All hail King Cohen! A review of Steve Mitchell’s brand new documentary


1428 Elm’s own Lorry Kikta spills “The Stuff” on King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen.

For those of you don’t know me, I will go ahead and tell you now that I am obsessed with exploitation cinema. Although I think the name of the genre makes it seem much more negative than it actually is, it is hard to pin down a better name for the types of films the title encompasses.

In the current state of cinema, where the most successful films essentially are big budget exploitation films, and artful dramas and period pieces are getting made by “Independent” studios, it’s hard to imagine that there was a time when genre films were ever considered “B” material. I think if it wasn’t for certain filmmakers who were schooled in the historic annals of exploitation film (such as Martin Scorsese and Stephen Spielberg) this wouldn’t be the case.

Larry Cohen is a filmmaker who was one of the leaders of the exploitation movement in the ’70s, having directed such jewels in the blaxploitation crown as Bone, Black Caesar and its sequel Hell Up in Harlem before diving into Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror with classics such as The Stuff, Q The Winged Serpent, and It’s Alive. He isn’t a household name in the homes of most (boring, “normal”) people, but in the community of horror fans, writers, actors, and directors, he is a legend.

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King Cohen is Steve Mitchell’s (writer of Chopping Mall, Transylvania Twist and many more) exhaustive exploration of Larry Cohen’s body of work and unique guerrilla style of filmmaking. Throughout the course of the film, you learn about Cohen’s wins and losses in the box office and how ultimately his biggest fight in his life was for the absolute freedom to make a film however he wanted.

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“My grandfather had been in show business,” Cohen tells us in an interview scene at the beginning of the film. “He’d been an eccentric banjo player and on her deathbed, his mother made him promise that he would give it up. I think that he was sad that he didn’t get to do what he wanted to do. So I knew when I saw that, I was gonna do what I wanted to do and I didn’t let anybody talk me out of it”.

Cohen is an embodiment of what Martin Scorsese says in one of his interviews as the “renegade spirit” of the ’70s in film. Stealing footage with brazen abandon, including filming a police parade with Andy Kaufman in police uniform completely without permission, you know how serious Cohen is about making the perfect film.

Although people will not always agree with him on the finished product, Cohen doesn’t care. He does everything for the service of the film, which is a rarity these days. I highly suggest checking out this film if you are a fan of Larry Cohen’s. There is a lot of behind the scenes gold in the interviews with everyone from Fred Williamson to Eric Bogosian to Michael Moriarty to Traci Lords.

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Even if you’ve only seen It’s Alive or if you haven’t seen a single Cohen film, you will appreciate King Cohen if you love film and filmmaking. You can see the genuine love for the craft on Cohen’s face whenever you see him talking. I hope that he comes back very soon with another new truly unique film. In the meantime, King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen is coming to theaters Aug. 14, 2018.