1978, written and directed by Larry Cohen
Genre: Horror, Mutant(s) Rampage

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

The (Entire) Plot

The core story is nearly identical to that of the first movie: Parents have a child that is different, and they experience fear, defiance, and acceptance. When each father realizes that the world is too delicate for his son, he kills the child. What is different in this sequel is that there is an outlaw organization trying to help the parents. Like a PFLAG, but for bloodthirsty mutant toddlers.

Frank Davies (whom you’ll recall as the father of the first It) flies from LA to Tucson where he crashes the baby shower of Eugene and Jody Scott to menace and give exposition. Since the credits rolled on the first movie, the government has gathered samples of Lenore Davies’ blood, isolated the “characteristics” therein, and activated the Emergency Nationwide Pregnancy Watch program to identify similar mothers so that their babies can be murdered upon delivery. Frank has joined—or founded, we’re not sure—an It Liberation Front (ILF) who covertly try to contact these same mothers and inform them of the impending danger.

The next day Jody goes into labor. Eugene tries to call Frank, but because of rock and roll, Frank doesn’t hear the phone. So they head to the hospital where dozens of police await them. Some government goons drag Eugene away, and others prepare the mother for birth. Frank sneaks in with the lamest disguise ever filmed ("Captain, he had a clipboard! He was practically invisible!") and uses a revolver to take the lead goon, Mr. Mallory, hostage and affect their escape to a truck, which is actually a mobile delivery unit with a full obstetrics and containment setup.

The It is born in the truck on the freeway. Something upsets the newborn, and it lashes out at one of the doctors. He’s just scratched, and they’re able to sedate the baby and secure it. They pull a fast one in a tunnel, and when the truck is intercepted in a roadblock out the other side, Eugene, his newborn, and the unscratched doctor are zooming out the other side. Jody and the wounded doctor are taken back to the hospital to recover. Frank avoids arrest with a publicity threat.

Eugene, It, and the doctor arrive back in LA at a hacienda taken over by the ILF. We meet the wizened Dr. Perry, who tells us that they are housing two more babies, sacriligeously named Adam and Eve. Frank arrives. They name the new It “Scott”, which is cruel when you consider that his full name is now “Scott Scott” and in his preschool teasing is lethal.

Through some machinations involving Jet Li and the Knight Bus, Jody is clandestinely reunited with Eugene at the hacienda, but her betraying mother has planted a tracer in Jody’s purse. The reunion is not happy, as Eugene tries to get all Al Green but Jody wants none of it. “Make you feel sick when I touch you now? Does it make you feel sick because of what we created!?” Frustrated and hot, Eugene goes swimming in the hacienda’s pool.

The Feds triangulate the signal and find the compound. As they approach, the Its sense the danger and get twitchy, taking their first opportunity to escape. Finally, a full hour into the film, we get what we came for: Its slaughtering the fearful. Adam kills one of the recently bathed ILF guards. Eve crawls to the pool, where she breaks the only lamp before attacking Eugene. The feds save him, kill Eve, and send the rambling Eugene away in an ambulance. Inspecting Eve’s genitals, they realize that there’s more than one. ("But...but...this one's a girl!")

Jody wakes up alone and goes searching for Eugene, only to find the dead guard and Adam still in the sheets. She runs back to her room where Scott has dumped her purse and broken the tracer. She is still afraid, and Scott knows it. He threatens. Frank breaks in and, unafraid, soothes Scott. Frank swaddles him and escapes into the forest. The feds enter the house and kill Adam with two shots, just as Adam is trying to speak his first word.

In the forest Frank comes across a night watchman who threatens them with a gun. Scott, scared, kills Frank and escapes. In the hospital, Mr. Mallory confesses to Eugene that the Seattle It (the second It, born and killed between the first and second films) was his. Ahh, it is Mr. Mallory’s guilt and anger that drive him forward. (Seriously, was anyone really wondering about this? Where the hell was the editor?)

At this point there is a brief scene in which a bunch of contemptible, snotty adolescents at a birthday party miss an encounter with Scott because they were playing hide and seek in the adjacent hills. This scene is only notable because when they return to the scene of the party, the evidence of Scott’s having been there ends up on the cover of the DVD.

