Tag Archives: Larry Cohen

It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer babies shipped away.

Stephen Jarvis (Michael Moriarty) is the father to one of the mutant babies who agrees to have his child shipped away under a court order to a deserted island where it can live freely among the other mutant babies while no longer being a threat to the rest of society. 5 years later Stephen is then asked to join in on an expedition by a group of doctors who want to go to the island to monitor the growth of the children, but when they arrive the children overpower them and force Stephen to return to the mainland in order to meet-up with Stephen’s wife Ellen (Karen Black) who gave birth to one of them years earlier.

Larry Cohen has stated that he wanted to take the theme to its logical conclusion and see what the babies would become like when they grew older, but it was the killer baby plot-line that is what made it so unique and by his point it no longer represents what it initially did. Now they look like overweight versions of the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the setting like a whacked-out revision of The Island of Dr. Moreau and instead of being a horror film it’s more like a sci-fi flick and not a particularly good one at that.

It’s only mildly interesting when it’s on island anyways, but surprisingly the story doesn’t remain there and the  ill-advised humor that gets thrown in does nothing but make this already silly idea seem even sillier. We do however get to see more of the babies than in the first two installments, but this doesn’t help because they end up resembling second-rate clay animation figures, which looks tacky as hell.

Moriarty elevates it with a much needed edge and the fact that he’s staunchly pro-life in real-life gives the part an added layer of genuineness.  The only problem is that the character has the same arch as the father’s in the first two films had, which makes it redundant.

Black isn’t in it much, but manages to come on strong at the finish. I was perplexed however as to why in all three films it was the father who went on a crusading mission to save the babies and never the mother. Why couldn’t the wives/mothers have worked with their husbands as a team on this endeavor and the fact that they don’t seems sexist.

Per Leonard Maltin’s review there’s some ‘serious comments’ here on many modern-day social issues, but when it’s as cheaply made as this you really don’t care. There’s also too many tangents including a poorly staged street gang fight that is unconvincing. The first film was a novelty with a few redeeming qualities, but the  sequels do nothing but drive that original idea into the ground and turn the entire concept into a laughable, forgettable grade-Z farce.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 15, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

It Lives Again (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Three more monster babies.

As Jody and Eugene (Kathleen Lloyd, Frederic Forrest) hold a baby shower in excited anticipation for their newborn they meet Frank (John Ryan) the father whose wife gave birth to the monster baby in the first film. He warns them that their baby may be the same way and advises them to give birth to it in the back of a semi-truck specially equipped to handle the mutant child. The couple initially resist, but then come into contact with Malory (John Marley) and a police force intent on killing it. Frank manages to get their baby to a secret underground home where two other mutant children are being held under the observation of Dr. Perry (Andrew Duggan) who wants to raise the monster babies and have them multiply in order to create a whole new race of people.

This sequel to the surprise cult hit starts out with potential despite neglecting to explain why these mutant births are occurring. In the first one it was intimated that contraceptive pills were the cause, but here that gets forgotten and never even mentioned. Keeping the babies in an underground facility bogs the action down and eventually turns this into a talky drag and the idea of having three killer babies isn’t all that impressive either as I would’ve imagine that by now, given that four years have passed from when the first story took place, there should’ve been hundreds if not thousands of them.

The film’s biggest drawback though is that we don’t see much of the babies and instead get treated to extended shots of the adults talking while only hearing the baby’s crying in the background, which is boring. If the budget didn’t allow for elaborate special effects, which forced them to keep the footage of the little monsters to a minimum, then this cheesy excuse for a horror film should never have been made at all because what’s the point of watching it otherwise?

Lloyd and Forrest are good, but their characters shift perspectives too quickly. In the first film Frank’s changing opinion of his newborn came about slowly and realistically, but here the parents see-saw from loving the baby one second to wanting to kill it the next. The jump cuts are also an issue, which makes the intended scares  hard to follow and the film’s message is a muddled mess too. The first one had a seemingly a pro-life point-of-view while here those who want to save the babies are portrayed as being fringy lunatics.

Alternate Title: It’s Alive II

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 10, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

It’s Alive (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Newborn is a monster.

Frank (John Ryan) and Lenore (Sharon Farrell) are excited about the birth of their second child, but during the delivery they find to their horror that the newborn is a freakish monster who kills all the doctors in the delivery room and then escapes out onto the streets. The police try to track it down while Frank initially avows to kill it himself, but when his paternal instincts eventually set in he has second thoughts.

