Thursday, April 9, 2009

It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive

“It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive” is a flick that’s full of good (or at least interesting) ideas, but doesn’t manage to do much of anything with any of them.

Rather than the logical conclusion of a trilogy, the movie feels like a trilogy in and of itself, which was then edited down into a feature length movie. It feels like the conversation went something like this:

Warner Brothers: Okay, Mr. Cohen. We’ve asked you here today to get your take on writing a new trilogy of “It’s Alive” movies.

Larry Cohen: All right, well, I think the first one should be a courtroom drama kind of thing. You know, a real Lifetime movie, only the twist is that they’re fighting for the rights of these so-called monster kids. Make it kind of a weeper, you know? Really get on the side of the monsters.

WB: Interesting. And what would part two be?

LC: Well, you see, at the end of the first movie, the dad, let’s call him Stephen, he secures the rights for all these kids to go live on some remote island. So it’s a happy ending. Only now, the people who manufactured the drug that caused all the mutant babies wants the island hushed up, so they send over a hunting expedition to kill off the kids before some kind of connection can be made. But the dad finds out and also goes to the island, and it’s a big stand-off, y’know? Between the kids, and the dad, and the evil drug manufacturer. Lotta conflict and drama and such.

WB: How does it end?

LC: Well, I haven’t worked out all the details yet, but I think dad ends up trapped on the island with his kids. So, you know, semi-happy ending.

WB: Intriguing. Okay, and what’s the third part of the trilogy?

LC: Glad you asked. Well, in that one, Dad becomes a grandpa, which makes him kind of happy. Only the kids seem to be getting sick. So he finds a way to get back to civilization, and bring the kids with, but they get separated somehow. So it’s a monsters on the loose movie, only really they’re trying to explain that they’re sick and need help.

WB: What happens to the dad during this time?

LC: Oh, um… he falls off the boat and ends up in Cuba. Keeps him off the stage until the finale, when the dying monsters hand over the baby to the baby’s Grandma.

WB: Okay, well, that sounds great. Here’s your check.

LC: Um…

WB: Yes?

LC: There’s a slight problem here.

WB: Which is?

LC: This isn’t enough money for a trilogy. It’s barely enough for one movie. And we’re talking about a man-in-suit monster movie.

WB: Okay, well, just make one movie. Maybe you can sort of combine all that stuff you talked about. Take out some of the boring bits…

LC: I’ll see what I can do.

“It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive” fires up with the first big kick start of the trilogy, as a cop helps some woman give birth in the back of the cab. There’s lots of screaming, plenty of gore, and the cop yells out, “It’s one of them!” dramatically as the kiddo is born.

We get a short scene with Perry, the cop who’s been chasing killer babies through three movies now, and then we’re thrust into the courtroom drama.

A lot of talking happens which gets us up to speed – there are five living “babies,” and the father of one of them, Stephen Jarvis, is petitioning the court to keep them alive. I’d go into the drama of the courtroom, but it’s much ado about nothing until Stephen’s son is brought into the courtroom in a cage, which the baby breaks out of.

The baby doesn’t hurt anyone, however, and the kindhearted judge decides to give the babies a remote island where they can live peacefully, doing whatever it is murderous babies do when they have no one to murder.

Stephen, happy with the outcome of the case, heads down to Florida to talk to his ex-wife Ellen and let her know what’s going on. It seems that their marriage fell apart, and she slunk off to where no one knew her name to get away from the notoriety of what happened to them. She’s even taken steps to ensure she can never get pregnant again.

We also get a little hint of exposition that there haven’t been any new babies in two months, and that doctors suspect there won’t be any more. Which Ellen points out is kind of stupid, because clearly the doctors don’t know what caused the creatures in the first place.

The movie kills a few minutes by having Stephen flirt with and then spend a romantic few moments with a lady of the evening, which goes great until she figures out he’s the father of a mutant. Then there’s some screaming. But I guess the good news is she didn’t want her money, so Stephen saved himself a few bucks.

Meanwhile, in what appears to be an entirely different movie, a couple of helicopters land on a remote island, and a bunch of talking occurs. The gist of the talking is this: The head hunter, Cabot, owns the company that manufactured the drug responsible for the killer babies. So he wants to kill off all the kids to prevent any doctors from making some sort of connection between the rubber monsters on the island and his company.

