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SYFY WIRE horror films

It's Alive director Larry Cohen passes at 77

By Don Kaye
Larry Cohen

One of the great low-budget genre filmmakers, Larry Cohen, is no longer with us. Cohen passed away on Saturday (Mar. 23) at the age of 77, according to the Hollywood Reporter, surrounded by his loved ones and leaving behind a legacy of some of horror and sci-fi's most entertaining and smart cult classics.

Among the films that Cohen wrote and directed were It's Alive (1974) and its two sequels, God Told Me To (1977), Q - The Winged Serpent (1982), The Stuff (1985), A Return to Salem's Lot (1987) and The Ambulance (1990), among many others. He also wrote and produced Maniac Cop (1988) and its two follow-ups, and acted solely as a writer on the horror film Captivity (2007) as well as the mainstream thrillers Phone Booth (2002) and Cellular (2004).

Cohen's last directorial effort was a 2006 episode of Showtime's Masters of Horror series called "Pick Me Up." He also created the short-lived ABC TV series The Invaders, about an architect who tries to stop a covert alien invasion of Earth, which ran for two seasons in 1967 and 1968 and was a precursor to shows like The X-Files.

Cohen was born on July 15, 1941 in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. Although he graduated from City College with a degree in film studies in 1963, he had already started selling scripts to TV as early as 1958 while working as a page at NBC.

He wrote for TV series like The Defenders, The Fugitive, Rat Patrol and Way Out throughout the 1960s and early '70s, while also creating several shows in addition to The Invaders. His first feature film as a writer and director was the 1972 blaxploitation picture Bone, followed by Black Caesar and Hell Up in Harlem (both 1973). 

His genre breakthrough came the following year with It's Alive, an instant cult classic about a hideous mutant baby that goes on a killing spree and ends up being pursued through the sewers of Los Angeles by the authorities and its own father. The movie was followed by It Lives Again (1978) and It's Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987).

Cohen's films were grisly and provocative, but also featured an undercurrent of satire and social commentary. God Told Me To was about a detective whose investigation of a string of murders leads him to discover that Jesus was an alien. The Stuff was about the marketing of dangerous products to the populace and The Ambulance tackled the health care industry (the latter film included the first screen appearance of Stan Lee in a cameo, and also featured, in a deleted scene, an appearance by Donald Trump).

"The Stuff was an allegory for consumerism in America and the fact that big corporations will sell you anything to get your money, even if it'll kill you," Cohen told Diabolique magazine in 2017.

Cohen was married twice and had five kids, with both his wives and all of his children showing up in his movies at one time or another. In 1988, he received the George Pal Memorial Award by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. Last year, he was the subject of a feature-length documentary, King Cohen, which is currently available on Shudder.

As the old expression goes, they don't make 'em like Larry Cohen anymore -- a true filmmaking maverick and iconoclast whose likes are harder to find these days in Tinseltown. RIP to a genre and exploitation legend.

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