King Cohen The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen
Written and Directed by Steve Mitchell
Featuring Larry Cohen, Martin Scorsese, J.J Abrams, Joe Dante, Mick Garris, John Landis, Fred Williamson
Dark Star Pictures
Release date: August 3, 2018 (NYC premiere)
Who is Larry Cohen? If you don’t recognize his name, I promise you’ll recognize his films. The now 77-year old has been working in the industry since the late 1950s and evolved from writing noir and western television to become a prolific genre filmmaker. His most prominent works include Black Caesar (1973), It’s Alive (1974), God Told Me To (1976), Q (1982), The Stuff (1985), and Phone Booth (2002). In all he has over 80 writing credits and 20+ directorial efforts. But more than his films was his renegade and rogue filmmaking style. A writer who became a director and producer, Larry Cohen was the consummate hustler and true triple threat. His life and career are now the subject of a phenomenal documentary, King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen, written and directed by Steve Mitchell and put out by Dark Star Pictures.
Don’t believe Cohen’s IMDb page, he was NOT born in Kingston, New York. He grew up in New York City’s Washington Heights and relished in a childhood at the movies seeing 3-4 films at a time on double bills before getting kicked out. Then he decided to start writing and he has not stopped. Steve Mitchell, writer of ’80s horror film Chopping Mall, wrote and directed one of the best and most all-encompassing career retrospectives I can remember. Just the list of interviewees gives you insight into the length and breadth of Cohen’s career. Opening with an anecdote from J.J. Abrams, we get stories from Oscar-winner Martin Scorsese, Mick Garris, Joe Dante, John Landis, Eric Roberts, Michael Moriarty, crew members, friends, both his ex and current wives, and of course Cohen himself.
Mitchell is very linear in his presentation going step by step through Cohen’s early writing career and showing his growing aggravation with the system knowing he could always do his stuff better than anyone else. His first film, Bone (1972), was revolutionary in showing a sex scene between a white woman and a black man, and soon Cohen was making Blaxploitation pictures. His struggles gaining distribution and financing led to him producing as well as developing what would become his trademark style of shooting everything on the fly with no preparation to keep the budgets low, while making films that looked big budget. There is NO WAY he could make a movie today the way he did in the 1970s and 80s; for instance, often sending his actors running down crowded New York City streets and, in one hilarious case, causing a panic by having his actors fire machine guns atop the Chrysler Building while filming Q.
While your opinion about Larry Cohen’s films may sway from film to film, you will certainly learn to love and appreciate Larry Cohen the man. He comes off as one of the most genuine, likable, and most respected men in Hollywood. Some of the stories were tremendously moving, and you’ll likely shed a tear when they discuss acclaimed composer Bernard Herrmann and his bond with Cohen and Cohen’s attempts to revive the career of Oscar-winner Bette Davis.
Larry Cohen is a low-budget genre guy who even today sits and greets fans at horror conventions with mutant babies and containers of killer yogurt on his table. This documentary is a fantastic introduction to his career in TV and films, and also as a historical note to the changing industry on the whole. I was riveted.
King Cohen opened in Los Angeles last month and opens in New York City this Friday, August 3, 2018. With a legacy as one of the great New York filmmakers, this is a funny, heartwarming, and insightful documentary that you should go out of your way to see.