The 13th Floor

SALEM’S LOT, PHONE BOOTH, CAFFEINE! The Unmade Projects Of Larry Cohen!

One of the great things about getting to sit down and chat with someone as profilic as writer/ director/ producer Larry Cohen is the wealth of stories he has to share! The man behind the IT’S ALIVE franchise, GOD TOLD ME TO, MANIAC COP and THE STUFF was kind enough to drop by as a guest for the latest episode of the Shock Waves podcast, presented by, and boy was he candid!

When you’re in the business long enough, there are plenty of projects that either don’t happen, happen in ways you wouldn’t expect, or just fall between the cracks. Cohen told us examples of all of these! A listener question via our Facebook page asked about his adaptation of SALEM’S LOT! We knew that he went on to write & direct RETURN TO SALEM’S LOT, but up until now, we had no idea that he was in fact once attached to the original, which Tobe Hooper ended up directing, and funnily enough, just came out on Blu-Ray this past week.

“Originally, I wrote a screenplay for the theatrical version of the original SALEM’S LOT,” he explained on the podcast. “It was never used, but they did pay me. They didn’t like it, I guess! Or else they decided they just wanted to do it for television.”

“Years later, they did it again. But I came along at a time when Warner Brothers was considering having a division to make movies for video. So they said to me, you can make another IT’S ALIVE movie, and you can make another one of our projects. I said, “can I make RETURN TO THE HOUSE OF WAX?” But they said, no you can’t have that title. But you can have SALEM’S LOT. So, I said, OK. And I went home and came up with something entirely different for SALEM’S LOT, which the only thing it had in common with the original was that it took place in a town with vampires. But there were different kind of vampires. In mine, they were all American vampires. They came over on the Mayflower. It was a good script, I thought I did a good job and they gave me the go ahead to make the picture and we had a good time doing it.”

So essentially, his original script for the first SALEM’S LOT was reworked into his sequel RETURN TO SALEM’S LOT.


Another fun tid-bit came regarding PHONE BOOTH, Joel Schumacher’s 2002 thriller starring Colin Farrell, written by Cohen. “We went through all kind of actors (for that lead). We had Jim Carrey for it at one point. Will Smith, it was before that. And before that, it was Mel Gibson. I spent a week with Mel Gibson out at Warner Brothers as I was working on the script, and he made a lot of contributions to the script. I said to him, whether you do the picture or not, I’m going to keep your ideas! And he said, OK, you can do that! He added a lot to it. He was extremely prepared. When I got to the office, he had an entire diorama built of the street. He’d sent someone over to New York City and photographed it from all directions. He had an expert from the FBI there, and someone from the telephone company. He really did a lot, but he ended up not doing the picture.”


Did you know Gaspar Noe approached Cohen about remaking one of his films? “Gaspar and I had breakfast in New York City. We went out, had a nice coffee and crullers and pastries. And I never heard from him again! He was interested in GOD TOLD ME TO and I said sure. He gave me a couple of his movies to look at and frankly, I thought they were a little on the obscene side. They were pretty raw! But that wouldn’t have stopped me from letting him make the picture. It just wasn’t my kind of picture. Bless him, he’s just not my kind of picture maker.”

Photo: Criterion
Photo: Criterion

And to this day, Cohen is still crafting new stories and scripts. Jokingly, my co-host Elric suggested they open a coffee shop together since Cohen hosted a few writing workshops at his former cafe The Jumpcut. And he brought up his latest screenplay CAFFEINE! “It all takes place in a Starbucks-like Cafe. The story is a rash of terrorist explosions are going off around the city of New York, and they’re all being engineered on a computer from a table in a coffee shop. That’s how bombs got distributed around the country and around the city is they’d kill the coffee delivery man, and they’d put the bombs in the cartons surrounded by coffee so that the dogs can’t smell the explosives because of the coffee, and they delivered to a series of Starbucks-type places around the city. And they can automatically detonate them from a guy at the coffee shot. It’s not really Starbucks, it’s called “Caffeine Café.” But that’s my most recent script.”

Image: iStock

If you want to hear all of the above, not to mention stories about Cohen’s friendship with legendary director Sam Fuller, or how he became close friends with composer Bernard Herrmann, listen to the latest episode of Shock Waves, embedded below for your convenience! New episodes are posted every Friday morning, 7AM via iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and right here on this website!