This piece originally appeared as part of my weekly newsletter, The Full Lid on 29th March 2019. If you liked it, and want a weekly down of pop culture enthusiasm, occasional ketchup recipes and me enjoying things, then check out the archive and sign up here.
B-movies are the weird kid who reads dictionaries at the back of the class, the joke that three people get but that doesn’t close anyone else out from trying. If good film critics were films, they’d be B-movies. This month B-movies lost a King.
Larry Cohen’s career is ridiculous. Just ridiculous. Seriously, look at this thing. The dude never stopped moving, never stopped throwing ideas at the screen and never failed to circle back around to work with people he liked as much as possible. His series of collaborations with character actor Michael Moriarty are absolutely worth your time and Q The Winged Serpent is pretty much the definitive monster movie of it’s time. It’s one of those exuberant sprints of a picture that convinces you it’s taking itself seriously even as it winks at you through some creatively awful special effects. Likewise The Ambulance, which pitted Eric Roberts against evil organ traffickers and convinced a generation that comics artists were affluent creative rock stars. Happier times, simpler times, often if Cohen was writing them, far more violent times too.
The hair! And the jacket! AND THE OTHER HAIR! AND THE OTHER JACKET!
But for me, Cohen will always be associated with two movies; Phone Booth and the 1993 version of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. The former is one of the best things Colin Farrell has ever done, as a fast talking agent who picks up the phone at the last phone booth in Manhattan at absolutely the worst time. Basically the entire movie is Colin Farrell in a box talking to a maniac and Cohen’s love of language, New York and bitter, black coffee grounds humor is all on screen. It is big fun, top to bottom left to right, a nasty urban fairytale with a Rod Serling back flip of a finish. If you can, double bill it with Cellular, Cohen’s other ‘phones but too much’ script which features a young Jason Statham as the bad guy and an implausibly young Chris Evans as the hero.
And then there’s Bodysnatchers. I could, and honestly may if there’s interest, do an entire edition of this newsletter on the different incarnations of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. It’s a protean idea, changing and evolving every time it resurfaces and all four versions made to date (Plus spiritual fellow travelers like The Puppet Masters) have interesting things to say. Cohen , along with Larry Cistheri, is credited with the Story for the 1990s version, which means two things. He is indirectly responsible for me wanting to write about film, thanks to the Mark Kermode cult film corner on the franchise and he’s also partially responsible for giving Meg Tilly the best scene of her career which you can see below. The first two versions are legitimate classics so following them was a near impossibility. Cohen, director Abel Ferrara and the rest of the team didn’t just do that, they created a gold standard for 1990s environmental horror at the same time as honoring the classics they were working with.
Larry Cohen was king of the big idea, a man who expertly crafted small, precise stories crammed full of character, humor and incident. Cohen pioneered horror in particular as a rapid deployment vehicle for fiction and his work is foundational to everything from Blumhouse movies to Black Mirror. Thanks for the nightmares, Mr Cohen and good luck with the no doubt half dozen projects you’ve got rolling in Movie Valhalla already.
- Q the Winged Serpent is, somewhat astoundingly, available on Blu-Rayas is The Ambulance, which is also on DVD.
- Phone Booth is available on Blu-Ray and digitally while Cellular is DVD only but is on Amazon Video
Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. Okay, deep breath:
- The fantastic Donald Sutherland/Brooke Adams/Jeff Goldblum yes seriously/Veronica Cartwright version is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Amazon Prime Video.
- The classic original is available to rent through Amazon Prime Video and on Blu-Ray
- The really ill-advised but still interesting Nicole Kidman/Daniel Craig version is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Amazon Prime Video.
- The fantastic Cohen/Ferrara version I talk about here is on Blu-Ray
- The Puppet Masters is available on Blu-Ray
And now, over to Meg. She has some news.