NEW YORK - Larry Cohen, the maverick B-movie director of cult horror films “It’s Alive” and “God Told Me To,” has died. He was 77.
Cohen’s friend and spokesman, the actor Shade Rupe, said Cohen passed away Saturday in Los Angeles surrounded by loved ones.
Cohen’s films were schlocky, low-budget films that developed cult followings, spawned sequels and gained esteem for their genre reflections of contemporary social issues.
His 1974 “It’s Alive,” about a murderous mutant baby, dealt with the treatment of children. Bernard Herrmann, Alfred Hitchcock’s frequent composer, supplied the score.
His New York-set 1976 satire “God Told Me To” depicted a series of shootings and murders carried out in religious fervor. Andy Kaufman played a policeman who goes on a shooting spree during the St. Patrick’s Day parade. There were also aliens.
In Cohen’s 1985 film “The Stuff,” Cohen skewered consumerism with a story inspired by the rise of junk food. It’s about a sweet yogurt-like substance that’s found oozing out of the ground and is then bottled and marketed like an ice cream alternative without the calories. The “stuff” turns out to be a parasite that turns consumers of it into zombies.
“It wasn’t just going to a studio like a factory laborer and making pictures and going home every night,” Cohen told the Ringer last year. “We were out there in the jungle making these movies, improvising, and having fun, and creating movies from out of thin air without much money.”
“You’ve gotta make the picture your way and no other way,” he added, “because it can’t be made otherwise.”
Cohen’s approach — he would often shoot extreme scenes on New York City streets without permits or alerting people in the area — made him, like Roger Corman, revered among subsequent generations of independent genre-movie filmmakers. A documentary released last year, “King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen,” paid tribute to Cohen.
“Larry Cohen truly was an independent freewheeling movie legend,” the writer-director Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” ″Baby Driver”) said on Sunday, praising him “for so many fun, high-concept genre romps with ideas bigger than the budgets.”
The New York-native Cohen began in television, where he wrote episodes for series like “The Fugitive,” ″The Defenders” and “Surfside 6.” New York would be the setting for many of Cohen’s films, including 1982′s “Q,” in which a giant flying lizard nests atop the Chrysler Building.
Cohen’s 1973 blaxspoitation crime drama “Black Caesar,” scored by James Brown, was about a Harlem gangster. He and star Fred Williamson reunited the next year for “Hell Up in Harlem.”
Cohen later directed Bette Davis’ last film, “Wicked Stepmother,” in 1989. More recently, he wrote the 2002 Colin Farrell thriller “Phone Booth” and 2004′s “Cellular,” with Chris Evans.
Cohen was often his own producer, director, writer and sometimes prop-maker and production manager. “Otherwise,” he told the Village Voice, “I’d have to sit down with producers, and producers are a real pain in the ass, believe me.”