This is for the most part a fascinating, offbeat look at the abortion issue that seems to be a continuing theme with writer/director Larry Cohen who also co-scripted Daddy’s Gone-a-Hunting. In many ways it’s less of a horror film and more of a character study as the main focus is on Frank and the way his feelings on the baby change during the course of the story. In fact it’s Ryan’s intense performance that’s the film’s mainstay and what really propels it.

The baby itself offers intrigue and I liked how his appearance is kept mostly a mystery throughout, which helps build even more fear, but then we never end up getting to see it up close, which is a big letdown. Instead it’s just fleeting long distance shots and even then that doesn’t happen until the very end. The only reason to see a movie like this is to get a genuine look at the thing and when that only gets teased it’s a rip-off.

The baby’s super intelligence had me confused too. Supposedly it’s deformed due to the mother taking some contraceptive pills, but how does this make the child super smart to the point that he is able to find the school that Frank and Lenore’s child goes to, in crowded L.A. of all places and then eventually Frank and Lenore’s house? This thing is just a few days old, so how is it able to read street signs and find places and be ‘pre-programmed’ as it were to know which school/house to go to?

I was also confused at how the baby was able to attack people by biting into their necks. If it’s a crawling baby shouldn’t the feet and ankles of the victim be the place that suffers injury? And how was the baby able to kill all the doctors and nurses in the delivery room? If he was attacking one of them couldn’t the others have ganged up on the little guy and overpowered him or even just ran out of the room and yelled for help or did they all just stupidly stand there as if frozen while the baby jumped onto each Dr. and bit into them one-by-one?

Never getting a clear consistent view of the baby, nor properly explaining what the ‘logic rules’ were was a big turn-off for me when I first saw this decades ago and I came away considering it a Grade-B schlockfeast with little redeeming value. Upon second viewing I’ve softened on it a bit and appreciated Cohen’s efforts especially on such a limited budget, but the screwy loopholes and flimsy effects ultimately hurts it either way.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 26, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)

return to salems lot

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Town full of vampires

Joe Webber (Michael Moriarty) is a documentary filmmaker who is always looking to tackle the next shocking topic if it will help advance him and his film career. While vacationing in a small New England town of Jerusalem’s Lot with his teenage son Jeremy (Ricky Addison Reed) he becomes aware that the entire town is made up of a population of vampires led by elderly Judge Axel (Andrew Duggan). They are aware of Joe’s film career and give him an offer to film a documentary on them so as to give future generations a better understanding of the vampire lifestyle. Initially Joe is intrigued with the idea, but when he finds out that they want to turn his son into one of them he refuses and spends the rest of the time trying to escape and with the help of elderly but tenacious vampire hunter Van Meer (Samuel Fuller) save his son.

This flick is complete disaster from the beginning. It opens with Joe filming a documentary on a jungle cannibal tribe that looks like a real tacky rip-off of Cannibal Holocaust. The gore and special effects are abysmal and the story and characters have nothing to do with the Stephan King novel to which it is based nor the 1979 TV-Movie. Had the plot gone more with Joe filming a documentary on the populace it might have been interesting in an offbeat way, but the script brings up the idea and then never follows through with it.  There are shades of dry humor here and there and had it been more consistent with it the film could have been viewed and possibly enjoyed as a parody, but as it is it is nothing more than cheap straight-to-video fare.

The characters are poorly defined and at times even contradictory. Joe starts out as this callus man who puts his directing career first and has no concern for his son and hasn’t seen him for years, or even mentioned him to his friends. Then suddenly they get to this town and he will stop at nothing to save him. The son also does not like the father when he first sees him and yet magically and quickly bonds with him the minute they get to town. He is also described to be deeply troubled psychologically, but shows no sign of it during the course of the movie.

There is also the issue of Van Meer shooting Judge Axel in the head twice with a gun, but even as bullet holes spew out blood from his forehead he still goes on walking and talking like nothing happened. Supposedly this is to signify that the only way to kill a vampire is to stick a wooden stake through their heart and if you try to kill them any other way it won’t work, but this still doesn’t make sense. For instance if you break a vampires kneecap wouldn’t that effect the way they walk? If so then the same logic should hold true if you put two bullet holes into their brain. It would more than likely turn them into a complete vegetable a vegetable that may go on living forever until you drive a wooden stake through its heart, but a vegetable nonetheless.

