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 had 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.
Still, 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.