An enthusiastic ode to independent filmmaker Larry Cohen, “King Cohen,” directed by Steve Mitchell, makes no pretense at objectivity. The documentary is an affectionate salute to Cohen, now 77, who has been a writer, producer and director who found his niche making unusual films outside the control of the studio system, as well as amassing many television credits.
Nothing would deter his determination to make the films that he wanted to make, and his taste ran the spectrum. Low budgets were his mode of keeping his independence. At the time Cohen began to flourish, I was writing for Cue Magazine and reviewed some of his films.
“Black Caesar,” for example, was a very violent film in tune with the trend toward making black action films. Cohen also loved horror fantasy, as with his film “The Stuff,” a satire of business working to flood consumers with products. The plot involves a yogurt-like substance becoming addictive, turning people into zombies and eventually engulfing all in its path. Among his many films were such titles as “The Winged Serpent,” “It’s Alive” and “The Secret Files of J. Edgar Hoover.”
Cohen also his made his mark as a screenwriter on films made by others, as with “Phone Booth,” directed by Joel Schumacher with a screenplay about a killer sharpshooter who threatens to kill a man if he ventures outside the phone booth that he is in.
Cohen is a colorful character and “King Cohen” is replete with his comments about the films he has made, experiences in creating them and his work with those who became part of his projects. The film is also filled with comments about him and his movies by notables in the film world.
Director Mitchell interviews Fred Williamson, the star who appeared in “Black Caesar’ and is very vocal about working with Cohen. There are also comments from Martin Scorsese, Yaphet Koto, Michael Moriarty, John Landis, J.J. Abrams, Robert Forster, Barbara Carrera, Eric Roberts and others. Especially important are many clips from the films themselves that illustrate points beng made.
If there is a downside, you won’t find it in this celebration of him as a unique, adventurous filmmaker. My personal experience was a pleasant one when we had dinner in a favorite steakhouse of his when I interviewed him many years ago. It wa clear then that Larry Cohen was his own man who wanted to make films as he envisioned them. A Darkstar Pictures release. Reviewed August 3, 2018.