Moriarty gives another great performance that completely exceeds the quality of the material. This one is even more impressive because he actually plays a normal person here and does so effectively, which is interesting given the nature of his sometimes offbeat behavior off-camera. The person though that really steals it is famed film director Fuller as the elderly vampire hunter. The guy shows an amazing amount of charisma and energy and plays up the character to an amazingly amusing degree and helps save what is otherwise a disaster.

Veteran actresses June Havoc and Evelyn Keyes appear as two of the elderly women vampires. Keyes really plays-it-up and the way she sucks the blood from one of the victims off her fingers looks down right erotic. The scene where Havoc, Keyes and writer/director Larry Cohen’s then real-life wife Janelle Webb chew on the dead body of Cohen’s real-life daughter Jill Gatsby gets a few points for audaciousness. This is also a great chance to see Tara Reid in her film debut as one of the vampire children.

The final thirty minutes is an improvement namely because of Fuller’s presence, but it does nothing to hide the film’s many other flaws, which is a perfect example of bad 80’s horror.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 18, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video

Perfect Strangers (1984)

perfect strangers

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid witnesses a murder.

Johnny (Brad Rijn) is a local hit-man who knifes someone to death in a back alley. Little does he know that behind a nearby fence is a 2-year-old toddler peeking out through a small opening and witnessing the whole thing.  As Johnny is about to leave he suddenly becomes aware of the child, but as the police are coming he runs. He is connected to the mob and when he tells them of the incident they advise him that he must kill the child simply to be extra cautious. Johnny then decides to get in a relationship with the boy’s attractive single mother Sally (Anne Carlisle) with the idea that he will get close enough to her that she will trust him to be alone with the kid where he will then off him and make it look like an accident.

The child who is played by a very young actor named Matthew Stockley is extremely cute to the point of being adorable. The idea of any harm coming to him is almost unthinkable, which helps create some tension and the climatic sequence where he is chased by Johnny though an abandoned, shadowy warehouse is well done.

However, the film’s biggest weakness is the Johnny character who is too damn nice to the point that I even started to like him as the film progressed. The guy is great with the kid and shows a definite sensitive side and is reluctant to harm the child and only considers it because the rest of the mob pushes him to. This then pretty much mutes the tension and the film would have been more exciting had the character been portrayed as a cold-hearted psycho. I also found it a bit contradicting that this otherwise nice guy could so easily kill other people. The extremes in the personality didn’t connect although at one point he does at least say ‘sorry’ to one of his victims as he drags the dead body away after viciously killing him.

Carlisle is excellent. She is probably best known for starring in as well as writing the screenplay for the cult hit Liquid Sky. There she played a teenage punk, but here filmed only 2 years later she comes off as a mature full-grown woman and her effective performance helps carry the film. Otto von Wernherr who was also in that movie appears as a private eye hired to follow Johnny around.

Stephan Lack who was in Scanners and just about ruined the film with his terrible performance is surprisingly good here as an aggressive police detective who hounds Sally for answers and won’t leave her alone. Ann Magnuson is somewhat amusing as a man-hating feminist Nazi.

If writer/director Larry Cohen scores anywhere it is in his ability to vividly show the street culture and eclectic, busy atmosphere of New York City life. One bit has hundreds of woman marching down the street in an anti-rape parade and when Johnny tries to get involved in it the woman aggressively pushes him back out. Things flow enough to make it mildly entertaining, but the film lacks distinction and is ultimately forgettable.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 24, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: Larco Productions

Available: DVD

The Stuff (1985)

the stuff

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ice cream can kill

An old man comes upon some white stuff bubbling up from the ground and when he tries it he becomes addicted to its delicious taste. Soon everybody in the small town he is in becomes hooked to it as well. Some businessmen, who would never touch the stuff themselves, decide to market it as the next new variation of ice cream and call it The Stuff. It becomes a national craze, but when 11-year-old Jason (Scott Bloom) finds it crawling around in his refrigerator late one night he becomes convinced that there is something wrong with it, but he can’t get his family to stop eating it. Mo Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) begins to get his suspicions as well when he is hired by a competing company to find out what the secret ingredients are only to come at a dead-end with people he talks to. When everyone starts to display odd zombie-like behavior the two join forces to shut down the company that produces.

It is really hard to figure out what genre to put this thing into. Most movie sites list it under the horror category, but there really isn’t anything that scary in it. I might actually put it as sci-fi, but it is a bit vapid at that level. If anything I would say the true category would be as a parody of all those old sci-fi movies from the 50’s as well as a satire on mass consumerism.

