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Writings on film. Shock and art. There may be blood.

Larry Cohen

Director Larry Cohen
Director, screenwriter, producer
Best known for:

It's Alive

Phone Booth


Similar artists:

Stuart Gordon


Larry Cohen is a maverick director. He gained notoriety for injecting satire and social commentary into low-budget horror and exploitation films. In recent years, he has found success as a screenwriter for films such as Phone Booth and Cellular.

Cohen was born in 1941 and was fascinated with film while growing up. He sold his first television script at age 17 and worked throughout the 1960s writing television episodes. The television series Branded was his creation.

Cohen achieved his first film success as director of blaxploitation classics such as Black Caesar and Hell Up in Harlem. He then transitioned to horror with It's Alive, an eco-terror film that explored family issues and inspired one of the seventies' biggest catch phrases. Cohen followed this success with a pair of sequels and continued throughout the eighties to produce such offbeat films as Q: The Winged Serpent, The Stuff and Special Effects.

Cohen typically works with very limited budgets. He tends to exert total control over a production and often acts as screenwriter, director and producer. There is often a strong satirical tone to his films, though it is not necessarily a humorous kind of satire. His films do often contain a dark kind of humor, though it not so dominant as to qualify his films as horror comedies.

Cohen's films are likely to go in a direction opposite of what is expected. It's Alive and its sequels feature children who are savage and unpredictable rather than innocent and idealistic. Once it is established that the baby of It's Alive is a mutated, ruthless killing machine, the film switches gears and examines the strength of unconditional family love. God Told Me To concerns a rash of apparently unrelated and random shootings whose perpetrators all insist that they were acting under orders from God.

This unpredictability extends to Cohen's own technique, which relies heavily on guerilla filmmaking. Andy Kaufman's shooting spree in God Told Me To was filmed live, unannounced and without permits, by sending Kaufman to march in New York City's St. Patrick's Day parade. Kaufman lined up with the real policemen, who were not aware of the ruse, then pulled a prop gun and "fired" on the spectators while Cohen filmed the resulting commotion. Cohen fired machine guns from the roof of the Chrysler Building during the filming of Q: The Winged Serpent in hopes of attracting publicity, but he found that it takes more than machine gun fire to catch the attention of blasé New Yorkers.

Cohen largely vacated the director's chair after the 1996 Original Gangstas, a well-regarded throwback to his blaxploitation roots. A number of directors have sought his services as a screenwriter in the years since. Phone Booth was a major success that was based on a script Cohen had proposed to Alfred Hitchcock several decades earlier. It was followed by the big-budget thriller Cellular. These films are more mainstream in flavor, but they maintain some of the twisted appeal of Cohen's own work. Other notable Cohen scripts include Guilty as Sin and Abel Ferrara's version of Body Snatchers.


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