Along with Better Watch Out, this writer’s other favourite film of Frightfest 2017 was Steve Mitchell’s hugely funny, informative and stimulating documentary on maverick film legend Larry Cohen, a talent who has been responsible for some of the most memorable films and TV shows over more than five decades of work.
Starting with an anecdote from J.J. Abrams about an encounter he had in Los Angeles, the film keeps the attention with a variety of tributes and reflections (from the likes of John Landis, Fred Williamson, Martin Scorsese, Laurene Landon, Tracy Lords and Robert Forster amongst others) as the film chronicles his life from humble beginnings, through shows like the sci-fi classic The Invaders (being screened regularly on the Horror Channel on Freeview in the UK, as well as being a childhood post-Sunday lunch favourite of this writer’s family), to the likes of his cult classics Q –The Winged Serpent and The Stuff (this writer’s own personal favourite from his 1980s output).
Charles Band Cohen strongly believes, even today, that you could do anything and achieve anything with limited resources. Although he has lent his hand to studio successes like Phone Booth, he belongs to the old tradition of true independent filmmakers who have defined their visions and imagination with very creative means.
Pooled from hundreds of hours of filmed interviews (revealed by the director in his introduction to the screening), which have been cut down to fit into a riveting and compact 110 minute running time, somebody interested in filmmaking of all kinds will find something to learn and be excited by when watching King Cohen.
The real fun of the film comes with the juxtaposition of interviews, particularly with Fred Williamson, who recalls a reckless and risky stunt involving falling out of the back of a car whilst filming and the contradiction of thoughts between him and Cohen. The refreshing honesty that is prevalent during this film - and the immense respect and tributes that the likes of Landis and Scorsese bring to the table - are insightful and effective in their revelation.
Other standout moments include the experiences of some location work during the filming of Q – The Winged Serpent and Cohen’s innovative use of local law enforcement (see the film to know more – it is well worth your time!!)
This writer interviewed Cohen by phone earlier in the year and it was a shame that he wasn’t in attendance for the festival, although director Mitchell was. The audience certainly showed their appreciation with heartfelt laughter and prolonged applause at the end of the screening, which took place in the bigger Prince Charles downstairs screen on Day Two of the Festival.
King Cohen is a master class in documentary filmmaking. It sticks to the path and delivers its intentions concisely and clearly. The biggest compliment that we can pay this film is that you don’t even need to know anything about Larry Cohen or have seen any of his films. It’s brisk and smart, with repeat viewings assured.
KING COHEN / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: STEVE MITCHELL / STARRING: J.J. ABRAMS, MARTIN SCORSESE, RICK BAKER, JOHN LANDIS / RELEASE DATE: UK RELEASE DATE TBA