25th Aug2017

Frightfest 2017: ‘King Cohen’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Featuring: Martin Scorsese, Eric Roberts, Traci Lords, J.J. Abrams, john landis, Robert Forster, Barbara Carrera, Rick Baker, Joe Dante, Yaphet Kotto, Michael Moriarty, Fred Williamson, Eric Bogosian | Written and Directed by Steve Mitchell


Buckle up for the true story of writer, producer, director, creator and all-around maverick, Larry Cohen. Told through compelling live interviews, stills and film/TV clips, the people who helped fulfill his vision, and industry icons such as Martin Scorsese, John Landis, Michael Moriarty, Fred Williamson, Yaphet Kotto and many more, including Larry himself, bring one-of-a-kind insight into the work, process and legacy of a true American auteur…

I’m not going to lie, there’s no way I can talk about the documentary King Cohen without any bias. Larry Cohen is, to this day, one of my all-time favourite filmmakers. He has been since the first time I saw Q The Winged Serpent on TV. Seeing that film for the first time had a profund effect on me – I had to track down each and every film I could made by the man behind the awesome, if bizarre, monster movie I had just seen. Of course Q is only the top of the Larry Cohen iceberg – as a director Cohen has helmed many films across many genres: from horror like It’s Alive, The Stuff and The Ambulance; to Blaxploitation films such as Black Caesar, Hell Up in Harlem and the criminally underrated (but finally geting a Blu-ray release in the US) Original Gangstas.

However as a writer Cohen’s work is even more diverse… He’s penned horror films like the classic Maniac Cop; thrillers such as Phone Booth, Cellular (which was remade from the same script in Hong Kong as Connected) and Messages Deleted; detective movies like 87th Precinct: Heatwave (easily the best in the TV movie franchise) and the Mickey Spillane movie I, The Jury (if you’re multi-region capable you should really track down the US Blu-ray of this stone-cold classic); and even TV shows, one of which – The Invaders – has become an all-time classic and it’s a show he created!

But enough about my love of Larry Cohen, what about this documentary? Well it’s not just a coincidence that I’ve spewed gloriously about my love for Cohen – King Cohen shows the very same love and reverance for the writer/director/producer. A labour of love for screenwriter turned DVD special feature creator Steve Mitchell – who wrote the most-excellent 80s horror Chopping Mall for director Jim Wynorski, who he would re-team with some 11 years later for action-thriller Against the LawKing Cohen is the latest in a long-line of pop-culture documentaries that have followed in the wake of Mark Hartley’s 2008 festival hit Not Quite Hollywood.

What marks these documentaries out above those that came before is that these are films made by people truly invested in the subject matter and that tends to shine through in the finished product – and King Cohen is no different. However Mitchell’s documentary is not just a labour of love for the filmmaker, but also those filmed as part of it. It would seem, judging by those interviewed, that everyone who worked with Cohen – from his days filming guerilla-style on the streets of New York to today – has the same love, and more importantly, respect for the auteur and the passion he had for filmmaking. Whilst some make mention of the disregard Cohen had for the rules and regulations of making movies, no one has a bad thing to say about the man himself – only his methods… methods which today would never fly in any city across the US. Hell, imagine film THAT Black Caesar scene, where Fred WIlliamson’s character is shot on the street by a cop – there’d be a riot of cell phone-wielding wannabe heroes today. Then? People kept on walking, not wanting to get involved!

A brilliant exploration of the work of one of cinemas true [unsung] auteurs, King Cohen ultimately reveals itself to be the story of a man unbound by constraints, a man of conviction, a man who is dedicated to the joy and passion of filmmaking, a man whose life is just as interesting a story as any film he ever made….

***** 5/5


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