Release Date: March 31, 1990
Genre: Action, Comedy, Horror
Director: Larry Cohen
Writer: Larry Cohen
Starring: Eric Roberts, James Earl Jones, Megan Gallagher, Red Buttons, Janine Turner
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Sadly, we’ve reached the final movie review in the Larry Cohen Tribute Special. I want to thank all you readers out there for the support and spending time reading these reviews. If you’re a Larry Cohen fan, I hope I reviewed some of your favorites. If you’re not familiar with his work, hopefully I’ve given you enough for you to find one of his movies and watch it. For the last movie, we are going to look at Larry’s first feature film of the 90s. It’s a Mystery and Suspense film that has you at the edge of your seat. It’s also a movie where a vehicle is treated like a full-fledged character. The last movie in our Larry Cohen Tribute Special is 1990’s ‘The Ambulance!’
‘The Ambulance’ stars Eric Roberts as Joshua Baker, a comic book artist who is currently working on a project for none other than Marvel Comics (featuring a cameo from the late great Stan Lee) who meets a young woman on a New York City street named Cheryl (Janine Turner). Suddenly, Cheryl collapses on the street and within a matter of minutes, an ambulance arrives to take Cheryl to the hospital. Josh heads to the nearest hospital to check up on her. When he arrives at the front desk to find out what room Cheryl is in, the staff tell him that she was not admitted to the hospital. He then goes to another local hospital where they state she was not admitted here. Josh passes a sketch of Cheryl to people walking the streets hoping someone would recognize her and find out what happened to her. Cheryl’s roommate notices the picture and speaks with Josh. She takes him to what she believed to be Cheryl’s last location only for the same ambulance to arrive and kidnap her. Now Josh is convinced there is something going on with the ambulance and the people who are associated with it. After asking for help from the local police department, specifically Lt. Frank Spencer (James Earl Jones) who is not convinced of his story, Josh continues his investigation hoping to find Cheryl before it’s too late.
Larry Cohen came up with this concept after his own personal experience involving an ambulance. He talked about some of the horrors he dealt with when he was being driven to the hospital, which he says in his documentary ‘King Cohen.’ The experience made him think about medical services. Ambulances are supposed to pick up someone and rush them to the hospital. It’s a service where it means life or death for people. What if an ambulance went rogue and didn’t take the person to the nearest hospital? It’s a scary thought that Cohen tries to capitalize in this movie.
The first thing that I noticed right away when watching this movie was the cinematography. Compared to Cohen’s grainy looking pictures of the 80s, the picture is bright sharp looking and relative to how movies were starting to look as the 90s began. Once again the movie takes place in New York City as it has been in the majority of Cohen’s films. You have scenes all over the city from the busy downtown to the rough outskirts and the shady areas. You see many sides of the city.
‘The Ambulance’ is a mystery/thriller, with Cohen throwing in his macabre sense of humor to not make it too dark. Like all his films Cohen rounds up an experience cast with Eric Roberts taking the lead role. I’m not familiar with a lot of Eric Roberts’ work, but he is someone I never thought of being a protagonist. He plays Joshua Baker as an arrogant smooth talking character who’s not afraid of going up to random women, in this case Cheryl to introduce himself and perhaps get to know them on a personal level. When Cheryl disappears, Roberts goes into detective mode trying to figure out what happened to her and tries to be the hero despite the fact he is trying to save someone he doesn’t know at all. His illustration skills come in handy with the investigation when he draws both Cheryl and the ambulance and gives it to not only the police but regular passerby’s hoping someone would recognize her and have information. Along the way, Baker comes across some unique and over the top partners to aid in his quest. James Earl Jones’ Lt. Spencer is boisterous and unconvinced of Baker’s story and has his own suspicions about him thinking that he may have something to do with Cheryl’s disappearance. Megan Gallagher plays Sandra Malloy, a spunky police officer who believes Baker’s story and uses her position of authority to find leads. Finally comic legend Red Buttons plays Elias Zacharai, who (you guess it) provides the comic relief of the movie. He meets Baker during a scene in a hospital room. Buttons’ provides his traditional zingers and one liners to help ease the tension of the movie. Lastly you have the antagonist of the movie played by soap opera legend Eric Braden who is behind the kidnapping of Cheryl. He is cunning, sadistic and has a purpose for Cheryl which is revealed in the film.
We can’t forget the character of the ambulance itself. It’s an old ambulance, painted in red with a glowing green inside. It gives it a ghostly feel to it. The ambulance reminds me of the Stephen King novel turned John Carpenter movie ‘Christine’. Although it’s not a car that comes to life, but it is alive from the look and the people who are driving it. Whenever the ambulance appears on screen, you know something is about to go down and not for good intentions.
The movie is fast paced and keeps you on the edge of your seat. The movie teases the audience every time Josh stumbles upon a place that Cheryl is last scene thinking that she is there only for The Doctor and the ambulance to be one step ahead of him. Scenes like this keep your heart racing and you may let out a pounding on the table moment in some cases.
The movie is without its flaws. First was the climax. In my best attempt to avoid any spoilers all I can say is that the climax does not give Josh redeeming quality. It makes him look selfish at the end when things don’t go the way he had hope for. You’ve been cheering this guy on throughout the movie and then all of a sudden there’s a one eighty. I don’t know what Cohen was thinking with that. The other flaw I found was there was no real character development with the antagonist. You don’t know if he’s a real doctor, a mad scientist, a crazy man pretending to be a doctor or a doctor who had his medical license revoked. You don’t know his true name, his background. Given Cohen’ reputation as creating memorable and colorful characters it seems like he didn’t put in the work to develop the bad guy.
‘The Ambulance’ is a non-stop thriller that not only gets your heart pounding, but gives you a chuckle or two. While the kidnapping story is nothing new, but giving the twist of medical personnel who are not all that they claim to be gives it a unique style that only Larry Cohen could come up with.
We now have reached the conclusion of the ‘Larry Cohen Tribute Special’. Hopefully you enjoyed these five reviews that I’ve presented. It’s the most ambitious work I’ve done since I’ve started this blog. Larry Cohen has been an inspiration to me and re-watching his films have given me a new desire to write some scripts that are original and creative. If I can convert one person into a Larry Cohen fan, then I have done my job. Hopefully you, the reader are that person.
Thank you for taking the time this month to check out these movies, readers!
– The ambulance used is a 1973 Cadillac commercial chassis with coach work by Miller Meteor. It is a Lifeliner model with 54 inches of rear headroom. The actual movie car is now owned by a collector in California.
– The role of the villain was originally played by Wesley Addy. However Cohen was unhappy with his performance and recast the role with Eric Braeden
– John Travolta was originally considered for the lead role before Eric Roberts was cast.
– A young Jim Carrey was also considered for the role of Josh.
– Jamie Lee Curtis was originally considered for the role of Officer Malloy.
– Donald Trump made a small cameo in a deleted scene.
– First movie role for Nick Chinlund, best known for playing Billy Bedlam in the 90s action packed thriller ‘Con Air’.
I Need To Be Left Alone
I Like Mine Healthy
Like To Touch Skin Wearing A Surgical Glove
Vernoica From Archie
They Always Turn Up
All You See Is The Uniform
Why Do I Always Get The Strange Ones?
What Are You In For?
Out Screwing Some Intern
Saying Thanks Is Cheap
You Know What’s In That Ambulance?
Everybody Likes Me
He Looks Exactly Like Jughead
I Need Help
First I Write, Then I Rest