larry cohen obituary

The movie world just lost an absolute legend. Larry Cohen, the prolific writer, director and producer behind some of the most unique, jaw-dropping, and utterly bonkers B-movies in history, has died at 77. Cohen began his career in television, breaking into films in the 1970s. Some of his many projects include The StuffIt’s AliveManiac Cop, and Q.

Multiple outlets are reporting Larry Cohen has died, and that’s a damn tragedy. A part of me assumed Cohen would somehow beat the odds, and live forever. Cohen’s prolific career began in the 1950s, when he worked for NBC, learning how to write scripts in the process. During his time writing for television, he created the TV series The Invaders, and wrote episodes of The FugitiveColumboBranded and anthology shows like Kraft Television Theatre and Kraft Suspense Theatre.

In 1972, Cohen made his feature directorial debut with Bone, starring Yaphet Kotto, Joyce Van Patten, and Andrew Duggan. The severely dark comedy focused on a rapist who breaks into a house in Beverly Hills, where he finds his hostages hate each other and want to task him with killing one another. Cohen always thought of the movie as comedy, but the distributor attempted to sell it as drama – which, in Cohen’s opinion, destroyed the film’s chances.

Bone

After Bone, Cohen entered into the blaxploitation genre, helming Black Caesar and Hell Up in Harlem. As writer, director and producer of his films, Cohen did everything his way, staging dangerous stunts for his actors, and even shooting the films at his own house, so he wouldn’t have to venture to far. “I’m only interested in making movies my way,” he told the Village Voice. “Total freedom.”

Cohen broke into horror in 1974, with It’s Alive. The story focused on a couple who give birth to a killer mutant baby. Released by Warner Bros., It’s Alive was a commercial flop at first. Three years after its initial release, Warners went through a regime change, at which point Cohen asked the new executives to give the movie another chance. Re-released in 1977 with a new marketing campaign, It’s Alive went on to become a box office hit. Cohen would eventually follow it up with two sequels – It Lives Again (1978), and It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987).

It’s Alive

Cohen continued his unique career with God Told Me To (1976), in which random people begin committing murder, claiming God Himself ordered them to kill; Q (1982), about a giant winged serpent attacking New York; and The Stuff (1985), focusing on a strange alien goo that is turned into a fast-selling snack food. In addition to his directorial pursuits, Cohen also worked as a screenwriter for other directors, writing the script for William Lustig’s Maniac Cop (1988), which Cohen also produced. He also had story or writing credits on several mainstream titles, like Phone Booth (2002) and Captivity (2007).

Phone Booth

Love him or hate him, there will never be another filmmaker like Larry Cohen. Cohen was able to bring bold, striking vision to low budget, crazy-sounding works, and bless them with a genuine heart and spirit. He was an absolute original. “Studio execs love to ask: What’s it like? And when you tell them the idea is like nothing you’ve seen before! they get very nervous,” Cohen said in a past interview. “Nobody wants to be first in terms of trying something new. It takes someone with bold vision to do that.”

If you’re not quite familiar with Cohen’s career, or even if you are, I urge you to go check out the documentary King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen, currently streaming on Shudder.

King Cohen

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