Directed by Larry Cohen
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Damn I’ve always loved Larry Cohen. Not in the way a man loves his wife, or a boy loves his first stuffed animal; no, this love is more like an almost unquestioning devotion to whatever project he chooses to do next.
Notice I said almost. Though I love the cool and original films he’s responsible for in his early career like Q: The Winged Serpent and God Told Me To, I do have some issues with his later strictly screenwriting gigs like Phone Booth. Though, to be fair, a writer is only responsible for so much of what gets on screen, so who knows how bizarre Booth was before it hit cinemas.
So needless to say I was very happy when Cohen became part of the lineup for Season One of Masters, and doubly so when it was announced that his long time acting partner Michael Moriarty would be back in a lead role again, as well. Oddly enough, though Moriarty does chew the scenery at every opportunity, the stand-out performance in “Pick Me Up” is relative newcomer Warren Kole, who does a great job portraying a quite, menacing psychopath who can turn on a dime and possess the most trusting face one can imagine with barely the bat of an eyelid.
The film, adapted by David Schow from his own short story (the first directing gig in his career in which Cohen didn’t serve writing duties, as well), tells of two wandering serial killers with very different means of choosing new victims; Wheeler (Moriarty) drives a massive big rig from town to town, picking up hitchhikers or wanderers and doing exceedingly nasty things to them. Walker (Kole) goes at it by foot, killing any motorist foolish enough to stop for him.
The two of them meet quite by accident; a bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere, stranding its driver and passengers with no help in site. When Wheeler arrives and offers them a ride to town, two of the passengers are more than willing to go along. Meanwhile the troubled Stacia (Balk) decides to hoof it on foot to the closest town, so those left behind with the bus are along to deal with Walker when he arrives about an hour after Wheeler leaves. Through a series of odd coincidences and circumstances that only really make sense in a Cohen movie, the two killers end up at the same hotel with only the unaware Stacia in between their rooms.
They figure one another out, indeed one of the best scenes is a three-way conversation between the killers and Stacia outside the hotel, full of endless innuendos and assumptions; it’s a scene that really goes a long way to show how good both actors are and it’s fascinating to watch.
Eventually Stacia becomes both of the psychos’ next victim of choice, and pretty soon she’s literally caught between the dueling dementias, both of which have strong arguments for why their method of killing is more “pure” and strong personal philosophies that make more sense to each. To point out that things don’t end well for anyone involved (though the twist is a bit over the top) is almost unnecessary, since it’s a Cohen film we’re talking about and very rarely does it all work out well in the end in his universe.
Anchor Bay’s release of this episode comes stacked with the usual amount of goodies that us fans have almost begun to take for granted from this series. There’s just so many thick and juicy extras it’s hard to get through them all without feeling a bit overwhelmed, so allow me to lead you.
The first thing you should check out is “Death on the Highway: An Interview with Larry Cohen”. It’s a 25-minute piece that details both Cohen’s unique rise to the top through years of strange films and anti-Hollywood work ethics, and how he came to be involved in the Masters series (indeed, he takes credit for bringing up the idea of a bunch of horror directors getting together for dinner to Garris). Cohen’s had a fascinating life and his no-bullshit Brooklyn-born approach to making movies is what has made his one of the most unique voices out there, so to hear him give the dirt on himself was, for me, a geek dream come true.
Much of the information in the interviews is repeated on the disc’s commentary, but it’s still worth a listen if you desire even more. Cohen talks with nary a breath for most of it, to the point you begin to wonder if they actually edited the pauses in between sentences the way they do for radio. But he’s always got something interesting to say about the script, the cast, or the characters (especially Moriarty), so it’s never dull.
My favorite segment of any Masters disc is next on the must-see list, “Working With a Master: Larry Cohen”. David Carradine, Fred Williamson, Karen Black, and Tony Lo Bianco are just a few of the celebrities who have worked with the man over the years and are more than happy to recount their experiences. Carradine is one of the coolest, as he’s just a cool guy all around, while Williamson still seems very full of himself and almost takes responsibility for Cohen being so successful. It’s all good-natured, though, so we can let it slide. And they’ve all got some great stories to tell about the man!
The next thing you have to see is “Fantasy Film Festival: Mick Garris Interviews Larry Cohen”. Why? Because it’s an old cable-access looking show that Mick used to host way back before he became the writer/producer/director/novelist he is now, and it’s cool to see them both so very young. Once you get past the “wow” factor, it’s actually a damn fine interview and you can tell that Garris is completely at ease with the man. Good stuff.
There’s also the usual on-set interviews with Moriarty, Balk, and Cole (the latter of which comes off as very ignorant to our genre), and a strange “Script to Screen” segment in which you follow along with dialogue from the movie while the shooting script goes by on the screen. A “Behind the Scenes” making-of, set to mood music again, Cohen bio, and still gallery round out the feature-laden disc.
Not that you need to be told to do so, since if you’re already a Cohen fan you’re already sold, but I recommend you get out there and get this latest addition to the man’s impressive library, stat. It’s not the best of his films, indeed some of he performances by secondary characters are downright cringe-inducing, but it’s got an overall 1940’s pulpy feel that is unmistakably Larry. Recommended!
Commentary by director Larry Cohen
“Working With a Master: Larry Cohen ” featurette on the director and his work
“Death on the Highway: An Interview with Larry Cohen”
“Behind The Scenes: The Making of Pick Me Up” featurette
“Fantasy Film Festival: Mick Garris Interviews Larry Cohen”
“On Set: An Interview with Michael Moriarty”
“On Set: An Interview with Fairuza Balk”
“On Set: An Interview with Warren Cole”
Script To Screen: “Pick Me Up”
Larry Cohen Bio
DVD-ROM: Original Screenplay and screen saver
4 out of 5
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