The film does feature some goofy commercials advertising the product that is spread throughout the story and features famous B-celebrities as the spokes people. My favorite was the one with Abe Vigoda and Clara Peller. Peller was famous for doing a Wendy’s commercial in the 80’s where she asked “Where’s the beef?” and in the ad here she asks “Where’s The Stuff?”

The special effects are hit and miss. The best ones feature the white liquid that looks like a cross between marshmallow topping, shaving cream and the white foamy stuff that comes out of a fire extinguisher. The best moment is when it starts to spew out of a pillow in a hotel room with such force that it completely covers a man with it and sticks him onto the ceiling. I also liked the part where actor Garret Morris has his mouth opened to an extreme size before he spits it out and then has his head explode.

Moriarty with his unique acting style scores again as a sort of anti-hero. His presence gives the movie an interesting edge. His bowl haircut, Cheshire grin and beady eyes make him almost look like some loner psycho killer from the sticks and allow for one funny exchange between him and actor Alexander Scourby’s character:

Scourby: You’re not as dumb as you look.

Moriarty: Nobody could be as dumb as I look.

As much as I love Andrea Marcovicci who is a truly beautiful woman to look at as well as a great actress I felt her character was not needed. She plays a woman who also teams up with Mo and Jason in their crusade to stop the Stuff. The romantic interplay between Mo and her character didn’t work and takes away from the quirkiness and edge that the Mo character had at the beginning. Having the heroes exclusively been between a kid and a middle-aged man would have been much more of a fun novelty.

The film does not have the schlocky, low budget production values that are a characteristic of most Larry Cohen movies. The lighting, variety of locales and reproduction of an Ice Cream factory are actually quite impressive. This is also one of the few films where you get to see the inside of a liquid storage truck. However, it lacks any type of interesting twist or payoff. There is never any explanation about what this white stuff is, or how it got there. There is also hundreds of potentially interesting scenarios and story threads that it could have taken, but doesn’t. In the end I felt this thing was just tapping the surface and the final result is rather empty and forgettable.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 14, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming

Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (1969)

daddys gone a hunting

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t kill his baby.

Cathy (Carol White) moves from England to San Francisco and almost immediately meets Kenneth (Scott Hylands) and the two get into a relationship. Cathy though slowly sees a dark side to him that she doesn’t like so she breaks up with him, but only after she finds out that she is pregnant. Since she is struggling to make it on her own she decides to have an abortion, which her friend Meg (Mala Powers) informs her is no worse than having a ‘hangnail’. When Kenneth learns of this he becomes enraged and promises revenge. He continues to stalk her from afar as she gets into a new relationship and then eventually marries prominent politician Jack Byrnes (Paul Burke). When she becomes pregnant again Kenneth reappears and tells her that this baby must be killed to make up for the one she ‘murdered’. After the baby is born he kidnaps it setting off a police manhunt throughout the city to find him and save the child.

Although this is a thriller you would hardly know it at the beginning as the movie starts out with a bouncy jazz score that does not create any type of menacing mood. It also initially dwells on Cathy and Kenneth’s early courtship and even has a sappy love song played over scenes of them kissing and walking hand-in-hand, which is awkward and even corny. I believe all thrillers should give some clue or warning to the tension and horror that is coming right from the start and this one doesn’t, which is weak.

However, after the first fifteen minutes it starts to get going from the suspense end and the rest of the way it is good if not excellent. I liked how the viewer is kept in the dark as to whether Kenneth is really stalking Cathy or it is all in her paranoid mind, which helps add an extra level of intrigue.

Director Mark Robson’s career was up and down, but he really scores here. The shot of a close-up of a cat’s eye showing the reflection of Cathy and Kenneth making love on a sofa was novel. I also liked how the abortion sequence is handled by showing a stark shot of the operating table coupled with Cathy’s nervous expression, which is surprisingly quite effective and brings out the horrors of the procedure, but without going overboard. I also appreciated that a real infant is used and not just a doll wrapped in a cloth like with some films. Showing a real live kicking and crying baby especially in close-ups makes it all the more emotionally compelling for the viewer when Kenneth tries to harm it.

Hylands is fantastic in the lead and one of the reasons this film works. He has the perfectly creepy face and menacing ability and this is by far his best performance in his long, but otherwise undistinguished career. White is also really good although she was far from being the producers first choice. Her blonde hair, accent, and angelic features make a perfect contrast to Hyland’s. Paul Burke is solid as the husband. It’s a bland part, but he tends to be good in those.

