It's Alive, The Whole Bloody Crib from Scream Factory

I've covered a lot of Larry Cohen releases on this site, but not the most famous, iconic horror hit of his career: It's Alive.  Why not?  Well, because until today, there wasn't much to write about.  Warner Bros released it and its two sequels on DVD back in 2004, both in the US and the UK, and that's been it.  They repacked 'em once or twice, so you could buy the films individually or all together.  But there's just been those core, staple DVDs to serve the trilogy for all these years.  Until today, finally, Scream Factory has given them all new 2k scans from the original film elements and released the entire trilogy in HD for the first time ever.
1974's It's Alive is a real horror classic that stands up alongside the likes of The Omen, Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist.  And I think it's all thanks to the combination of the natural intelligence Cohen injects into his scripts with his knack for finding root, human issues that frighten us.  What if that cop we all count on to protect us in times of danger was really the danger?  Maniac CopAmbulances, Uncle Sam, the food we eat and even God have all shown us their sinister faces we've all secretly dreaded they might be concealing thanks to Mr. Cohen, and probably the most sensitive of all those phobias is the fear expectant parents have of something being wrong with their baby.  And as the classic tagline for this baby reads, "there's only one thing wrong with the Davis baby... It's Alive."
That's heavy stuff; and while it's debatable how scary they actually make the killer baby (or how much they're even trying), the subject matter is still dancing on a raw nerve.  They manage to maintain some atmosphere by keeping it mostly in shadows and unseen, like the shark in Jaws, and pouring a rich Berrnard Hermann (Citizen Kane, Psycho, and a few other minor little efforts you may've heard of) score over all the proceedings.  But this film lays into the drama of the situation at least as much as the horror.  There some touches of humor, too, of course - this is our Cohen, after all - but this is about as far as he gets from his zanier horror outings like Q or Return To Salem's Lot, basically playing it straight and letting the severity of the situation sit with the audience.  A great cast, including the relatively unsung John Ryan, genre staple Andrew Duggan and Cohen regular James Dixon, really do their part to hold this up to a higher level of credibility than Cohen typically aims for.
But you can never really tap the same vein twice in horror.  If you're lucky enough to rattle audiences once, doing the same thing next summer just won't have the same effect, and the most successful horror sequels are ones that know to aim for something different, like Aliens or Evil Dead 2.  And It's Alive 2, a.k.a. It Lives Again... sort of does that.  The cast returns and the tone is relatively the same, including Herrmann's music.  But where the first is clawing at your raw emotions, this one is reaching out to us more on an intellectual level, offering us interesting ideas on an almost sci-fi plain as opposed to primal level of the original.  If we take it as a given now, after the first film, that monster babies are an issue, how do we deal with them, and what does that say about us?  The film was advertised as "now there are three of them," but thank god Cohen is able to put more into the script than that.  The new cast members (including the great John Marley) mesh perfectly with the returning stars, and Rick Baker's first monster looks a little better this time around.  It all comes together well enough to be a good, effective movie well worth the watch, despite their being, of course, only one classic in this series.
And speaking of there only being one classic in this series, along comes It's Alive 3.  It's subtitle Island Of the Alive tells you all you need to know about this one.  Lofty ambitions are put aside with Cohen instead going for more of a self-indulgent romp this time out.  And frankly, it's probably the best choice he could've made.  It's the 80s now, John Ryan is replaced by fan favorite Michael Moriarity, and the vibe definitely gets lighter as the infamous babies are exported to a Jurassic Park-like island.  Serious issues are still sort of being dealt with, including a memorable courtroom scene where Moriarity begs for his son's life, but it's full of goofy bits where he rafts onto a California beach from Cuba with a few of Fidel Castro's men or his brief stint as a shoe salesman.  Only James Dixon hangs in there from the previous films, but Cohen regular Laurene Landon fills in, as does horror icon Karen BlackIsland is almost more of a riff on the previous films than the conclusion of a trilogy, but it's still a good time I'd hate to miss out on.
2004 US Warner Bros DVD top; 2018 US Scream Factory blu bottom.
first two part 1, second two part 2, third two part 3.
I'm gonna lump these comparisons together, because it's the same story every time.  Warner Bros' DVDs are all 1.78:1, anamorphic widescreen, and frankly a little over compressed even for their time.  Consequently, Screams 1.85:1 blus are some very satisfying upgrades.  The films typically look a little soft, probably due to Cohen using small, frequently moving handheld cameras, and there are actually one or two flat-out out of focus shots.  But that's the filmmaking, not the home video transfers.  Scream brings out about as much clarity as they possibly good with their fresh scans, and they look a lot better.  The DVDs also seem to sport a little edge enhancement or other tinkering to try to smarten up their images, which has happily been done away with on the blus.  And the colors have been corrected, almost always to their benefit (I do wonder if they swung the pendulum a little too far into the greens for It's Alive 2, but that could just be me reacting to them reducing the excessive reds of the DVDs).  These films really needed updated masters to be brought to HD, and happily we've got them.

