I’m excited to announce the launch of my first zine, Physical Impossibility #1: The Films of Larry Cohen, featuring all-new writing by myself and original illustrations by Ryan Bharaj, Russell Elder, Victoria Firth, Sarah Amy Fishlock, Stephen Kelly, Erin McGrath and Claudia Nova!
The Films of Larry Cohen covers the whole of the legendary director’s career in film, focussing on six movies: Black Caesar, God Told Me To, Q The Winged Serpent, The Stuff, Maniac Cop and Wicked Stepmother. The zine also incorporates an exclusive interview with Larry Cohen himself, conducted in September 2013.
There’s a launch event at The Old Hairdressers in Glasgow on Thursday 14/11/13, with a screening of Q The Winged Serpent. Copies of the zine will be available then and there but it’s also available for pre-order here now – the first copies will be sent out on 14/11.
Here’s a preview of the introduction, alongside the cover (above left).
The Films of Larry Cohen
“What I started out to do is to make movies that all have a similar theme. Like, you know, a painter who you always know the painter painted it because you see the style of painting. You go, ‘Oh, that’s a Van Gogh,’ or ‘That’s a Renoir.’ You know that style. So I try to make movies where you would know it was Larry Cohen’s movie, even if you came in after the credits, after a few minutes you’d say, ‘This has gotta be a Larry Cohen movie.'” Larry Cohen
Long Island, 1985. A peculiar man in a peculiar wig speeds a car through suburban streets. A peculiar-looking young boy the peculiar man’s just rescued (from a peculiar situation) says sheepishly, “’Scuse me, sir,.. I kinda just threw up in your car.” But the man’s already noticed, he’s nonplussed. “I’m sorry…I just ate shaving cream!” offers the panicked boy. “That’s alright,” says the man affably, glancing at the boy in the rearview mirror, “Everybody has to eat shaving cream once in a while.”
I discovered the films of Larry Cohen by chance, even accident, when a DVD of The Stuff arrived in my mailbox, unexpectedly, from LoveFilm. I can’t really account for how or why I came to add it to my rental list, except for, on paper, it’s exactly the kind of film that I would add to my rental list. With the tagline, “Are you eating it or is it eating you?” and the kind of lurid, melting-eyes-screaming-face cover reminiscent of dozens of movies I couldn’t reach on the high, moulded plastic shelves of the hardware-store-cum-video-shops of my childhood, The Stuff and I had a date with destiny.
To say Larry Cohen’s extensive oeuvre had been hiding in plain sight would be misleading, because although The Stuff is pretty easy to stumble across, many of his films are still unavailable in the UK. This was and is frustrating because, just as The Stuff’s dead-on parody jingle has it, “enough is never enough” of Larry Cohen’s movies – one taste and you’re hooked. They’re endlessly quotable, absurd in tone and narrative thrust, hilarious and satirical without the deadening self-awareness of pre-packaged modern “cult” movies. The best films stay with you after the credits roll, fill your head like throbbing, sentient ice cream, keep you thinking. In this case, it was one thought, over and over: “Who made this fucking thing?!”
And more, in quick succession: “Are there more films like this?”, “Are they as wild, as original, as straight-up enjoyable?” and “Where can I get some ice cream? I really want some ice cream.” So I had some ice cream, and set to hunting down all the Cohen films I could easily find on DVD – Q, the It’s Alive trilogy, Black Caesar – while evangelising about The Stuff to anyone and everyone I could. Looking to answer those first questions, I discovered for myself a treasure trove of movies spanning 40 years.
The title on Cohen’s IMDb page most recognisable to mainstream audiences is likely Phone Booth (Joel Schumacher, 2002). Cohen wrote the screenplay, sparking a bidding war, which he parlayed into a late career flush as the writer of Cellular (David R Ellis, 2004) and Messages Deleted (Rob Cowan, 2009). He also wrote Captivity (Roland Joffé, 2007), a serviceable thriller awkwardly reworked mid-production to cash-in on the noughties torture porn craze. Of the latter two Cohen now admits, “They rewrote the scripts, they screwed them up, they ruined the pictures and I’m not proud of them.” But if anything, those movies are a kind of proof of the strange alchemy Cohen is capable of when he retains full mastery of all the necessary elements.
In the 1970s and 80s, when Cohen was at the absolute height of his powers, he wrote and directed films nowhere near as shiny and expensive and exponentially more imaginative. Exploring the oeuvre of Larry Cohen, you’ll be introduced to the Black Godfather of Harlem, blood-thirsty mutant babies, a hermaphrodite faux deity, a sentient, malevolent dessert, a resurrected serpent god relieving innocent New Yorkers of their heads and a chain-smoking Hollywood witch. Cohen is first and foremost a dedicated and prolific writer, but he’s also a highly inventive writer-director-producer with a knack for extracting memorable performances from his actors. He’s an iconoclast and a grade-A B-movie ‘smuggler’ in Scorsese’s definition, whose films, with all the bottom-line appeal of the genre movie, conceal deeper, more thoughtful concerns. But, writing this, I don’t necessarily want to persuade you with a piercing intellectual reappraisal of Cohen’s movies, which are already compelling enough on the surface. I just want you to watch them, if you haven’t already, and I hope you do.
The zine is an edition of 50 – A5, black & white, 20 pages. It will be released on 14/11, but you can pre-order a copy here – it costs £4 + 90p postage within the UK (1st class Royal Mail). If you are an international customer, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org prior to ordering, and I’ll get back to you with a postage quote.