After enjoy­ing sur­prise suc­cess with a the­atri­cal reis­sue of It’s Alive and crank­ing out a quick, some­what unfo­cused sequel, it seemed that Larry let his killer baby fran­chise fade out… but the series was res­ur­rect­ed when the direct-to-video mar­ket opened up a new oppor­tu­ni­ty for the vet­er­an writer/director.  Nearly a decade after It itsalive3-posLives Again, Cohen revivedd his mutant babies via a two film straight to video deal with Warner Brothers (the oth­er film was the tech­ni­cal­ly slap­dash but amus­ing A Return To Salem’s Lot).  The result is a fun series closer that shows how much Cohen’s film­mak­ing skill grew between the ‘70s and the ‘80s.

This time, the pro­tag­o­nist is Richard Jarvis (Michael Moriarty), a small­time actor who unwit­ting­ly becomes a focus for the pro-mutant baby strug­gle when he comes to the defense of his mutat­ed child in a court case.  His actions allow the babies to be spared and shipped off to a dis­tant trop­i­cal isle where they can live in peace and iso­la­tion.

Of course, this is a hor­ror film so no one can leave well enough alone.  Five years lat­er, doc­tors want to check on the pro­gress of the mutant chil­dren.  Jarvis’s life has become a mess – includ­ing an ex (Karen Black) who wants noth­ing to do with him – so he signs on when the doc­tors ask him to join up.  Terror ensues when the group hits the island: the mon­sters have grown to adult age thanks to their mutat­ed cells and they’ve got an agen­da all their own.  Revealing more would spoil the fun of the third act but view­ers can count on a fam­i­ly reunion of the most unusu­al vari­ety.

It’s Alive III is a very dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence from the first two films.  Cohen became more com­fort­able with overt satir­i­cal humor in his 1980’s work and this satir­i­cal bent replaces the atmos­pher­ic, creepy tone of the first two films.  This approach is aid­ed and abet­ted by Michael Moriarty, an actor whose eccen­tric sense of humor and knack for impro­vi­sa­tion per­fect­ly match­es Cohen’s work­ing style.   Critics and gen­re fans alike often fault It’s Alive III for its humor­ous tone but this review­er finds it a breath of fresh air.  By this point, the fran­chise had played out its hor­ri­fic poten­tial so this approach keeps Cohen from repeat­ing him­self and allows him to take on the famil­iar con­cept with new vig­or.

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Cohen was also more com­fort­able direct­ing big­ger projects by this time so he han­dles its larg­er scope with greater con­fi­dence and care.  It’s Alive III is well-paced and has the req­ui­site Cohen social themes: this time, AIDS and U.S. rela­tions with Cuba are clev­er­ly woven into the sto­ry.  On the tech­ni­cal side, Cohen is aid­ed great­ly by Daniel Pearl’s  pol­ished cin­e­matog­ra­phy – one might have nev­er expect­ed to see Steadicam and Louma crane shots in a Cohen film but they are here and they look nice.

Effects are still a weak link for Cohen– Steve Neill’s make­up is rub­bery-look­ing and awk­ward in design – but Cohen wise­ly lim­its lengthy looks at them (effects side note: old-school gen­re fans will be pleased by some brief bits of cool stop-motion ani­ma­tion in the ear­ly sce­nes).

The final piece of the puz­zle is Moriarty.  He method-acts up a storm here, impro­vis­ing wild­ly and run­ning away with sce­nes while the oth­er actors try to keep up.  Some might find this slash-and-burn act­ing approach annoy­ing but Moriarty, like Cohen, is some­thing of an acquired taste.  If you like the Cohen/Moriarty team­ing there is plen­ty to enjoy here – the two are a per­fect fit and the fun they have with this wild premise is con­ta­gious.  Karen Black turns in one of her bet­ter lat­ter-day per­for­mances in a small­er role as the ex-wife and James Dixon – the only actor to pop up in all three It’s Alive films — makes a great foil for Moriarty.

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Simply put, It’s Alive III is a worth­while, like­ably quirky lit­tle coda for this sin­gu­lar series.  No one but Cohen could get this much mileage and the­mat­ic vari­ety out of the “killer baby” con­cept.