Director/Screenplay – Larry Cohen, Producer – Paul Stader, Photography – Daniel Pearl, Music – Laurie Johnson, Based on Themes Composed by Bernard Herrmann, Model Effects – William Hedge, Makeup Effects – Steve Neill, Art Direction – George Stoll. Production Company – Larco.
Michael Moriarty (Stephen Jarvis), Karen Black (Ellen Jarvis), James Dixon (Lieutenant Perkins), Laurene Landon (Sally), MacDonald Carey (Judge Milton Watson), Gerrit Graham (Ralston), Rick Garia (Tony), Neal Isreal (Dr Brewster), Art Lund (Dr Swenson), Ann Dane (Dr Morrell), William Watson (Dr Cabot)
Actor Stephen Jarvis, father of one of the mutant babies, goes to court to argue for the rights of the children to live instead of being hunted down. He wins the case and the judge agrees to sequester the babies on a remote island and that the location be kept secret. However, Jarvis’s professional reputation is ruined as a result of the case. Five years later, Jarvis is approached by a research team who want to check on the status of the babies. Once they are on the island however, the babies slaughter the entire expedition excepting Jarvis, who is tentatively allowed to remain alive on the yacht by his own son. There he comes to realize that the babies have not only grown up to the point where they are breeding amongst themselves but that they are also intelligent and telepathic. His son now returns to Florida in search of its mother.
It’s Alive (1974) was a low-budget hit. Audiences of the day liked it and many (this author included) championed director/writer Larry Cohen’s quirky wit and dazzling play of ideas. Cohen who went onto make other witty and imaginative low-budget monster movie gems such as God Told Me To/Demon (1976), Q – The Winged Serpent (1982) and The Stuff (1985). Cohen returned to the It’s Alive saga twice, with It Lives Again (1978), which was almost as good as the first film, and with this effort, which was one of the first films to be distributed directly to video.
Larry Cohen’s quirky, offbeat sense of humour and remarkable reversals of sympathy for his monsters still serve well a third time around. The pre-credits sequence offers an amusing take on the old cliché of the taxi driver having to deliver a baby in the back of the cab. The first scene is an excellent courtroom debate – where sleazy lawyer Gerrit Graham tries to manipulate father Michael Moriarty into being scared of his baby so as to prove his point that the babies are inhumane, only for Moriarty to defy him, approach the baby, the baby to get loose and for Moriarty to then make a heartfelt plea persuading the judge that the babies should be spared.
Michael Moriarty proved to be Larry Cohen’s ace in the hole upon several occasions, delivering standout performances in both Q and The Stuff. He clearly has a good deal of fun again here, illuminating a number of the early scenes with his dry, sarcastic wit – the aforementioned courtroom sequence, which holds a remarkable degree of persuasiveness; the party scene where Cohen sarcastically carps at celebrity exploitation; and an amusing scene where he is forced to take a job as a shoe salesman.
After a good start and being propelled through the first few scenes in no small part due to Michael Moriarty, Island of the Alive starts to go downhill. Some of Larry Cohen’s films give the appearances of having been rushed, with scenes missing or the script not fully worked out before shooting began. Certainly, Island of the Alive appears better budgeted in comparison to some of Cohen’s other films – allowing him, for one, to provide some stop-motion animated babies this time around.
The film however feels like a hodgepodge of scenes that are all over the place – an earlier visit to the island with a hunter and his party being slaughtered by the babies that is unrelated to anything else that happens, a side-trip to Cuba, and the scenes of Karen Black squabbling with her boyfriend. Laurene Landon, for instance, is third-billed on the credits, yet only appears in two scenes as a woman who picks Michael Moriarty up at a fairground carnival before realizing that she is about to sleep with the notorious mutant baby father.
Worst is the fact that Larry Cohen allows Michael Moriarty his head in a number of self-indulgent scenes that should have ended up on the cutting room floor. Despite starting well, it is a totally lunatic performance that Moriarty eventually gives – singing sea shanties, wandering about the island talking to himself, and needling and sexually harassing a woman scientist who feels uncomfortable being there – and one where Cohen clearly felt too enamoured of his collaborator to reign him in.
Island of the Alive has a slapdash feel to it – there is not the cleanness of ideas and metaphor that there was in the preceding two films. Cohen certainly throws in some interesting ideas during the return from the island – of the babies having reached adulthood and now having bred amongst themselves, of their being telepathic – but these are not given the time they needed. The ending returns to the same parenthood uber alles theme of the original, although this has lesser potency a second time around.
Island of the Alive was the last of Cohen’s It’s Alive trilogy, although the series was revived two decades later with It’s Alive (2008), a remake of the original.
Larry Cohen’s other genre films are:– the bizarre alien messiah film God Told Me To/Demon (1976), the werewolf comedy Full Moon High (1982), the monster movie Q – The Winged Serpent (1982), the sentient fast food takeover film The Stuff (1985), A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987), the witch comedy Wicked Stepmother (1989) and the mad scientist film The Ambulance (1990). Cohen appears to have dropped out from directing low-budget genre films from the 1990s onwards and mostly now writes screenplays. Cohen’s other genre scripts include the psycho-thriller Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (1969), the psycho artist film Scream, Baby, Scream (1970), the deformed psycho cop film Maniac Cop (1988) and its sequels Maniac Cop II (1990) and Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence (1992) (all three of which Cohen also produced), the original story for Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers (1993) remake, the stalker film The Ex (1996), Uncle Sam (1997) about a patriotically minded undead Gulf War veteran, the hilarious psycho sperm donor film Misbegotten (1997), the big-budget psycho-thriller Phone Booth (2002), the imprisonment thriller Captivity (2007), the remake of It’s Alive (2008) and Messages Deleted (2010).