Review: KING COHEN (2018)

KING COHEN

Larry Cohen is truly one of the pioneers of modern film. He’s also one of the most overlooked, outside of genre circles. Sometimes within them for as well for that matter. KING COHEN aims to change that by giving us a look at his career which started in 1958 when he began writing for live TV and continues to the present day.

Going back to his childhood love of film and his desire to break into show business, first as a stand-up comedian and then as a writer, we get a portrait of a young man gifted with talent and determination. Selling his first script at 17 and working his craft. Moving up steadily from a writer to creating his own shows such as BRANDED and the science fiction classic THE INVADERS. But being forced to compromise his vision for his shows or losing control of them completely soured him on the system.

Going out on his own he unleashed BONE on an unsuspecting public in 1972. The first of 21 directorial credits he’d rack up, this bizarre tale of race and class issues landed him the chance to make BLACK CAESAR starring Fred Williamson and he never looked back.

KING COHEN’s writer/director Steve Mitchell, (writer of the cult favorite CHOPPING MALL), does a great job, covering not just the obvious titles such as IT’S ALIVE, GOD TOLD ME TO, THE STUFF or Q THE WINGED SERPENT. Lesser known works like SPECIAL EFFECTS, A RETURN TO SALEM’S LOT and ORIGINAL GANGSTAS get their due as well. We get anecdotes about guerrilla filmmaking from Cohen himself as well as many of his stars, collaborators, and friends. Martin Scorsese, Fred Williamson, Yaphet Kotto, Robert Forster, Mick Garris, John Landis as well as Joe Dante and J.J. Abrams are all heard from.

The film also covers things that didn’t go well, such as Larry being fired from the production of I, THE JURY and the problems he ran into with Bette Davis while filming WICKED STEPMOTHER. There’s also time devoted to his friendships with the likes of Bernard Herrmann and Red Buttons.

Moving at a brisk pace, KING COHEN makes its 110 minute running time seem way to short. Indeed, near the end, Cohen jokes they’ll need to do a second film to get everything in. But as it stands the film is a great overview of the man and his films. Not just the action and effects, but the ideas and beliefs, social, political and even religious that shaped them.

Dark Star Pictures releases KING COHEN July 27 in markets including Los Angeles and New York. Special event screenings of the film will also be held throughout July and August in cities including Asheville, VA, and Yonkers, NY.

Jim Morazzini

Movie buff, gym rat and crazy cat guy