Update 5/2/18 (see comments): The DVDs for parts 2 and 3 are also slightly vertically stretched, which is corrected on both blus.  One more little benefit to upgrading.

For audio, we get some pretty straight forward bumps to uncompressed DTS-HD.  All the DVDs and all the blus just featured the original mono tracks, except for part 3, which has stereo mixes in both cases.  The DVDs did feature extra French dubs, as well as French and Spanish subtitles, but both the DVDs and blus feature optional English subtitles, which is all that really matters.
Now one thing Warners got right with their DVDs was bringing in Larry Cohen for his consistently excellent audio commentaries for all three films.  It has to be noted that for part 3, he was recording to a cut version of the film; and while all three films were released completely uncut on both DVD and blu, this means his commentary leaves some unnatural dead air during the scenes that were excised from his tape.  And he takes some pauses himself anyway on the other ones.  That's the only complaint about these otherwise terrific commentaries.  Besides that, the Warner Bros discs also included a trailer for each film.  And it should be noted that parts 2 and 3 were released as a two-sided flipper disc, a small annoyance Scream Factory happily did not continue.
They did port over the commentaries and trailers, though, so we're all good.  In addition to that, they created an excellent little mini-documentary going over the history of the entire trilogy, interviewing tons of key personnel, from Cohen to his producers and DP to Michael Moriarity and James Dixon.  It's only about twenty minutes long, but it's terrific; and honestly, I would've bought that on disc if it was released by itself.  Otherwise, though, these aren't quite the packed Collector's Editions we get when Scream goes all-out.  The only other new stuff Scream gives us are a new Q&A with Cohen from an It's Alive screening, where he just repeats anecdotes from the commentary anyway, and a new interview with Steve Neill, the effects artist for part 3.  They do also throw in some additional radio and TV spots for the first film, and stills galleries for all three, plus the first two films have reversible artwork.  And all three cases come in a thin cardboard box.
Ultimately, this is a very satisfying set.  But you know, they haven't quite given these movies the Nightbreed treatment.  It feels like Scream Factory is cutting down a bit on the number of special features they create in general, which is a disappointing trend.  It's wonderful that they brought in Michael Moriarity, but then all they used of his interview was those quick couple soundbites?  You'd think since they had him on camera, they would've chatted with him long enough to put together a  whole separate interview on disc 3.  And I'm worried that their titles further down the road (like, say, Alien Predators) will be more barebones, not less.  The price is certainly right, but I would've happily paid $20 for even fuller editions, especially since we already had the commentaries on the DVDs, so there's not so much new material.  But that concern aside, it's hard to be anything but quite pleased with this set.  The films look great and everything included is thoroughly rewarding.  It's hard to believe we haven't had It's Alive on blu before, in any region.  But we do now, and it's pretty great.


  1. I always thought that Part 3 looked slightly vertically-stretched on DVD. Even the comparison caps seem to suggest it; the ones from the Blu look normal. Just wondering if you noticed it, too.

    1. Ah yeah, you're right! Didn't notice it with the framing and AR both being slightly different, but yeah, the DVD is definitely vertically stretched. And so is part 2! Not the first one, though.
      Well spotted - I've updated my post.