Release Date(s)2017 (October 23, 2018)
Studio(s)Off the Cliff Productions/Dark Star Pictures (La-La Land Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
One of the most interesting independent filmmakers of his time, Larry Cohen has had his hand in a number of interesting projects over the years, especially his own. He began his career as a stand-up comedian, but abandoned that idea and started writing scripts for television, many of which sold. He even created several TV shows, such as N.Y.P.D. and Coronet Blue, among others. But his true artistic calling would be making films, and soon he would do just that with few independent productions, including Bone, Black Caesar, and Hell Up in Harlem, before getting to his biggest mainstream hit, It’s Alive.
King Cohen, a new documentary from Steve Mitchell (writer of Chopping Mall), traces Larry Cohen’s career from the past to the present, delving into several of his films with reactions from many of the folks he’s been associated with over the years, as well as other people within the industry. They include Joe Dante, Rick Baker, Michael Moriarty, Eric Roberts, J.J. Abrams, Eric Bogosian, Mick Garris, Traci Lords, David J. Schow, Fred Williamson, Robert Forster, Daniel Pearl, Tara Reid, John Landis, Yaphet Kotto, and Martin Scorsese.
My only real nitpicks with this documentary is that it feels a little fragmented at times, never staying on the same subject for very long, and lacks an emotional or thematic arc. Even the best documentaries have something else going on in them besides what they’re initially about. However, there are enough interesting stories and Larry Cohen is a fascinating enough of a subject to keep you locked in. In some capacity, it’s more of a celebration of his career, more so than a straight autobiographical account of his life, although that aspect creeps in from time to time, particularly when discussing his relationships with Bernard Hermann, Red Buttons, and Bette Davis.
The quality of the presentation of King Cohen on Blu-ray is about what you’d expect from a modern day documentary that mixes new HD-sourced interviews with film clips and photos of varying qualities, which is to say that it’s a bit of a mix. All subjects and vintage materials are clear and discernible at all times and the interviews are well-lit. Everything appears bright and colorful, however some sections that are taken from SD presentations of some of Larry’s films, are less than stellar. However, nothing stands out as overtly bad or difficult to look at. The audio, which is provided in English 5.1 DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH, offers a nice mix that doesn’t heavily emphasize the need for surround activity, but features some surprising LFE activity, particularly during the opening and closing credits, which are accentuated with a high class, funky disco instrumental. All of the sound from the interviews is well-represented and works well next to the other material, all of it converging together without any distortion.
The extras aren’t plentiful, but there are some gems to be had, including An Audience with The King, which is 47 minutes of even more great interview footage of Larry Cohen that didn’t make it into the documentary, covering a variety of different subjects; More Stories from the King’s Court, which is 38 minutes of additional interviews with various participants from the documentary; Monsters on the Table, a 4-minute look at props from some of Larry Cohen’s films, hosted by Larry himself; Hello, World!, a 14-minute set of personal introductions for the documentary when it played at various film festivals that Larry couldn’t personally attend; the trailer for the film; and a CD soundtrack of the documentary’s score, featuring 23 tracks. Although it would have been nice to have had a trailer compilation of some sort, this is still a nice set of supplements.
King Cohen offers a look at an oftentimes guerilla-type filmmaker who would often shoot without permits on major locations and gave his actors enormous amounts of freedom to conduct their characters. His filmography, including the It’s Alive films, Q: The Winged Serpent, and The Stuff, influenced a number of people – not just viewers, but also the people he worked with. It’s a very good documentary and definitely worth your time as a film fan.
- Tim Salmons