Larry Cohen  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Larry Cohen (born Lawrence G. Cohen on July 15, 1938, New York, New York, USA) is an American film producer, director, and screenwriter. Although he writes and produces for others, he is best known for directing his own low-budget but inventive horror films and thrillers. Cohen moved to the Riverdale section of the Bronx at an early age, eventually majoring in film at the City College of New York.

Cohen started his career in television; writing on many shows and creating the cult classics Branded and The Invaders. He wrote, produced, and directed his first feature film, Dial Rat for Terror in 1972. He came to prominence with It's Alive (1974), a horror film about an epidemic of fanged predatory babies. Though cheap, it is notable for its satirical black humor (the hero's son slaughters the medical staff at birth) and for its exploration of the parents’ dilemma: the hero, who has fathered one of the creatures, at first disowns it but later tries to protect it despite its obvious anti-social tendencies. It's Alive is also noted for being scored by Bernard Herrmann. Cohen made two sequels, It Lives Again (1978) and It's Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987).

Cohen's films are full of quotable dialogue. In Full-Moon High (1981), a teenage werewolf puts off his girlfriend's advances with the excuse that it's “his time of the month.” The Stuff (1985) concerns a parasitic goo from beneath the Earth's crust that manages to get itself marketed as a dessert. The film's hero announces proudly at the beginning, "Nobody could be as dumb as I appear," and later delivers the maxim, "Everybody has to eat shaving cream now and then."

In Q (aka The Winged Serpent, 1982), the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl is resurrected and flies about New York City snatching human sacrifices off the skyscrapers. Cohen was able to employ the talents of Michael Moriarty, David Carradine, and Candy Clark, and the film is one of his most sophisticated, but it still manages to include such lines as “Maybe his head got loose and fell off.” and "I want a Nixon type pardon!"

Perhaps Cohen’s most complex film, as well as his darkest, is God Told Me To (aka Demon, 1976), in which a troubled Catholic detective is faced with an epidemic of murders carried out by apparently normal people who claim, with quiet satisfaction, that God told them to do it. The film mixes science fiction and horror with religious satire.

In 1987, Cohen made an unofficial sequel to Stephen King's Salem's Lot. With typical chutzpah, Cohen threw out all of King’s characters and kept only the basic premise of a small American town inhabited by vampires. A Return to Salem's Lot starred Michael Moriarty (a Cohen regular) and Samuel Fuller, and satirises small-town snobbery and hypocrisy: a little old woman vampire refers coyly to her drinking problem while the evil king-vampire is shown to be, at bottom, little more than a rather nasty conservative politician.

Besides monster movies, Cohen has also made thrillers such as The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977), which portrays the FBI chief as a sexually repressed, paranoid megalomaniac; Special Effects (1984), the twisted tale of a policeman, a murderous film director, and the woman who gets turned into the double of his leading lady; and The Ambulance (1990), a Hitchcock-style entertainment in which Eric Roberts investigates the sudden disappearance of a young woman.

Because of their frequently hurried production and their bargain-basement budgets, Cohen's films are sometimes murkily shot or messily edited, but Cohen’s freewheeling approach (and independence from studio interference) enables him to attack a number of satirical targets that often get off lightly in the mainstream: Christianity in God Told Me To, nice little towns in A Return to 'Salem's Lot, family values in the Alive trilogy, consumerism and greedy, ruthless food companies in The Stuff. In the third film of the Alive trilogy, Cohen even manages to work in some telling swipes against American demonisation of Cuba.

Cohen was influenced by director Sam Fuller and now lives in a house formerly owned by Mr. Fuller. In recent years, Cohen has curtailed his directing and producing activities, and has focused mainly on writing. His work was primarily for low budget films and television until 1998, when Cohen's spec script Phone Booth triggered active interest and aggressive bidding from major Hollywood players. Joel Schumacher directed the resulting 2002 film, starring Colin Farrell. Cohen was also credited with the story for the 2004 release Cellular, another thriller with a telecommunications theme.

In 2003, Cohen was at the center of a contentious lawsuit against 20th Century Fox. Cohen and his producing partner Martin Poll claimed that 20th Century Fox had intentionally plagiarized Cohen's work and that the film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was inspired by Cohen's pitch entitled Cast of Characters. Comic book writer Alan Moore, the author of the graphic novel upon which League was based, was forced to testify. Moore forcefully denied allegations from Cohen's camp suggesting that he had been involved in a scheme to steal Cohen's story.

Partial filmography

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