A Film God passed away on March 23. His name was Larry Cohen. He created some of the rawest, most interesting, most legitimately “indie” cinema there’s ever been. His career spanned across six decades. He left his mark in big ways, and even unexpected ways.
One of my favourite anecdotes about Cohen is while he was filming 1973’s Black Caesar. He made every actor shoot a death scene at the beginning of production and then told them to do things his way, or he’ll kill their character off whenever he wants. That’s the way he seemed to like it. He wanted to make movies, and he didn’t give a shit about pesky things like egos or shooting permits. He’ll just have his lead actor run through the streets brandishing a gun while filming it surreptitiously, because why the hell not?
The DIS/Family Members are huge fans of the man and his work, and we thought we’d show our affection by highlighting some of the off-beat and singular work he’s down over the years.
The Stuff and the name Larry Cohen was always something I had heard about, but never really knew about. People whose opinions I respect on Twitter, along with various other horror people in my life, always talked about them both, but I, being young and stupid, never really looked into it further.
Then, one night perusing Prime, I came across The Stuff. I thought, “why the hell not” and pressed play. And holy shit, you guys, I was transfixed. Here was this brutal morality tale about capitalism, greed, and gluttony, wrapped in a wickedly smart and freakish package. It was like a documentary beamed in from another world. I now knew why the name Cohen was spoken of in such reverent tones.
I then further educated myself with “camp classics” like Q, the It’s Alive trilogy, and Hell up in Harlem. These were movies that all had “trashy” reputations but always had something else just beneath the surface. That’s what “King Cohen’s” legacy will always be for me personally. He made me look beneath the surface, drove me to find more, and try something unexpected. For that, I’ll always be forever grateful. Well, that and melting Garrett Morris’s face and body off.
Rest in power, King.
My first memories of Larry Cohen’s work were when I had absolutely no idea they were Larry Cohen works.
I have a vivid memory of seeing the Q – The Winged Serpent poster hanging on a video store wall. It’s such an intriguing and vivid image that it obviously stuck in the mind of a child.
My second surprise brush with Cohen was a few years later, watching the movie Phone Booth in theaters and really digging it. I was 14, and I liked the Hitchcockian vibe so much I looked up the creators online. When I looked up Larry Cohen, I saw the Q poster again, and I immediately had to watch it. Then I had to watch It’s Alive. Over the years, I made my way through the major Cohen films, the weird and schlocky additions to the canon. I was always pleasantly surprised when I found out Cohen had written an episode of Columbo or NYPD Blue that I loved, as if he’d always been along for the ride and I was just now catching up.
I think my favorite Cohen film, if maybe not the “best,” is The Ambulance. It was a bit of a hidden gem for me. I’ve seen all of the major Cohen releases, but The Ambulance had slipped through the cracks until recently. I love it so much. It has all the hallmarks of a Cohen film, including a sleazy lead played by Eric Roberts. He’s a fine successor to frequent collaborator Michael Moriarty’s usual slick hucksters.
Cohen hits that sweet spot for me between reality and total fantasy. He’s like a Grindhouse Nigel Kneale. Even when the story ultimately leads to killer newborns, winged serpents or mind-altering stuff, Cohen makes sure to start everything from an honest, grounded perspective. He wants to drive us towards insanity as much as his characters.
I’ll miss him.
My first brush with Cohen was It’s Alive. I had just finished watching Rosemary’s Baby and was very disappointed that we didn’t get to see the devil child. My dad, the biggest nerd I know, told me that there was a movie called It’s Alive where the baby was just as freaky as you can imagine, and the film was out of this world. I watched it, and I immediately loved it. It was the right type of insane that hits you as no other film does. After that, I couldn’t get enough. I fell down the rabbit hole watching Q – The Winged Serpent, Black Caesar, most of the It’s Alive sequels. However, the one movie that sold me as a Larry Cohen fan was The Stuff.
The Stuff is just the best version of The Blob that you can ever ask for. (Don’t @ me… I know The Blob is a classic, but if you haven’t seen The Stuff then you truly haven’t lived.) The Stuff is a science fiction film but also a satire. It’s a comedy but also a part of the body horror sub-genre. It’s goofy as fuck, but each actor sells both The Stuff and the story so well that you find yourself on the edge of your seat thinking “how the fuck can this get any more fucking nutty?”
Larry Cohen dipped and dapped his feet in many different genres making films the way he wanted. I respect a dude who can do that, piss off his cast, produce wild shit, and stand true to himself.
Larry. King. I’ll pour one out for you, homie.