The Ambulance

 

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The Ambulance

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.

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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.

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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.

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‘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!

TRIVIA
– 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’.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

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?

Kill Myself

Everybody Likes Me

He Looks Exactly Like Jughead

I Need Help

First I Write, Then I Rest

So Die

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The Stuff

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The Stuff

Release Date: June 14, 1985

Genre: Comedy, Horror, Sci-Fi

Director: Larry Cohen

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Scott Bloom

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

I’ve been waiting to post this review. Now is a perfect time. It’s movie #4 in the Larry Cohen Tribute Special. This is perhaps the most popular film in Larry Cohen’s filmography. It is a movie that is still fresh and relatable almost thirty-five years since its release. The concept may be goofy, but you will enjoy the ride this movie provides once you push the Play button on your remote control. If you ask most movie fans to name one Larry Cohen movie off the top of their heads, the majority will say this title, ‘The Stuff!’. So, without further ado, here is the review to the 1985 horror cult classic ‘The Stuff!’

The movie starts with a railroad worker noticing a white bubbly substance coming from the snowy ground. He takes a taste of it to see what it is. To his delight it tastes very sweet with the texture of yogurt. Soon the substance is being marketed to consumers as “The Stuff” which becomes a phenomenon. “The Stuff” is marketed as being creamy, filling and with no calories. You can find “The Stuff” at supermarkets, small vendor carts and even a Dairy Queen style drive thru. While people are going crazy over “The Stuff” there are people highly suspicious of this addictive edible food. First there’s a young boy named Jason who wakes up in the middle of the night looking for a snack. He opens the refrigerator door to see a container of “The Stuff” moving. He tries to convince his family that there is something alive within it, but they are dismissive of his claims. Jason gets paranoid that he vandalizes a supermarket by destroying the massive amounts of “The Stuff” that is being sold. The other person who is skeptical of “The Stuff” is a former FBI agent turned industrial saboteur named David “Mo” Rutherford (who tells people that he got the nickname from whenever people gave him money, he always wanted mo!). He is hired by numerous corporate executives of the ice cream industry to find out what is in “The Stuff” and destroy it. He befriends the head marketer of “The Stuff” Nicole and they set out to investigate the contents. Mo’s efforts reveal that “The Stuff” is a living parasite that takes over people’s brains and then mutates the host into zombies. Mo encounters Jason and the three of them are determined to destroy “The Stuff” before it consumes more and more people.

As I’ve said in my opening statement, “The Stuff” is still my favorite movie in Larry Cohen’s filmography. It took me a long time to find interest in checking it out. When I first saw the cover art, it didn’t appeal to me. Mainly because I wasn’t familiar with Larry Cohen’s work nor was, I interested in low budget horror movies. After seeing the movie pop up on several streaming services, I decided to give it a chance and boy did I not regret it. I enjoyed every frame, scene, characters and effects. It made me wish I had seen this movie a lot sooner than I did.

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Michael Moriarty once again returns in a Larry Cohen picture. He follows up his astounding performance in ‘Q: The Winged Serpent” with another memorable performance. I loved his portrayal of Mo Rutherford. He has the smarts of a detective and the tongue of a salesman. He’s smooth talking, confident and keeps his eye on the ball. What starts as a simple job to expose “The Stuff” to his employers turns into a national crisis that he must find a way to put an end. The rest of the cast is convincing in their roles. Andrea Marcovicci plays Nicole, the attractive and smart marketer of “The Stuff” who joins Mo in his investigation and become lovers. Garrett Morris plays ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs, the junk food magnet that Mo befriends while visiting a town that has been desolated by relocation of jobs and the great Paul Sorvino as Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears who leads the operation into destroying “The Stuff” and warning the public about the dangers of consuming it. Sorvino chews up the scenery all throughout the climax of the movie.

Like most of Cohen’s films, “The Stuff” is not just a horror movie, but a social commentary. Cohen made this movie at a time in the eighties where people consumed everything. The eighties were the birth of many electronics such as video game consoles, Walkman’s, VCRs, etc. It wasn’t just electronics people were craving, it was the current fashion trends, fast food restaurants popping up at every street corner. With these new products came heavy advertising and marketing. This was during Reaganomics where the American economy was booming, and people were spending their hard-earned money of anything they can get their hands on. Cohen based “The Stuff” off the yogurt craze going on at the time. People were obsessed with yogurt because it was advertised as being healthy, filling and tasty. Add heavy advertising to that and you have people become hooked on it turning them into consumer zombies. They consume and consume while the companies that make it rake in the profits.

