My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.
This week focuses on four films directed by one of my favorite filmmakers, Larry Cohen.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Larry Cohen’s tabloid style is perfect for this material and, combined with Michael Moriarty’s offbeat performance, he made one of the most original (and best) monster movies.
The chaotic filming/editing which characterizes Cohen’s best work is on full display here, along with his unconventional writing touch to a tired genre. By weaving a police procedural and heist plot into the monster-attacks-the-city formula, he comes up with a fresh, original piece of entertainment. But the film wouldn’t fly without Moriarty. He was to Cohen what DeNiro is to Scorsese; they brought out the best in each other. In the actor’s case, Cohen gives him the chance to create truly eccentric protagonists, the likes of which I’ve never seen in any other genre picture. Michael’s ingenuity as a performer keeps the film from ever getting stale and often times makes it unforgettable.
Not a masterwork like God Told Me To or Private Files, Q is still an impressive film and one of Larry’s best.
Watched on Tubi.
A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Though I love Larry Cohen’s work, his follow up to Tobe Hooper’s miniseries is a mixed bag.
The biggest problem is the director’s frenetic style, usually his best asset, in conflict with the story. It’s ironic that there are twice as many ideas jam-packed into Cohen’s 101 minute feature than Hooper’s film which is twice as long. The result is that fascinating ideas about the vampires’ lifestyles and history are given a Cliffs Notes approach. The movie’s brightest moments are short-changed and left me wanting more exploration. Again, this is part of Cohen’s style and it works in films like The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, the Blaxploitation movies, and The Stuff, but here it comes off as disjointed.
The best parts of the movie can be credited to two performances. Michael Moriarty proves once again to be an unusual and refreshingly original leading man. Cohen wisely used Moriarty here and his other films to create eccentric principal performances that must be seen to be believed. Actors today should study their collaborations for unconventional ways to approach characters. The other actor I loved in the film was director Sam Fuller. He gives a wild, unhinged, and very physically charged turn as the Nazi hunter. His presence immediately injects the film with energy and saves the second half.
This isn’t one of Cohen’s best but for fans of the director, it’s well worth a watch.
Watched on HBO Max
Deadly Illusion (1987)
Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
There are very few signs of Larry Cohen’s influence on this flawed thriller, not in the writing or directing.
The script has some moves in the first act, cliche Noir twists and turns that still provide some fun, and then the film gets lost in an over-complicated yet dull plot about all kinds of things I stopped caring about long before the end credits. Working with a weak screenplay doesn’t help leading man Billy Dee Williams who can’t figure out if he’s in a legit suspense film or a farce. There are some truly bizarre scenes in this film where Williams plays with a balloon and has a fist fight with an elevator door. These are at least memorable moments in an otherwise boring mystery.
I don’t know enough about the history of this production to tell what Cohen was responsible for compared to his co-director’s hand in the project. All I know is that it is void of the striking originality that characterizes most of Larry’s work.
Watched on Tubi.
Full Moon High (1981)
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 Stars
Oof… now I know why this Larry Cohen comedy gets no mention in the documentary about his career, King Cohen. It’s a painfully unfunny effort, a truly odd misfire from a writer/director with a great batting average. It makes me just want to ask, “What happened?”
I regret to admit I did not laugh once in this werewolf horror comedy. None of the performances worked, from father/son combo Adam & Alan Arkin to Kenneth Mars (who is almost always hilarious). Only the zany female performances are enjoyable but there are too many of them, never giving one the chance to stand out. The only other memorable thing I can say about this film is that it features a young Bob Saget.
Watched on Paramount Plus.