He also makes mention of eventually putting the drug back on the market. So we know he’s evil. Helpful.

At any rate, even giving the guy a name is pointless, because about five minutes after we meet the hunting party, they’re all dead. Including the helicopter pilot, who manages to get into the air before he’s attacked and killed.

Somehow, this causes the helicopter to explode in midair. Maybe the copter had a self-destruct button?

Time passes. Stephen is told he needs to pay his lawyer bill, and also that his lawyer is going to publish a book about the case, whether he participates or not. So he’d be wise to participate.

The book comes out. Stephen’s ex-wife reads it, and throws it into the fireplace about halfway through. It’s wonderfully convenient that she not only has a fireplace in her apartment in Florida, but that it happened to be burning when she was reading the book. A happy coincidence? Forethought? We’ll never know.

What we do know is that Ellen’s friends don’t read, as she goes another five years before someone brings up the book in her presence.

We cut back to Stephen, who is selling shoes to children to make ends meet. This will be important for roughly a second, at which point Perry-the-cop shows up and says that a) it’s been four years now, with no new babies, and b) the judge who sent all the kids to the island is now dead, so a bunch of scientists are going find the kids and run some tests on them.

Of course, they want Perry the monster-hunter and Stephen the dad to come along. Instead of, say, a cadre of ninjas, which on the whole would be a lot more useful.

We’re treated to some banter as Stephen and Perry talk to a handful of scientists about their plans, and then several long scenes on the boat they all take to get to the island of the alive. These scenes take either ten minutes to go by, or about twenty years if your tolerance for randomly sung sea shanties and whining about sunscreen is fairly low.

They all get to the island, and for a movie with the word island in the actual title, there just isn’t a lot of island footage to be seen. The scientists are all knocked off pretty quick, Perry ends up trapped on the island alone, and Stephen ends up on the boat with all of the creatures and a bunch of dead crew.

So he does the only logical thing and, using a map and what appears to be a psychic link with his son, they head to Florida at the behest of the creatures.

This goes great until the monsters run out of crew members to eat. Stephen’s son flings Stephen over the side of the boat to prevent him from becoming dinner, and a few short sequences later Stephen is being imprisoned in Cuba.

This is, of course, where things are supposed to get exciting. The kids crash-land their boat (something we hear about, but never see) and now, of course, the movie should become a story about a city under siege by monsters. But that doesn’t happen.

Here’s what happens instead:

Ellen, who doesn’t feel well for some reason, leaves work and heads home. Only she’s stopped by a person we’ve never seen before, who states that he JUST ran across her husband’s book which, of course, reveals who Ellen is. He threatens to tell all her friends unless she gives him certain favors whenever he commands them.

This uncomfortable subplot is resolved by Ellen throwing up in the guy’s car, then escaping to her apartment. Dude is then slaughtered by a monster on the sidewalk in front of the apartment, which I guess goes unnoticed for a while, because it’s a long time before the cops show up.

Meanwhile, near the ocean, a woman is being beat up and possibly about to be assaulted in a nonconsensual manner, only a monster walks out of the ocean and takes out her attackers. At which point a bunch of cops show up and shoot the monster to death.

Later, we discover that the monster has a rash, which turns out to be measles.

Finally, Stephen is dropped off on the shore by a bunch of Cubans, and he eventually tracks down Ellen, who has been dragged to the roof of the apartment complex by her son.

Then about a billion cops swarm into the complex.

Things begin to resolve themselves. It seems that all the monsters are dying of the measles, and that Ellen’s son really wanted to present Ellen with her grandchild. Instead of, say, giving the kid to Stephen, which would have saved a lot of time and wouldn’t have involved the slaughter of a few dozen innocent people.

Two of the monsters on the roof die from the measles.

Another is shot and killed by cops.

And Stephen and Ellen grab their kid and steal a car.

As they drive away, they note that neither of them have any money, that Ellen is in her nightdress, and that they must talk quietly so as not the wake the baby. Which will probably die at any moment from the measles.

With that, the trilogy that began with a brilliant metaphor and emotional wringer of a first film ends with the dull thud of trying to do too much and accomplishing too little.

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