Filmmaker Steve Mitchell, known for his screenwriter credit of Chopping Mall (1986), has made a few videos on Larry Cohen, namely two in 2018, It’s Alive at the Nuart and then Cohen’s Alive: Looking Back at the It’s Alive Films. This time a feature film celebrating a man who created an underground buzz for his guerilla style of filming and creating art. The almost 2-hour documentary and thoroughly enlightening and entertaining looks back on his career, from childhood in New York City to present day from colleagues and admirers, while Cohen leads the way. Those unfamiliar with Larry Cohen, need to see this documentary and learn about some insane films, and off-the-wall productions. He expresses his frustration over lack of creative control of his scripts, thereby forcing his hand to create his own projects hence earning him a positive and zany reputation of a maverick as well as numerous credits under the headings of writer, director, and producer. Mitchell leaves nothing untouched, looking under rocks uncovering clues and stories of both the Cohen’s films and his style, which sometimes had hidden layers of social or even political viewpoints. This makes for a funny and inspiring story showing not the glamour but rather it takes quick thinking, cutting corners, blood and lots of sweat to make film dreams dazzle in the lights and fatten one’s wallet.
While Cohen’s roots come from television, his content had one goal just entertain the audiences, don’t make them think or provoke a response, just have them settle for the one-eyed monster. However, Cohen sought a lot more, wanting to create grandiose projects and thought-provoking films for moviegoers but also vastly more profitable. His endless list of expertise served him very well, as well as crafty businessman, along with some incredible showman polish. The notable talents gracing the screen to share their input bout him, included Joe Dante, Mick Garris, John Landis, J.J. Abrams, Eric Roberts, Fred Williamson, Martin Scorsese, and longtime collaborator Michael Moriarty to name a few. In fact, Moriarty and Williamson take great pride in telling tales of Cohen’s tenacious style, from grabbing scenes in dangerous situations or unorthodox manners and overcoming obstacles without ruining a budget. He made incredible maneuvers in the field and yet had some of the greatest talent alongside for the ride, including famed Alfred Hitchcock and composer Bernard Herrmann, who had a special bond and understood each other phenomenally well. His ability to quickly write screenplays and teleplays, from original story concepts, still has many marveling at his work ethic, plays the logic ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead.’ The documentary notes the harrowing adventures in making some of his films, namely Q: The Winged Serpent (1982) from Moriarty unscheduled walking in the city street purposely having a cab knock a briefcase of out his hands, reminds one the insanity of Rosemary’s Baby street scene. Then causing momentary citywide frenzy in New York, machine gun shell casings flying off the Chrysler Building, you could never get away with half the things he’s done on set in today’s tightly restricted film productions. Permits, needless paperwork, especially on the shoot of God Told Me To, when he thrust Andy Kaufman (portraying a Police Assassin) in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade next to real police officers.
This also shows his care for the then aging Bette Davis in Wicked Stepmother (1989), a film with a video premier in November, that became her last picture (she passed on in October of 1989), she left for different reasons in the middle of filming, a guarded position when discussing with Cohen. There’s no one genre Larry held himself to, horror, action exploitation, blaxploitation all of it fair game to him, for his natural storytelling, making light of some situations. The overall production of this movie keeps the audience entertained and engaged, with reminiscing of the past productions, elaborating on working with past talents, for various reasons and giving an open book to all. Some of the funniest moments comes from fun editing clips between Cohen and Williamson, the banter quite enjoyable, as Fred maintains the serious position that director (Cohen) embellishing the past. One must watch it!
By the end of the documentary, one likely will seek Larry’s films to watch, savor, and learn from, understanding his brilliant script production, and repeated watching, never playing it safe, take the risk reaps larger rewards. Although of late Larry hasn’t directed since an episode of Masters of Horror (TV Series) episode Pick Me Up (2006) and made an appearance as himself on an upcoming documentary called Lives of Bernard Herrmann by director Brandon Brown; as well as reprising his characters for Manic Cop (2018). His films always contain high energy, even using his home for some of the productions, and noting the commercialism on other works such as The Stuff (1985).
Therefore, if you enjoy offbeat humor, and storytelling, Larry’s film likely already had some effect on you, but this movie allows you to take on a ride through some incredible places, times namely in 70s and 80s, and giving great insight to his horror films. Hence if you like low-budget film-making, and you strive to ache and suffer before, during and after a production then this definitely fits you like a sticky filthy glove.
Writer. Producer. Director. Maverick.
IMDb Rating: 7.5/10
Baron’s Rating: 8/10