It’s Alive, for instance, presents itself as a movie about a mutant baby on a killing spree, but it’s actually a commentary on the way ‘70s society mistreated children and the dangers of overuse of prescription drugs—not to mention the fact that the sequels lean on the idea that the government is trying to kill all of the mutant babies even as their parents realize that they still deserve love and support. Then there’s Cohen’s The Stuff from 1985, in which a sweet creamy substance is found bubbling up from the ground, leading to a company immediately packaging it up and selling it as a delicious ice cream alternative. The eponymous stuff turns out to be a wildly addictive alien parasite of some sort that devours hosts from the inside out, but who cares as long as someone can make money off of it? That one in particular will probably always be relevant, and that sort of awareness helped elevate Cohen’s work of the era beyond some of his low-budget horror contemporaries.

In more recent years, Cohen moved away from directing horror to focus on screenwriting. He returned to his crime drama roots in a way for Phone Booth, the well-regarded Joel Schumacher movie in which Colin Farrell has to navigate a tense situation with a sniper over a public phone. He also officially received a well-deserved honor alongside filmmakers like John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, and Takashi Miike when he became one of the eponymous Masters Of Horror for Mick Garris’ Showtime anthology series. Cohen directed the episode “Pick Me Up,” which aired in 2006 and centered on a pair of arguing serial killers.


Here’s a trailer for King Cohen, featuring a number of other iconic filmmakers talking about the important impact he had on the medium: