By Christopher Sharrett.
Death is ruthless, but it seems to have been especially vicious lately. We have received word that Larry Cohen, the last of the great quartet of 60s-70s horror film innovators, has died. A statement about the full contributions of Cohen will be forthcoming in the print edition of Film International (17.2) by my colleague Tony Williams, who wrote the definitive book about the filmmaker. Cohen has joined his own colleagues George A. Romero, Tobe Hooper, and Wes Craven, the central figures in Robin Wood’s appraisal of the horror film, first in the small collection (also featuring Williams and Andrew Britton) The American Nightmare, then in his book Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan…and Beyond.
Has anyone inflected the genre like these four filmmakers? That is a discussion for another time. For now, I’ll just refer the reader to some of Cohen’s contributions, especially It’s Alive and its sequels, God Told Me To (an astonishing film), The Stuff (a remark about industrial food and consumerism), A Return to Salem’s Lot, Q: the Winged Serpent. I will also count The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, a staggering film that appeared once on an inferior DVD and vanished. It is about the American nightmare like no other film; Robin Wood thought it to be the most intelligent political film ever made in America.
I will also count his two “Blaxploitation” films, Black Caesar and Hell Up in Harlem; their endings alone are challenges never before remotely seen in a film, showing rage against American white supremacy. And there is Bone, a Godard-like film also challenging assumptions about race and class – and therefore unmarketable, especially given its style.
Christopher Sharrett has taught film for many years at Seton Hall University. He is a Contributing Editor for Film International.