Saying that several of us at DAILY GRINDHOUSE are big fans of Larry Cohen’s films would be an understatement. As the writer here who tends to bang the drum for the indie maverick’s films the loudest and most frequently, it is both exciting and frustrating for me (since I cannot be there) that Quad Cinema in New York is doing a special series of Cohen’s New York-shot films this Saturday, May 6 through Sunday, May 7, 2017.
Larry Cohen’s New York features seven of the director’s films. Three of them are certifiable cult classics, three are very good, and only one of them is a (still interesting) misfire. Needless to say, that is a hell of a high hit-to-miss ratio.
SPECIAL EFFECTS, Cohen’s poison-pen satire about independent filmmaking, kicks things off on Saturday at 2:15 pm. A twisted, borderline perverse fictionalization of the Dorothy Stratten murder (that was made famous in Bob Fosse’s brutally unpleasant STAR 80), the film has Cohen’s subversive sense of humor and features a wonderfully sleazy performance by Eric Bogosian in one of his first feature film roles. While it is a minor film in Cohen’s career, it is very entertaining, even when it flies off the rails. Cohen and Bogosian will be on hand to present the film.
Cohen normally had his finger on the pulse of social issues in a way that few genre filmmakers could claim. But he missed the mark badly when he tried to craft a feminist thriller with PERFECT STRANGERS. Filmed back to back with SPECIAL EFFECTS (both films were released in 1984), the film is functional as a thriller and goes down some loopy storytelling alleys, but Cohen’s attempt to weave feminist themes throughout his story of a hitman romancing the mother of a child who witnessed a murder he committed is clunky, misguided, and offensive in its view of what makes someone a feminist. But at least it’s never boring. It is showing on Saturday at 4:30 pm. Cohen will be there to present the film.
Cohen’s second film as a writer/director was the quick-moving 1973 blaxploitation gangster film BLACK CAESAR. A morality tale told in broad strokes with plentiful action, betrayals, and bloody violence, it is a solid film that is best remembered for giving Fred Williamson the best role of his career as the titular antihero. It is showing on Saturday at 6:30 pm.
Cohen’s second masterpiece (after 1974’s IT’S ALIVE) was 1976’s GOD TOLD ME TO. It is a bracing, inventive sci-fi/horror film about random killings that all share the same motive (see the title) and the guilt-ridden cop (Tony LoBianco) whose investigation leads him down a very personal, dark path. This is the “Whisper” (the shooting title) cut of the film that only was screened once in Oregon as a means of obtaining a tax credit. After original score composer Bernard Herrmann passed away, Cohen re-cut the film into the classic we now know. Cohen and LoBianco will be presenting the screening on Saturday at 8:30 pm.
THE AMBULANCE is a fun paranoia thriller that sank without a trace upon its 1990 release. That is a real shame because it is supreme entertainment with hints of sci-fi and ridiculous action scenes that go as over-the-top as anything in an ’80s Schwarzenegger flick. The screwy lead performance by Eric Roberts (sporting an epic mullet) is just icing on the cake. It is screening on Sunday at 3:30 pm.
Possibly the most satirical of all of Cohen’s socially conscious genre films, 1985’s THE STUFF is showing on Sunday at 6:00 pm. Michael Moriarty chews any and all scenery not nailed down as a corporate saboteur who stumbles upon a conspiracy involving a company that knowingly gets its customers addicted to a frozen yogurt-like substance called “The Stuff” that literally eats them from the inside out. A breezy yet cynical takedown of the callous way corporations use and discard people, it is arguably Cohen’s last masterpiece. Cohen will be on hand to present the film.
The series wraps up Sunday night at 8:30 pm with a screening of the 1982 creature feature classic Q. A tongue-in-cheek tale of an ancient Aztec god that takes on the form of a huge flying serpent that treats Manhattan as a giant buffet, it is actually a showcase for one of the greatest screen performances ever as Michael Moriarty gives sad sack, lowlife criminal Jimmy Quinn a dose of frustrating and realistic humanity as the only person who knows where the creature is living and is willing to give up the information…for a price. Moriarty’s career-best work, a fun supporting turn from David Carradine, delightful stop-motion effects, and early ’80s Manhattan captured in all its ugly and awe-inspiring grandeur add to the legend of this fascinating oddity. Cohen will present the screening.
All of the films are showing from rare 35mm prints. Any fan of Cohen’s work or of independent American filmmaking of the past forty years owes it to themselves to catch this series. Tickets and full info can be found at the Quad Cinema site.
Latest posts by Matt Wedge (see all)
Tags: arnold schwarzenegger, Bernard Herrmann, Black Caesar, Bob Fosse, david carradine, Eric Bogosian, Eric Roberts, Fred Williamson, God Told Me To, It's Alive, Larry Cohen, michael moriarty, Perfect Strangers, q, satire, Special Effects, Star 80, The Ambulance, The Stuff, Tony LoBianco