It’s Alive was not an imme­di­ate hit: its first release occured dur­ing a régime change and Warner Brothers and got lost in the shuf­fle.  However, writer/director Larry Cohen was able to get the company’s 1977-era execs to try out a reis­sue and it became a sur­prise hit.   Cohen got anoth­er stab at the con­cept the next year and the results itsalive2-poshad the same amount of inspi­ra­tion but ran into prob­lems with exe­cut­ing its con­cepts.

Like its pre­de­ces­sor, It Lives Again focus­es on a cou­ple expect­ing a child: in this case it is Eugene and Jody Scott (Frederic Forrest and Kathleen Lloyd).  Frank Davis (John P. Ryan) warns them that their child may be a mutant like his was and they find them­selves caught in the mid­st of a tug-of-war between the gov­ern­ment anti-mutant squad, led by the obses­sive Mallory (John Marley), and the pro-mutant con­tin­gent led by Davis.  A clash ensues that leads to chas­es, much mutant baby may­hem and the inevitable trag­ic finale.

Despite ambi­tion and some improved resources, It Lives Again is a mixed bag.  After an excel­lent first half-hour that sets up all the prin­ci­pals and cli­max­es with the excit­ing scene where the preg­nant Jody is heist­ed by Frank’s oper­a­tives from a deliv­ery room(!), the film los­es direc­tion.  It’s nev­er clear exact­ly what the sci­en­tists want to do, fre­net­ic activ­i­ty replaces plot devel­op­ment and the empha­sis on chas­es & intrigue results in the char­ac­ter­i­za­tions get­ting lost in the shuf­fle.

Even worse, Cohen seems over­whelmed by his expan­sive plot, lead­ing to a film where key sce­nes are rushed through in haste (most notably the finale) and the tran­si­tions between sce­nes are chop­py at best – off-screen dia­logue is often used to awk­ward­ly bridge us from one locale to the next.  Cohen has always been best han­dling inti­mate premis­es dri­ven by a small num­ber of char­ac­ters and when he tries to go big here he often spreads him­self thin – a prob­lem that also dogged his sim­i­lar­ly ambi­tious sequel to Black Caesar, Hell Up In Harlem.

itsalive2-01Still, It Lives Again remains worth­while in spite of the­se prob­lems.  Cohen fills his script with intrigu­ing ideas, even if he doesn’t explore them ful­ly: the bat­tle between Mallory and Davis echoes the debate over abor­tion and the film’s depic­tion of the gov­ern­ment exert­ing con­trol over hos­pi­tals, busi­ness­es and the state police give it a nice anti-estab­lish­ment edge.  Cohen also laces in his usu­al trade­mark bits of odd­ball humor – one of the best is a moment where Eugene, fear­ful the baby is watch­ing him, goes out to get fire­wood while bran­dish­ing a gun.

Best of all, the film boasts a quar­tet of excel­lent lead per­for­mances to dri­ve the premise home:  Ryan brings a believ­able sense of tor­ment to his father-turned-avenger role, Marley lends some warmth to what could have been a stock vil­lain role and Forrest and Lloyd give nice, nat­u­ral­is­tic per­for­mances – whether they are strug­gling with the dif­fi­cul­ties of new­ly­wed life or the actions of the mutant babies, their intense but under­stat­ed work enhances the film’s believ­abil­i­ty.

It Lives Again is ulti­mate­ly less than the sum of its parts.  However, the work of the gift­ed cast, com­bined with Cohen’s unique take on gen­re con­cerns, keep the film inter­est­ing even when the sto­ry drifts.