October 22, 2019

Larry Cohen, Screenwriter and Director Dies at 77

Larry Cohen

Most moviegoers would draw a blank if asked about screenwriter and director Larry Cohen, but for fans of low-budget B-movies, Cohen, who died March 23 at 77, was a major figure. “Black Caesar” (1973), “It’s Alive” (1974) and “The Stuff” (1985), three of the 21 movies he directed, have become cult classics: low-budget, slam-bang genre pictures that were witty, sometimes trenchant commentaries on American life, often more memorably than the studios’ prestige releases.  

Born July 15, 1941, in New York, Cohen grew up a movie-mad child, seeing four films a week (his younger sister, the late publicist Ronni Chasen, followed him into the business). He worked his way up from a page at NBC to writing teleplays. He would go on to write for “Kraft Theatre,” “The Fugitive” and “The Defenders” before creating the series  “Branded” and “The Invaders.” He moved to film, writing “Return of the Seven,” the sequel to “The Magnificent Seven,” in 1966. His fast, down-and-dirty style and tabloid sensibilities found a home in the world of independent horror, blaxploitation and crime movies. In the Los Angeles Times, filmmaker Edgar Wright (“Baby Driver”) described his films as “fun, high-concept genre romps with ideas bigger than the budgets.”

Cohen cranked out an average of one movie a year — including Bette Davis’ last film, 1989’s “Wicked Stepmother” — through the mid-’90s. He experienced a late-career revival when his script “Phone Booth,” directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Colin Farrell, became a hit in 2003. Never one to use a good idea once, he quickly followed it with the script for 2004’s “Cellular.”

Cohen married twice and is survived by his second wife, Cynthia Costas Cohen, and five children.