Although the abortion issue continues to be a hot and emotional topic for most this is not a political film and the emphasis is on being a thriller. However, when you couple this with screenwriter Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive movies you can probably assume he has an agenda in this political arena. Some may enjoy the way Kenneth relentlessly torments Cathy and refuses to allow her to forget what she did. He also kills the doctor who performed the procedure and what he does with the dead body afterwards is well…interesting.

Cohen and co-scripter Lorenzo Semple Jr. put their very creative minds in full gear here. The scenarios are well thought out and the tension builds at a great pace. The climatic sequence that takes place on top of the Mark Hopkins hotel at the Top of the Mark bar is exciting and visually well captured.

The only major flaw I saw with the film is at the beginning when Kenneth first sees Cathy standing on the sidewalk in downtown San Francisco he grabs some snow that is on a nearby car, makes it into a snowball, and then throws it at her to get her attention, but why in the world would there be snow on a car in downtown Frisco? This is never explained, but I felt it should have been.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 2, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated M

Director: Mark Robson

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video

Special Effects (1984)

special effects

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Murder her on film.

Snuff movies have become the thing of urban legends and apparently tapped into society’s morbid curiosity. It is really surprising how many movies and TV-shows have dealt with the topic especially recently. It all started in 1971 with the film Snuff that purportedly dealt with an actual murder of an actress done in front of the camera even though it was faked and not very good, but the film’s tagline ‘Filmed in South America where life is CHEAP’ is at least amusing. There have been films that have tried to make it look very convincing particularly the disturbing ‘Guinea Pig’ series from Japan as well as Cannibal Holocaust that got director Rogero Deodato taken to court to prove that he didn’t actually kill his cast. Although there have been executions, assassinations and suicides that have been recorded and sometimes put into documentaries there has yet to be a performer murdered in front of the camera for commercial purposes.

In today’s movie writer/director Larry Cohen takes this concept and gives it an intriguing spin. Neville (Eric Bogosian) is a down-and-out filmmaker. His last picture bombed at the box office and he is looking to make a buzz with his next project. He is fascinated with the capturing of the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald and how movies can never quite recreate death in the same way. Struggling actress Andrea (Zoe Tamerlis) answers an ad and shows up in his apartment/studio for an audition. Neville uses the allure of potential fame to get the women into bed with him, which he usually films with a camera hidden behind a two-way mirror. During the sex Andrea begins to belittle him, which angers him enough that he strangles her. Realizing that he has the murder captured on film he decides to use it to his advantage. He disposes of the dead body and then hires another woman named Elaine (also played by Tamerlis) who looks just like Andrea to star in his next film. He will then incorporate the scene of the murder into the movie. Audiences will think it was done with special effects and be so impressed with how realistic it looks that it will give Neville numerous accolades for his film making skill and bring him back to the top of the directing world.

Cohen uses the story as an excuse to expose the seedy, unglamorous side of low budget filmmaking many of which based on his own observations from working in the business. One of the more startling revelations that he shows is how the movie world is such an allure to some people that they will completely sell-out to get into it even if it means losing their dignity. This comes to a head in what is probably the film’s strongest scene when Neville is very rude and brash with Elaine when he first meets her. He shouts at her like she is sub-human and simply a piece of property, but the prospect of starring in a movie is so strong that she doesn’t walk out of there like most people would probably want to do. What is worse is the fact that Neville is aware of this and realizes he can get away with it.

The movie also looks how demeaning it can sometimes be being a filmmaker as well. Having to work and deal with various personalities and egos as well as fighting to remain in control of the project and vision. He also shows how exhausting the research phase of a production can be and how breakthroughs and inspirations usually come about by complete accident. The extended scene dealing with them trying to find an actress who resembles Andrea and auditioning hundreds of different women without any luck only to come upon Elaine by complete accident when they go to a Salvation Army store is a good example of this.

Cohen also infuses some creative camera work and directorial flair. The opening sequence showing Andrea prancing around topless in what looks to be the Oval Office of The White House has panache. The shot showing rows upon rows of hundreds of headshots of young and aspiring actresses, which includes an amusing one of Dustin Hoffman in his Tootsie character, lining the floor is impressive. I also liked the way Neville’s apartment is captured when Andrea first walks into it as well as extreme close-ups of circuit breakers being put back into a circuit box, which is really cool.

