New York’s greatest B-movie legend is coming back to the Big Apple. Prolific writer-director-producer Larry Cohen returns to his native New York this weekend to appear at a retrospective of his New York-set films at the newly-renovated Quad Cinema.
The writer behind 2002’s “Phone Booth” and director of “A Return to Salem’s Lot,” Cohen directed 20 movies and wrote dozens of screenplays for both film and television during his roughly 50 year career. Many of his most well-known films were set in New York.
“It was my favorite place to shoot,” Cohen said. “New York is the world’s greatest backlot.”
The retrospective, entitled “Larry Cohen’s New York,” will include the “Whisper” cut of Cohen’s 1976 horror-thriller “God Told Me To,” a version that has never been screened in New York before. The other films that will be shown are “Black Caesar” (1973), “Q” (1982), “Perfect Strangers” (1984), “Special Effects” (1985), “The Stuff” (1985) and “The Ambulance” (1990). Cohen will make appearances at five of the seven screenings, and will be joined by actor Eric Bogosian after the screening of “Special Effects.”
IndieWire recently sat down with the 75-year-old Cohen, whose career is the subject of the upcoming documentary “King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen.”
Your films are known for their unique blend of genre and social commentary. What issues did you most want to tackle?
Quite a lot of my pictures dealt with abortion or peripheral issues of abortion, like “It’s Alive.” Whatever [opinion] you brought into the theater you could take out of the movie to support your view. If you were for abortion, naturally you want to knock off a monster baby, and if you we’re against abortion, the parents learn to love the child after all. Most of my movies had some kind of issue that was inherent in the story, but “The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover” was entirely different. It dealt with a lot of political things that are very cogent today with what goes on in the government. It shows that spying on people and tapping their phones and trying to influence elections is nothing new.
How do you feel about Nicolas Winding Refn producing a remake of “Maniac Cop,” which you wrote in 1988?
I don’t know that it’s being remade. There’s been a lot of talk about it, but as far as I’m concerned, they don’t have the money. I don’t like remakes. It tires me out to see that they keep announcing this and that picture is being remade. I say, Why? It was a good movie. Why can’t you come up with some original idea? Why can’t you come up with something clever and new and different? Why does everything have to be a sequel or a remake or a comic book?
Which filmmakers do you like today?
I like the ones that like me! James Wan is a big fan of mine. I know Eli Roth very well. James Gunn is a fan and a friend. He wanted to make a remake of “It’s Alive” actually but he couldn’t raise enough money to buy the rights. I’m sorry today I didn’t give them to him. But he’s beyond that now.
Have you seen any horror films recently that you’ve liked?
I must tell you, I never cared that much for horror movies. I made them, but I never was a horror movie fan and I certainly wasn’t into torture and amputations and driving spikes into people’s eyes and stuff like that. Most of my movies don’t have anything like that. That wasn’t my kind of thing.
Speaking of horror, what are your thoughts on the Trump administration?
The Trump administration is a horror show, but having made “The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover” and done a lot of research, they’re all bad. What could equal Lyndon Johnson getting us into the Vietnam War by faking that Gulf of Tonkin attack that never happened and killing thousands and thousands of people?
How did you you feel about the critical reception of your movies?
There have always been critics that came along and liked the pictures and then there have been critics who just dismissed the pictures because they were low budget. We had one example of “Q,” when it was reviewed for The New York Times, I hate to say it, but the critic didn’t even watch the picture. The projectionist told me she left after five or 10 minutes and then wrote a review dismissing the picture. And the Times was the only review that was negative. I suppose I should have sued them, because they had no right to go out and destroy a picture without even seeing it.
You started out working in TV. What TV shows do you like that are on today?
I watch “Homeland,” though some seasons have been better than others. I like “Better Call Saul” and “House of Cards.” I watched “Bloodline” too. The thing about miniseries is, when they do it in eight segments, they just stretch it out so much. There are very few stories that need to be told in seven or eight hours.
How has the movie business changed over the course of your career?
What’s happened to the movie business is like a poker game. The stakes are so high that most people can’t afford to sit down at the table. So you make a movie, but how are you going to exhibit the movie and get people to see it when a full page ad in the paper costs $40,000 for one day and these big movies are taking double pages and TV spots every five minutes? If you don’t compete with that, you’re just snowed under.
Do you prefer seeing movies in theaters versus at home?
I used to go to the theater every week but lately I haven’t been able to find anything I’d like to see. People used to go to the movies every week because they liked to go to the movies. It was something to do. But today, except for certain audiences, they only go to blockbuster pictures. If the picture didn’t cost a couple hundred million to make, nobody seems to want to go to see it.
How much are you writing these days?
I write a lot. I just wrote 17 one-hour shows for a cable series of thrillers and I’m hoping that we’re going to get to make them.
Your last directing gig was for the show “Masters of Horror” in 2006. What are your future plans for directing?
If the series gets on cable I’ll direct a few of them. Not all of them. Just enough to get me back into the enjoyment of the experience, because I just love working with actors. I really enjoy the experience and enjoy the camaraderie with the crew and cast. A lot of directors I talk to hate actors and they consider them the enemy. Michael Moriarty starred in five of my movies and he was considered to be a difficult actor. All you’ve got to do is give me an actor who has a reputation of being troubled, and I get along great with them.
The Quad Cinema will host “Larry Cohen’s New York” on Saturday, May 6 and Sunday, May 7.