Disappointing cake and little-known director Larry Cohen.
I left work a little early yesterday in fear of a “flash freeze” that Kevin Mannix insisted was going to occur. I don’t fully know what that is, but it sounded terrible, and certainly nothing that our car would be willing to deal effectively with, so I went home, where I sort of halfheartedly picked up a little, made Annie’s birthday cake finally (it became unnecessary once the Friendly’s Party Log was introduced and made us all full/sick) (the birthday cake incidentally was kind of dry and tasteless despite being completely chocolate, and the sprinkles hurt our teeth), and watched “It’s Alive” from Netflix. I watched it twice in a row! I liked it! The second time I watched it with commentary. It’s from 1973 or 4 and is about a woman who gives birth to a mutant baby who runs around killing everyone. Given all of that, it was fairly subtle and thought-provoking.
Larry Cohen is a good director (and a genuinely interesting commentary-deliverer; I usually get instantly bored with audio commentaries but his was engaging and informative) of B-movies. Most directors would be like “Okay, this is about a monster baby, so we don’t really have to put much thought into plot or character development. Let’s just show the baby ripping everyone’s throats out and we’ll make 8 zillion dollars and then we can go stick hookers and cocaine up our butts, yay!” But Larry Cohen is like “Okay, this couple had a monster baby. How does that make them feel? How does that make their friends and co-workers feel? How does this affect their home life/marriage/relationship with their other, non-mutant children? What does this do to their community?” and on and on. Despite the low-budget and the occasional gross-out effects, which you need to have at least a little of in a movie like this, “It’s Alive” actually attempts to be a realistic horror movie about a monster/baby/serial killer, and as such is far more interesting and worthwhile than your average “something gross is running around killing everything, help” movie.
I have seen several of Cohen’s movies, and while campy, they all take a refreshingly even-handed approach to their unapologetically schlocky material. 1982’s “Q the Winged Serpent”, for example, is about a prehistoric vulture-like creature terrorizing New York, but for the most part the film deals with a two-bit con man whose hand-to-mouth existence could sustain a movie on its own, and now he’s got Q the Winged Serpent to deal with on top of it. 1985’s “The Stuff” is about a delicious dessert that actually eats people, but much of the film deals with things like marketing concerns.
Cohen’s movies take their time, and many horror/B-movie fans might, somewhat understandably, find them to be boring, but the idea of such care and thought being put into a product that is ultimately kind of silly is very satisfying to me. His movies know exactly what they are, and make no excuses for their disrespected genre, but neither do they skimp on thing like pacing or character development, and furthermore, while there are always flashes of subtle humor and in-jokes, they don’t feel the need to nudge you in the ribs with a lot of stupid, self-aware, jokey shit . The characters onscreen are in a situation that, while entertaining on film, would be unthinkably horrific in real life, and for the most part they behave accordingly.
Larry Cohen may not be a filmmaker with legions of fans, but he is officially one of my favorite directors, and I hope he’ll come out of retirement one of these days and make something new, as he hasn’t really done anything since the early ’90s short of a few screenplays for other directors.
There is a pot luck breakfast/Yankee swap taking place at work tomorrow, and I couldn’t be more terrified.