"I have a very imaginative mind. Wait till you see the insectivorous and carnivorous plants I've got in Konga. It amazes my family and friends--they say, 'Herm, did you think of that?'"
"Herm" is Herman Cohen, an independent movie producer and one of the current wonders of the American entertainment industry. Most of his friends call him "Herm," but he likes to refer to himself at times as "ol' H.C."--as in, "If Konga flops, you can bet ol' H.C. isn't going to say, 'Let's give em another one.'" Herm made his name in the entertainment world when he wrote and produced the legendary I Was a Teenage Werewolf for American International Pictures. He followed that success with several more--including I was a Teenage Frankenstein, Blood of Dracula, How To Make a Monster, and Horrors of the Black Museum.
At 33, Herm has made his mark in Hollywood very quickly. Cohen's first venture into the motion picture world came at the age of 12 when he worked as an usher in Detroit. By the time he was 16, he was house manager of Detroit's Dexter Theatre. After two and a half years in the Army, he returned to Detroit as manager of the Fox Theatre, the country's third largest movie house. Herm left Detroit for Hollywood at 23.
Herm was in town recently to publicize Konga, not to speak at Harvard--although he has addressed groups at many colleges. "When I spoke at SMU, a girl asked me, 'How can you come hear and talk to us? Why doesn't Hollywood make more pictures for intellectual audiences?'" I asked the class who had seen my Horrors of the Black Museum, which had played at the Varsity Theatre, and no one raised his hand. So I went over to the professor and turned his back to the class, and asked again. This time a lot of people raised their hands, and they all slunk down in their seats. Then I asked about Face in the Crowd, and practically no one had seen it--there were so few hands it was ridiculous. For Sunrise at Campobello there were even fewer."
Cohen said: "We're not subsidized. I won't make pictures unless there's a market for them." He has no urge to go respectable--he's been there already. "Teenage Werewolf," my first horror picture, was my 22nd movie. Just before it, I had made Crime of Passion, starring Barbara Stanwyck. It got good reviews, and died at the box office. Now the movie business was my life and love--I started at 12, and I haven't a relative in it--so I traveled around the country to find out what went wrong."
Herm learned that 72 per cent of the movie market is between the ages of 12 and 26. He decided that he should gear his films for the "weekly market"--not for the people "who decided to go to a movie once every three months, study the listings very carefully, and then go to something like Ben-Hur." Then he "took three steps backward, and analyzed. Some of the biggest pictures were horror classics; I added the teenage element for today's audience. Now it's tough for me to shake the kick."
Cohen has often had to defend his pictures against attacks that claim they are immoral a bad influence, or just plain trash. "Everyone gets into the act," he said. "My pictures are horror, but in a supernatural vein. No adolescent can leave the theatre and turn into a Konga or a Teenage Werewolf."
Cohen points out that in all his films he has never shown a teenager "with a knife, a
Herm thinks his films serve a psychic purpose: "None of us ever rids himself of terror. My pictures can help a normal mind rid itself of fears--if someone has a mental twist, then he shouldn't be allowed outside."
With Konga, Herm has really gone big time. Teenage Werewolf, with a budget of $150,000, grossed $2 million; Konga cost $1 million just to produce. The film was made in England, where Cohen worked seven months to perfect SpectaMation--a technique of superimposition which apparently should revolutionize trick photography. (An example appears on this page.)
Konga concerns a "botany scientist" named Charles Decker, who returns to London from a safari with a chimp and a secret growth stimulant. He inflates the chimpanzee to gorilla size, and sics him on an annoying dean, a competing professor, and an angry boyfriend of the coed he lusts after. Margaret, his assistant, at first keeps silent because of her love for the professor, but later tries to turn Konga on Decker. She is consumed in flames; the vurvy coed (played by Claire Gordon, shown above) is eaten by a plant; Decker is mangled; and Konga is shot.
According to Herm, "Konga opened very big in London," and should be a "blockbuster," At previews in London and Hollywood, he said, "Girls actually cried when Konga was killed and shrank back to size. It's very sad."