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The movie is a pure 80s movie in terms of look, music, effects and overall style. You have the bright neon lights of “The Stuff” logo along with its catchy music and commercials. There’s even an appearance from the old lady in the Wendy’s commercials where instead of screaming, “Where’s the beef?” she cries, “Where’s the Stuff?” The effects of The Stuff creature vary throughout the film. In some parts of the film, it looks like a mix between frozen yogurt and marshmallow. In scenes where it bursts through walls, it milky and watery. Cohen does a great job showing that the creature doesn’t take on a basic form, rather it can come in multiple forms and textures.

‘The Stuff’ is not without its flaws and there’s plenty of them. There’s no main antagonist to the movie only that the product itself and the corporate executives. I think there was a missed opportunity there. If they had a main antagonist who could perhaps be a rival saboteur to Mo or a person who wants to manipulate the infected people and make them servants of his, it would have made for a more interesting confrontation. The color of The Stuff is white. It’s not a scary color or a color that is associated with blobs or goo. If it were green or blue, I think it would’ve been a more organic look. Also, I did not enjoy the performance of the kid, Jason. If I had to create a list of the ‘Most Annoying Characters in Horror Movies’ he would be on that list. He is constantly whining about telling his family not to eat The Stuff. He also complains to Mo that he had to eat shaving cream to convince his parents that he is now under the power of The Stuff. I also didn’t like how he was portrayed at the end of the movie. It didn’t give him any redeeming quality or likeability. Finally, there could’ve been a lot more romantic development between Mo and Nicole. It’s like they meet and then all of a sudden Nicole is in love with him. My viewing experience of characters falling in love tends to build up from the beginning of the movie to the mid-way point and there was none of that here. You may notice these flaws as you watch it, but because there is so much going on in terms of the action and the horror of the movie that you will more than likely shrug it off.

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‘The Stuff’ is a rare find. It should’ve been a much more mainstream film considering the subject matter. This is a movie that still holds up after all this time. You can relate this movie to everything that is going on in our world today as consumerism and Capitalism hasn’t slowed down. It’s an iconic B-Movie that stacks right up there with many of the underrated greats. This is the most recognizable film of Larry Cohen’s work and the one movie that people associate Cohen with.

Next week we present the final review of the Larry Cohen Tribute Special. Make sure you check back next week. Same time, same place, same website.

 

TRIVIA

– According to audio commentary on the 2000 Anchor Bay DVD, the scene in the motel where the Stuff comes out of the mattress and pillows and attacks the man on the wall and ceiling was shot in a room that could turn upside down, allowing the Stuff to move up and down the wall. It was exactly the same room used in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) when Johnny Depp’s character Glen is sucked into his bed and his blood is regurgitated back out onto the ceiling.

– According to Larry Cohen himself, in some scenes in which the Stuff chases characters, a foam made of blended fish bones was used. It stank so much that, as soon as the shots were done, the actors ran to a river in order to bathe and get rid of the stench.

– Garrett Morris was asked about this film when he participated in AV Club’s “Random Roles” interview series. He said the production was “crazy,” and when the interviewer noted Larry Cohen’s history as “a character,” and asked Morris what he was like, Morris said that “I was taught growing up that if you don’t have something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all,” with no further comment about Cohen.

– Arsenio Hall was considered for the role of “Chocolate Chip” Charlie W. Hobbs.

– David ‘Mo’ Rutherford tells ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs to contact agent Frank Herbert from the FBI. Frank Herbert was an American science fiction writer best known for the novel Dune and its five sequels.

– Michael Moriarty (David ‘Mo’ Rutherford) and Paul Sorvino (Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears) went on to appear in 31 episodes of Law & Order (1990) together from 1991 to 1992 as Executive A.D.A. Ben Stone and Sergeant Phil Cerreta, respectively.

– The original cut of the film was said to be much longer and described by Director Larry Cohen as more “dense and sophisticated”. Feeling that the film was too long, it was cut to increase the pace of the film. There was a romantic scene between Moriarty and Marcovicci that took place in a hotel room in the original cut.

– The Executive’s Office at the End is strangely similar to Mr Burns’ Office from The Simpsons, particularly the Stuffed Polar Bear.

 

AUDIO CLIPS 

Tasty and Sweet

Enough Is Never Enough

Sweaty Palm

Mo Rutherford

No, Don’t Eat It

Can’t Wait In Line

The Stuff Commercial #1

You Feed The Dog

Chocolate Chip Charlie

Low Tech Solutions

I Could Always Kill You

They’re Good For Us

I Just Ate Shaving Cream

The Stuff Commercial #2

Pillow Tried To Kill Us

They’re All Stuffies

You’ll Probably Be A Casulty

We’ve Never Lost A War

Get That Shit Off My Station