Screenwriter, producer, and director Larry Cohen, a filmmaker with a passionate and loyal fanbase, has passed away at the age of 82 (his birth year has often been reported as 1941, but his family and census records confirmed that this is incorrect, as reported in the New York Times). Cohen, whose career in film spanned several decades, was best known for his unique work in the B-movie genre scene.
Cohen was born and raised in New York City before going to film school. He had a particular passion for noir films, as well as the work of Casablanca director Michael Curtiz. He turned the former into a career in the late 1950s and 1960s, writing for crime television shows like The Defenders and The Fugitive, and later in the 1970s writing for Colombo.
It wasn’t long before Cohen pivoted to more genre fare, creating the NBC Western series Branded in 1965 and the sci-fi ABC series The Invaders in 1967. He began writing films during this period as well, including the sequel to The Magnificent Seven.
His directorial debut was the 1972 crime comedy Bone, starring Yaphet Kotto, which Cohen also wrote and produced. Two years later Cohen made It’s Alive, a horror film about a killer mutant baby, which was eventually a modest hit. The film was scored by frequent Hitchcock-collaborator Bernard Hermann and its pharmaceuticals-adjacent story showcased a career characteristic of Cohen to incorporate social commentary into his B-movie horror. The film spawned two sequels and a 2009 reboot.
His genre films also typically included police and crime elements to them, including 1976’s God Told Me To. In the 1980s, Cohen built a reputation for producing, directing, and writing low-budget horror films with a cult following. 1982’s Q: The Winged Serpent featured a giant monster flying around midtown Manhattan while also focusing on two detectives following a multiple homicide case.
Cohen’s best-known film, The Stuff, came out shortly after, in 1985. The film includes a killer alien substance that the general public became addicted to, and included social commentary on consumerism, advertising, and the tobacco industry. Despite its over-the-top premise, the film is still regarded as one of the best low-budget horror films of the 20th century.
Cohen continued to write and direct for the next few decades, including the Maniac Cop films; Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth, starring Colin Farrell and Forest Whitaker; and Cellular, starring Kim Basinger, Chris Evans, and Jason Statham. In 2006, he was invited to participate in the TV anthology series Masters of Horror along with other notable filmmakers like John Carpenter, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, Joe Dante, Dario Argento, James Gunn, Robert Rodriguez, and Guillermo del Toro.
In 2017, Cohen participated in a documentary that profiled his career, King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen, which featured actors and filmmakers including Martin Scorsese, J.J. Abrams, and John Landis. The film recently screened at New York Film Academy-Los Angeles along with a Q&A panel with the filmmakers. Cohen was scheduled to appear but was ultimately unable to attend; he lamentably passed away two days later.
After news of Cohen’s death became public, there was an outpouring of praise for him on social media by both his peers and by filmmakers who cite him as an influence in their own work, including Guillermo del Toro, Edgar Wright, and Joe Dante.
Many people say they’ve made ‘independent’ films (many financed by majors) but Larry Cohen truly was an independent freewheeling movie legend. For so many fun high concept genre romps with ideas bigger than the budgets, for so many truly inspiring cult movies, I thank you Larry. pic.twitter.com/HVWfuuCFSS
— edgarwright (@edgarwright) March 24, 2019
RIP Larry Cohen, a true original. pic.twitter.com/oUEjkgdPWe
— Joe Dante (@joe_dante) March 24, 2019
Larry Cohen. RIP. A true iconoclast and independent. I will always marvel at It’s Alive!, Q, Perfect Strangers (what a brilliant premise!) and God Told Me To- Andy Kaufman being in it just adds more special sauce. pic.twitter.com/xzuXH8sa0b
— Guillermo del Toro (@RealGDT) March 25, 2019
The New York Film Academy is deeply saddened by the loss of an auteur filmmaker who carried both a respect and a passion for his craft. Rest in peace, Larry Cohen.