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Cohen & Tate

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When Cohen & Tate was shot in and around Houston in 1987 Texas was in the throes of an economic oil bust. “I was driving around looking for locations and in small towns surrounding Houston there were all sorts of buildings and gas stations boarded up,” Eric Red tells Free Press Houston in a phone interview. C&T focuses on two hit men as they drive from Oklahoma to Houston with a hostage from their latest kill. Red will present a rare chance to watch the film in 35mm this Sunday night at 7 pm. at the Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park.

The film print is from Red’s personal collection. “I have prints of Cohen & Tate and 100 Feet,” says Red, the latter title a ghost story he wrote and directed in 2008 starring Famke Janssen. “I wish I had more. There’s not a film print for Body Parts,” Red admits about another horror outing starring Jeff Fahey he helmed in 1991. Red parlayed good will and cult success from a couple of movies he’d written in the 1980s like The Hitcher (1986, d. Robert Harmon), which Red wrote when he lived in Austin, and Near Dark (1987, d. Kathryn Bigelow) for a chance to write and direct a film. Cohen & Tate was that film.

Cohen & Tate stars Roy Scheider and Adam Baldwin as the titular bogus men. In a commentary track for the Blu-ray release of Cohen & Tate (7/9, Shout! Factory) Red reveals that Scheider was cast late in the pre-production phase and that Gene Hackman and John Cassavetes had also expressed interest in the role. Additionally the Blu-ray features a making of featurette as well as deleted scenes.

One of the deleted scenes shows Baldwin’s maniacal Tate shooting an FBI agent multiple times point blank with a shotgun. That scene actually caused C&T to be recut so the film could be released with an R-rating. The scene is still in the movie but without the multiple gunshots. Compared to today’s R-movies that scene as originally conceived doesn’t seem gratuitous but obviously rankled the rating board in the late-80s. “Today they would put in even more violence,” notes Red.

Red had a particular film noir scheme for the film. “White, hard night lighting, like in movies from the ‘40s,” explains Red. “Many films use blue lighting for night scenes, but I wanted rich blacks from a white moon, and you get that with back lights, key lights, and kickers.” Cohen & Tate’s cinematographer was Victor J. Kemper whose credits included classic crime dramas like Dog Day Afternoon and The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Night footage was shot using high speed Eastman film stock that produced wonderful results.

Red story boarded out 14 angles to shoot car scenes. “You’ve got your singles, your doubles, your backseat view.” The film utilizes both actual road locations and studio shots of the car, cutting effortlessly between the two. In fact Cohen and Tate is the only film shot in Texas where they actually shut down an Interstate Highway for lensing on a three-mile stretch of I-10 in Sealy Texas. Traffic was rerouted through Sealy during the shooting nights.

Red has made films with horror themes, outlaws, vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. Which leads to a discussion on why zombies are so prevalent in contemporary movies and have vampires gotten boring. Red replies: “There definitely a current lack of imagination in the films you mention.”

- Michael Bergeron

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