Born in July 1936 in good ol’ NYC, Larry Cohen would eventually become a triple threat as a screenwriter, producer and director for both television and film. During the 1960s, he worked as a screenwriter on any number of TV shows, even creating some of the most popular programs of that era, such as Branded and The Invaders. But it was during the early ‘70s that Cohen’s career really began to take off, with his writing, producing and directing of three blaxploitation pictures: Bone (1972), Black Caesar (1973) and Hell Up In Harlem (also from 1973). And Cohen, of course, would go on to create a series of beloved horror/sci-fi films before his passing in 2019, including the It’s Alive trilogy and God Told Me To (1976). In today’s Shocktober column, I’d like to focus on two Larry Cohen films starring Michael Moriarty that, taken together, might make for a perfect double feature one dark and stormy October night. They are as different in subject matter as can be but both should provide the requisite chills in keeping with the season:
Just a few weeks back I saw a film called The Flying Serpent, a fairly lame movie from 1946 starring George Zucco, about a professor who uses the Aztec bird god Quetzalcoatl to perform various homicides for him in modern-day New Mexico. And just the other night, I watched another film about Quetzalcoatl being alive and well in modern-day America, Larry Cohen’s Q (1982), a picture that is infinitely superior to the earlier film in every aspect of the cinematic arts. In this consistently amusing picture, Michael Moriarty stars as another Q, Quinn, a small-time crook, ex-junkie, two-time ex-con and aspiring musician, who discovers the serpent bird’s nesting lair way up in the tower of the Chrysler Building and uses his exclusive knowledge to hold NYC to ransom when the bird monster starts to use the city’s residents as hors d’oeuvres. Moriarty is a real marvel to watch here; maniacal, jittery, hyperkinetic and jive talking, his is quite a delicious, oddball performance. David “Kung Fu” Carradine and Richard “Shaft” Roundtree also make for a fun team as squabbling detectives on the case, and Q himself (or perhaps I should say “herself,” as Q seems to be an egg layer?), I am happy to say, looks mighty fine; some very impressive FX work for a film with a typically limited Larry Cohen budget. The film’s finale, during which the swooping monster attacks the armed cops at the summit of the Chrysler Building, plays out like the ending of King Kong, only with the positions reversed. Yes, this film should be greatly enjoyed by all lovers of 1950s-style monster movies. I personally found it immensely entertaining. Oh … and the DVD that I just watched, from the fine folks at Blue Underground, looks very nice, to boot!
And just what IS The Stuff? Well, physically, The Stuff looks like marshmallow Fluff, but it’s also as addictive as supercrack and as zombie inducing as an alien space pod. And it just happens to be the latest dessert craze to sweep our nation, in Larry Cohen’s 1985 sci-fi satire The Stuff. As other dessert manufacturers go belly up, industrial spy Michael Moriarty is hired to find out just what this Stuff is all about, and he is assisted by Andrea Marcovicci (a Madison Avenue exec who is pushing The Stuff) and by a Famous Amos-like character played by Garrett Morris. Paul Sorvino pops up toward the end as Colonel Spears, who seems to head his own private army, and he too is instrumental in the fight against the deadly confection. Anyway, like The Stuff itself, The Stuff is fun to consume but leaves one wanting still more. It has an intriguing plot, and its satire on this country’s rampant consumerism does work, but at the same time, there aren’t enough exciting set pieces, and the film’s joking tone fritters away any real sense of suspense. This movie might have worked a lot better if it had been more serious, and less tongue in (Stuff-stuffed) cheek. It doesn’t quite hold together somehow – possibly the fault of the script or the editing – and though the film looks fine, with nice Blob-like Stuff FX, it still feels slapdash somehow. But wait till you see Abe Vigoda and Clara “Where’s the Beef?” Peller do a Stuff TV commercial, and hear that catchy jingle (“Enough is never enough, of The Stuff”). Fun stuff indeed!
Anyway, my FanLit friends, I hope that this Larry Cohen double feature will indeed provide you with some fun and thrills over the course of the season. And if you’ve never seen God Told Me To, OMG, it comes more than highly recommended!