact, in the nine years since It Lives Again, Cohen seems to have downgraded his vocabulary: “Fucking,” “shit,” “goddamn,” and “son of a bitch” are now sprinkled liberally throughout, and the proof is right there in the opening line.

Through some well-goboed courtroom drama, popular prejudice becomes Federal law as the five Its in custody are exiled to an island by an activist liberal judge. “No harm will come to these creatures as long as I’m alive,” he says, foreshadowingly.

Fast forward four years to visit the father of the very It which served in the courtroom scene as lethal exhibit A. Dad is played by Michael Moriarity (of Hitler Meets Christ fame). True to casting in the first two films, he’s a mumbler. The character’s name is Stephen Jarvis, and he is an actor though the only diegetic way you know this is that you are told so. Since the trial and its infamy, Stephen has been estranged from his wife, sexually rejected by carnies, and only able to find demeaning shoe sales jobs to enormous women who speak off-screen like Peanuts adults. He’s becoming unhinged at the stress of it all. He’s mistaking books for babies, getting furious at generous book publishers, and bitterly telling the worst-scripted jokes of all time. At the end of a particularly trying day, Stephen is approached by a man who tells us that the judge is dead and now he wants to visit the dangerous island with a team of scientists to capture some of the dangerous creatures thereon.

On the way to the island we’re treated to a long, strange, randomly-edited sequence on a sailboat named Infinity. There are some recurring gags involving sunscreen, vomit, and Jarvis’ robotic passes at the female scientist-and-big-game-hunter played by a preop Rick Moranis. In retaliation of her rebuffs, he rudely sings “The Skye Boat Song” across her dialogue. “The Skye Boat Song,” in case you’re trying to figure out its relevance to the plot, is a shanty about the failed revolution of a Scottish Prince.

On the island, most of the team splits up and gets killed by various Its, who are now roughly Nathan Lane sized. Stephen and another make it back to the boat, but the crew has been slaughtered. The other guy swims back to shore, which puts Stephen alone on the sailboat with the foursome of Its, who weigh anchor and set sail, but aren’t very good at this and so use their telepathy and eerie finger pointing technique to indicate where they wish Stephen to take them: Disneyland! I mean Cape Vale! Where the mother is!

Stephen becomes more unhinged as they strip the sailors and eat them. Amidst the “horror,” Stephen learns that two have given birth. Eventually the Its run out of snack food, and they begin eyeballing their tasty makeshift Captain. To save his life, Stephen’s son throws him overboard toward a passing Cuban/Mexican freedom freighter.

The Its land at Cape Vale and disembark. Stephens’ estranged wife Ellen is there and she can feel the presence of the Its. Ellen is played by Karen Black (of Stripping for Jesus fame). Ellen gets a ride from her blackmailing friend Tony and vomits in his car before heading into her apartment. Insult to injury, a passing It mauls him.

Back on the beach, friendly Cubans drop off Stephen, who learned a valuable off-screen lesson about friendship and communism. On his way to find Ellen, Stephen walks through A Flock of Seagulls in a full-blown riot. Under the boardwalk, some of them attempt to rape an anachronistic 1950s poodle skirt. Fortunately an It saves her and afterwards caresses her face in a loving gesture. Seeing this, the cops presume Its guilt and kill It.

The remaining Its find Ellen, who pelts them with her Princess telephone. The Its flee to the roof, pulling Ellen up by her head. Stephen arrives and climbs to the roof with his feet. Up top, they learn that the Its all have fatal measles. Their whole trip was simply to get the grandparents to adopt their kid. Stephen and Ellen overcome their xenophobia, and commit. Satisfied their toddler is safe, the It parents die on the roof holding hands. As the cops murder the last adult It, Stephen and Ellen escape with their grandIt to a stolen car, where broke and on the lam, they dissolve into hysterical laughter.

The Goods

Scary? It Lives Again was scarier, even though this was gorier. Cohen abandoned any subtlety and suspense and tension he was experimenting with, probably because his budget was blown by hiring Ray Harryhausen for the new stop motion Its.

Riffable? So riffable. The film seems to be spliced out of clips from other films that came before and after it. It is a fertile field for quick witted references to telling quotes. Plus: Karen Black!

Gore: They stretched the envelope for the franchise way past bloody scratches for this movie. Here we’re treated to eye gouging, face mangling, and evisceration. And even if what should be shredded flesh really obviously turns out to be red strips of fabric, you know, they tried.

Science! On the island just after colonization, in a scene I omitted from the plot summary, a Mr. Cabot lands his fancy helicopter with a well armed posse. As they dare go a-hunting, Cabot gives us the biggest clue to the whole Itpidemic: “Look, we already took the drugs off the market and besides, there’s no proof that drug caused the mutations.” We find out that since they stopped selling “the drug” no Its have been born. Turns out they are here to kill the Its in order to dispose of any evidence, so they can remarket the drugs under a different name. Their moral crime revealed, they become the hunted of the Itfants and die. So it would seem that the Evil Corporations, and of course, Science! are to blame.

Zombies? Not so much. There are 40% more Its in this movie, but the fact that they reproduce and die from Rubella betray their un-undeath. As far as mutants go, sure they’re misshapen, ferocious, and telepathic, but at the same time, kind of mommas boys. They had their genetic shot and blew it.

The Upshot

Have a good time spotting the references and pretty much leave it at that. Island of the Alive had the promise to be the secret hideaway of a psychotic Mr. Rourke, but it just turned out to be a mutant Tattoo. The basic plot of a runaway reactionary populace out to destroy a class of people under the guise of self protection is surprisingly relevant to modern day Political Religious Extremism. But when you let the reactionaries and murderers win, really, you’ve lost your soul.

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