Though Larry Cohen may not be a household name, he is a true treasure to B-movie and genre enthusiasts like myself. His work is truly unique and I would consider myself a fan, so I of course jumped at a chance to review the new documentary King Cohen from director Steve Mitchell (who also wrote Chopping Mall! This dude is legit). I expected the doc to do a deep dive into Cohen's films, their production, etc. While it does this to a degree and went into films of his I hadn't even seen (but are now on my list), the film spends just as much time endearing you to Larry Cohen the person. Although I was a fan and had a cursory knowledge of his work and filmmaking methods, I honestly didn't know much about his start, his values in the business, or how he interacts with the people around him. That was the truly fascinating things about the film and what makes me adore Larry Cohen all the more now, just what a sweetheart of a human being he seems to be and how the interview subjects talk about him.
As far as documentaries go, King Cohen isn't doing anything revolutionary with the format. It's your basic talking heads doc where you weave between clips and stills of the subject's work and people he's worked with or associated with in regards to specific projects. This film doesn't concern itself so much with style, but instead focuses on straight content and it's got some really strong stuff. The interviews range from Cohen himself to his current and former wives to actors that have worked with him like Michael Moriarty and Traci Lords to peers like Joe Dante and Martin Scorsese. The list goes on and on. My absolute favorite though is Fred “Motherfucking” Williamson, who worked with Cohen on three pictures. His interview seems to mainly consist of refuting anything Cohen says about him or the movies they made and his whole attitude has the air of “Yeah, Larry is great and all, but come on, why aren't you making a documentary about me?” It's kinda fucking wonderful. The guests all add some interesting anecdotes about Larry as a person or his independent guerilla-style filming techniques and it never gets boring or feels like celebrities blowing smoke up each others asses. They all feel sincere and most give off a vibe of feeling a baffled awe towards Cohen. Cohen himself comes off as playfully humble and still brimming with ideas.
Now, of course with such a long and varied career of both writing and directing (and often not at the same time), there's going to be things you skip over completely or have to gloss over in mainly focusing on the films that are 100% Cohen. So while I was extremely disappointed that the Maniac Cop trilogy was really no more than a poster flashing by showing “some of the other stuff he wrote”, I get it. You want to completely skip past Full Moon High? You do you, baby. But my biggest disappointment was the lack of detail about the special effects and how some shots were pulled off in The Stuff. They mention he got an advertising friend to come up with the design of the containers and showed some clips of the amazing effects work in that film, but no deep dive into how he was able to pull off some of that stuff on a less than 2 million dollar budget! I was really hoping for some interviews with the FX team or some behind scenes footage of the making, but I suppose Cohen's quick and gritty directing style probably didn't leave a lot of room for that. At least we got a pretty great bit about the baby effects from It's Alive. Not much of anything on the wonderfully batshit third film though, total mistake.
I loved everything this film gave me, but it really just left me wanting more. Cohen apparently felt the same way, ending the film by saying that he's not done yet and there's already too much for just one film, slyly demanding for a sequel. My feelings truly mirror Cohen's sentiments, as I do want a follow-up focusing on the rest of his work they weren't able to really cover and going even deeper into what they did with new guests, clips, etc. It also left me clamoring for a new Larry Cohen picture and wondering what that would look like today, considering he hasn't directed anything since his Masters of Horror episode back in 2006. Until then, King Cohen does a great job of filling that void and making you see why Larry truly is a king. The film is being released theatrically on July 27th by Darkstar Pictures and I'm sure will be available streaming in the near future as well. You can see the trailer for the film here and I definitely recommend checking it out. I was a little worried about how this documentary would translate for someone that has never seen his work or has no idea who Cohen is, but I can strongly say it's great for people already familiar with him and strong enough to turn some of the uninitiated into fans as well.
7 out of 10 Giant Flying Baby Monsters Up In Harlem Spewing Some Delicious Stuff From Within Just As God Told Them To