Tamerlis is fantastic in the lead. She shows a great awareness and natural acting ability in front of the camera. She plays the dual roles with two very distinct personalities and accents both of which are good. Her presence makes the film more interesting and the scenes that she is not in lack the same energy.

Bogosian easily conveys the obnoxious sarcastic personality of his character, but at times his facial expressions seem to be either lacking or over-exaggerated. Brad Rijn who plays Andrea’s husband who later gets involved in Neville’s project is weak and annoying. In some ways he seems to be the right pick for someone playing a country hick, but he has no charisma and looks too scrawny especially with his clothes off.

For a low budget 80’s flick the film has enough twists and a good enough pace to be marginally entertaining. The only thing that I really didn’t like was the synthesized electronic music score that drones on endlessly like in one of those 80’s porn flicks. I think the reason I liked the scene where Andrea’s dead body is shown inside a parked car in a lonely area of Coney Island is because it didn’t have any music and instead used the natural ambience of the location, which helped make it distinct and should’ve been done with the rest of the movie.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: VHS, DVD

Q (1982)

Q

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant bird eats humans

In celebration of cult writer/director Larry Cohen turning 72 on July 15th all this month on Mondays I will review five of his films that he did during the 80’s. Now Cohen will probably never win an Academy Award and may never be mentioned in the same context as Spielberg, Kubrik, or Hitchcock, but the man has had one hell of a career nonetheless. He has been writing for either television or movies since the late 50’s and continues to churn out creative, innovative stories and scripts. Not all of them are completely successful and some of them do misfire, but his ability to survive in the difficult, competitive Hollywood landscape and make his movies on his terms with virtually no studio interference is an amazing achievement in itself and therefore deserves recognition.

larry cohen 3

This film like most of his others has a completely outlandish plot this time involving a giant lizard-like bird that is actually the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl brought back to life and nesting inside the top crown of the Crysler Building in downtown Manhattan. The bird lays a giant egg and feeds itself on unsuspecting people.  Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty) is an out-of-work lounge singer who comes upon the bird’s nest accidently while running from the cops after a botched jewelry store robbery. He decides to use his knowledge of the whereabouts of the bird to his advantage and demands that the city pay him a million dollars before he leads them to it.

Despite the crazy plot the execution is rather conventional. There are long periods of seemingly unending dialogue that is not interesting and does not propel the movie along. The bird attacks are too brief and needed to be strung out more. The movie would have worked much better and had it had a consistent tongue-in-cheek approach and editing that was more kinetic and lucid-like.

Moriarty saves the film with entertaining, edgy performance. This is a man who is known for his erratic behavior off-screen, which pretty much killed his career. In 1971 while performing on stage in a play in Houston he suddenly broke from character and told the audience as well as his fellow cast members that he felt tired and didn’t want to continue and then promptly walked off stage and went home. He was also fired from his most famous role as Ben Stone in the hit series ‘Law and Order’ for similar types of odd incidents and yet that is exactly why he is so perfect here. He gives the thing a much needed boost of weird energy and I especially liked the part when he leads two of his partners in crime up to the bird’s nest and when the bird starts feeding on them he climbs down the ladder shouting:

“Eat them! Eat them! Crunch! Crunch! Eat them! Eat Them!”

I also enjoyed when he is sitting at the bargaining table with the city and police officials demanding a million dollars before he tells them the whereabouts of the bird and insisting that it all must be tax free because:

“I’ve never paid taxes before in my life and I don’t intend to start now.”

His character is lazy, conniving, cowardly, bombastic, self-centered, egotistical, talentless, and deluded and yet strangely endearing and I even felt a bit sorry for him at the end. Candy Clark as Joan his more grounded and conscientious girlfriend makes for a good contrast.

I wasn’t as crazy about David Carradine as the tough New York cop who deals with Jimmy during his investigation. Carradine seems too aloof and detached and this doesn’t help to create any tension. Richard Roundtree as his partner is much better and I would have had him the sole investigator and cut Carradine out completely.

The special effects are a little bit better than what I had initially feared for a low budget 80’s flick, but they are not real great either. The bird when shown flying through the air just doesn’t seem gigantic or frightening enough and ends up looking like a poor man’s Ray Harryhausen creation. The final shootout with the bird was clearly done on a matted screen and looks very tacky. I actually thought the baby bird that comes out of the egg was the only halfway scary and effective moment in the whole film.

What Cohen does get right is reflecting the ambience and culture of the New York neighborhoods and crowded street culture. The aerial footage of New York’s skyline is also spectacular.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 29, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: Larco Productions

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray