Larry Cohen

Larry Cohen

After honing his craft writing and creating series for 1950s and 60s TV and having several screenplays produced in the 60s, Cohen became a major low-rent auteur of 70s cheapie genre movies. His ambitious 1972 debut, "Bone" (aka "Dial Rat for Terror" or "Beverly Hills Nightmare") featured Yaphet Kotto as a Black intruder who has a surprising showdown with an affluent white couple (Andrew Duggan, Joyce Van Patten) in their Beverly Hills home. This bizarre black comedy was an attempt to adapt the social satirical concerns of British playwright Joe Orton and Jean-Luc Godard (circa "Weekend" 1967) into an American milieu. Cohen went on to produce, write, and direct a series of somewhat schlocky but thoughtful and thoroughly entertaining films. Cohen favored NYC locations, veteran Hollywood performers (Broderick Crawford, Dan Dailey, Celeste Holm, Jose Ferrer, June Havoc) and composers (Bernard Herrmann, Miklos Rozsa) and quirky leading men (Michael Moriarty, David Carradine). His was a morally ambiguous universe without true heroes or absolute villains. His notable 70s work includes the "blaxploitation" entry "Black Caesar" (1972) and its sequel, "Hell Up In Harlem" (1973), the cult horror film about a monstrous baby, "It's Alive" (1974)--followed by two sequels, the supernatural cop thriller, "God Told Me To/Demon" (1976) and the subversive two-bit biopic "The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover" (1977). In the late 70s and throughout the 80s, Cohen provided stories and/or screenplays for the films of others (William Richert's "The American Success Company" 1979, "I, the Jury" 1982, "Scandalous" 1984, "Best Seller" 1987) while continuing to produce, direct, and write self-conscious, low-budget pictures. These include the NYC cop vs. winged serpent thriller, "Q" (1982); "The Stuff" (1985), an unsavory horror satire about a devilish dessert; "A Return to Salem's Lot" (1987), a horror sequel/spoof featuring the inimitable filmmaker Sam Fuller as an intrepid vampire hunter; and Bette Davis's final film, "Wicked Stepmother" (1989). Cohen also wrote and produced the popular "Maniac Cop" (1988) and its two sequels. As a writer-director, Cohen's first film for the 90s was "The Ambulance"--a suspense thriller about a mysterious ambulance that abducts NYC residents--which opened abroad but never received an American theatrical release. In 1993, he kept busy as a screenwriter scripting the Sidney Lumet-directed legal/psychological thriller, "Guilty as Sin" and providing the story for Abel Ferrara's take on "Bodysnatchers." Just when the industry might be tempted to write off Cohen as a progenitor of B-grade (and sometimes C- and D-grade) material--however knowing and irony-laced--he would inevitably sell a screenplay that would involve major Hollywood talent. Meanwhile, he would continue to do journeyman work regularly writing and directing (and sometimes even providing music for) a never-ending series of TV movies, cable films and direct-to-video fare. Cohen provided the ultimate case-in-point when he sold the screenplay for the hitman thriller "Phone Booth" (2003) to Twentieth Century Fox. Although Cohen's last big-screen credit had been on the ultra-schlocky horror film "Uncle Sam," the script for "Phone Booth" managed to attract the attention of potential leading men such as Brad Pitt, Jim Carrey, Will Smith and Mel Gibson before the film (with uncredited rewrites by Brian Helgeland and Stephen Gaghan) was finally lensed by director Joel Schumacher with hot newcomer Colin Farrell in the leading role (The movie also garnered notorious pre-release publicity when its 2002 release date was postponed for several months after a string of similar real-life murders occurred in the Washington D.C. area just before the film was supposed to open). The result was a re-heating of Cohen's career, landing him script purchases and development deals with virtually every major studio in Hollywood. The first result of Cohen's second coming was the similarly telephonic thriller "Cellular" (2004), for which he received story credit. Cohen's next screenwriting credit came with the psychological horror "Captivity" (2007), followed by the reboot of his most famous film, "It's Alive" (2009). Cohen's final pair of screenwriting credits came later that same year, with "Messages Deleted" (2009) and "The Gambler, the Girl, and the Gunslinger" (2009). Larry Cohen quietly retired after that final burst of activity, and died on March 23, 2019 in Beverly Hills at the age of 82.