Hollywood Elsewhere offers sorrow and condolences to the friends, fans and colleagues of the great Larry Cohen, who died last night at age 77.
I first heard that Larry’s health was declining about three years ago, maybe four. I felt badly but when your number’s up, that’s it. All hail one of the nerviest screenwriters and greatest indie lowball exploitation filmmakers of the late 20th Century.
All aspiring Cohen-heads who haven’t yet seen Steve Mitchell‘s King Cohen need to do so right away.
I’m one of many critics and journalists who had a kind of chummy party-schmooze friend-o thing going with Cohen all through the ’80s, ’90s, aughts and teens…call it 35 years. Larry was on the screening-and-after-party circuit, and every time I ran into him it was always Larry and Laurene Landon, whom he’d had cast and directed in Full Moon High, I, the Jury and The Stuff. Larry and Laurene, Larry and Laurene, Larry and Laurene…years on end.
I called Laurene a couple of hours ago, looking to offer condolences. Her message box was at capacity.
I first met Cohen back in ’81, when I did a Film Journal article about how he’d been fired as director of I, The Jury, which starred Armand Assante. Written by Cohen, pic was a Manhattan-based adaptation of the famous Mickey Spillane novel. The story went that Cohen had openly questioned whether the producers (including Robert Solo) had the dough to finish the film; they apparently canned him out of anger and revenge.
A few weeks later Cohen was back at work on Q: The Winged Serpent, which turned out to be one of his loosest and most amusing…what, genre satires?
I became an arms-length admirer of Cohen in the mid ’70s. I didn’t get him at first. My first impression was that he was making low-budget exploitation schlock, It’s Alive (’74) and God Told Me To (’76) being my first two samplings. Clever stuff but not what anyone would call “serious.”
I finally got him after seeing Q, The Winged Serpent. It suddenly hit me that Cohen might be making dry exploitation film satires — that he might be playing it straight for the sake of his investors but was also “in on the joke.” Or something like that. Michael Moriarty descending into fits of giddy giggling as the serpent eats one of the bad guys….”Eat ‘um, eat’ um, eat ‘um!”.
I can’t over-emphasize how important it is to see King Cohen in order to understand his legend. The talking heads include Martin Scorsese (looking a good ten years younger in the trailer than he does today), John Landis, Michael Moriarty, Fred Williamson, Yaphet Kotto, Landon and several others.