“Look at this mob. You better make room for all the other people swarming in,” director Larry Cohen said sarcastically to the sparse crowd awaiting him with questions this afternoon at the HorrorHound Weekend convention.
The small audience turned out to be fitting, for what followed was a casual, intimate conversation about one of Cohen’s first films, It’s Alive, which he described as though he were sharing production stories with a close friend.
“Warner Bros. told me, ‘You can’t make a movie about a monster-baby. That’s in bad taste,’” Cohen said. “My response was, ‘But a little girl masturbating with a crucifix is in good taste?” (referring, of course, to a scene from the Warner Bros. horror film that was released a year before, The Exorcist).
It’s Alive was a box office bomb in its initial 1974 release. In an unprecedented turn of events, it was reissued three years later with a new advertising campaign, which revolved around a trailer that initially seems like a commercial about early parenthood and builds up to a skin-crawling revelation.
This unsettlingly engaging ad lured in large audiences, earning Warner Bros. far more than the film did during its initial release.
"Isn't that a sweet story?" Cohen said with a sly smile that lifted the bags under his eyes.
This film, which was initially a financial failure, became a critical and commercial success, standing the test of time. Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn recently approached Cohen in the interest of remaking It's Alive.
"My story shows that you shouldn't give up," he said to the aspiring filmmakers in the audience. "If you think you have a good film, keep pushing it; you never know where it will go." (Among other success, It's Alive went on to become the second highest grossing film for Warner Bros. in Singapore, next to My Fair Lady.)
"It's OK in this business if people don't like you. All that matters is that they like your film," Cohen said. But people do like Cohen. Exuding a sweet, childlike sense of wonder that goes against the genre in which he works, his enthusiasm infected everyone in the audience.