Eugene and Jody agree to cooperate with the feds, who put them up in a safehouse as bait. The feds watch from a distance to avoid being detected. That night Scott climbs the trellis and into a window. Jody and Eugene finally accept their child for who he is, cradling and feeding him. Meanwhile the feds, suspicious, silently cover the entire house in a tarp. Mr. Mallory busts in with a gun at the last minute to tell the parents to give up and get out. Eugene and he scuffle just as the feds begin to pump poisonous gas. While the cloud spreads, Eugene is knocked to the floor. Mallory advances on Jody but Scott selflessly leaps from her arms to attack Mallory. Eugene gets up and grabs Mallory’s gun. He has a brief moral dilemma and ultimately kills his son to save Mallory, but not before whispering “God forgive me.”

The final scene involves Eugene—now himself an ILF frontman—visiting the Baxters, a pregnant couple in San Francisco, as Frank had done for him at the beginning of the film.

The Goods

Scary? Gore? Cohen was going for suspense rather than shock, so there’s a lot of ominous music underscoring nervous glances, and surprisingly little gore. (Maybe, like, three baxters.) To his credit, some of the scenes manage to be tense if not actually suspenseful. The one that comes to mind is Eugene’s lengthy thrashing after hearing “something” dive in the darkened pool with him. I was a little squirmy awaiting the payoff. Unfortunately, Cohen was neither entirely adept nor consistent with this tool, so don’t get your hopes too high.

Riffable? Riffability is inversely proportional to the quality of the movie. A well-made film just doesn’t give you time or incentive to mock. It Lives Again is a better film than the first, and there is a subsequent loss of riffability. It’s still bad enough to provide plenty of hooks for the intermediate or advanced riffer, however.

Science! The ILF seems to be staffed by stodgy scientist types with a self-sacrificing altruism. Yet the only pseudoscience we get out of them is their eugenic vision in which the Its are the next step in human evolution, a refined phenotype that is able to “survive the pollutions of this planet.” Is this really the ELF?

Production quality: There are many moments in the first third of the film, especially the hospital sequence, where the audio has been dubbed. The reasons are clear enough. Both male leads seem to be graduates of the Theatrical School of Mumbling and must be rerecorded for our comprehension. Also, Cohen may have thought that his original script didn’t impart enough tension, so he tried to find moments when the actors’ backs are turned or their faces occluded to add new lines. But the dubbing is so bad, so ham-handed, so obvious that it actually draws attention to whatever problem it was intended to fix.

The Upshot

Though the better acting and higher production values (dubbing aside) if It Lives Again might raise the rating, its borrowed plot mistakes brings it back down to the level of the first movie. It’s not even worth browbeating the anthropocentric morality since it’s making the exact same mistakes as the original. When Hollywood revives the franchise (and it’s just a matter of time, really), this should be the first film, starting in medias res. So if you’re reading these reviews deciding whether or not to watch the trilogy, ignore It’s Alive and start here, you’ll save two hours of time.

There are some new things. Mostly it’s the addition of new characters, new organizations, and increased details about the Its.

  • The It Liberation Front emerges as an incompetent underground railroad.
  • The U.S. Department of Genocidal Infanticide and Fumigation emerges.
  • The Its aren’t (just) psychopathic killers. They can warm up to strangers as long as the strangers pose no threat. It is only when the Its are endangered that they get defensive and murderous. They’re kids. They don’t know any better.
  • The Its display:
    • Capacity for speech
    • Abstract reasoning (evidenced by Eve’s destroying the pool lamp for cover and Scott’s finding and destroying the tracer)
    • Crude Spidey Sense

Hopefully the additional details about the Its were put there to give them depth, illustrate their...umm...humanity, and underscore the tragedy of the genocidal efforts against them, but I don’t hold out hope.

Still, many questions remain. Why, aside from the filmmaker’s budget, do they all look alike? What caused their birth? Their mutations? Their bad eyesight? Do their parents bond with them for earnest emotional reasons or psychic coercion? Let’s hope Cohen answers some of these in his finale and simultaneously redeems his ugly message of conformism.

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