Today I watched Larry Cohen’s The Ambulance (1990)
Eric Roberts plays Josh Baker, an illustrator at Marvel Comics who is introduced to us as he aggressively pursues a woman on the street. She collapses due to unknown medical reasons and to his credit Josh does what he can until an ambulance arrives, a strange old ambulance which immediately makes Josh suspicious. While Josh is certainly no great person, or even a particularly good one, he does follow up on his suspicion and finds a number of people missing with clues to this strange ambulance. What then makes Josh into a compelling protagonist is that he throws himself wholly into this conspiracy in an attempt to dismantle it for the greater good, despite all his flaws he still rises to the occasion of being a hero when in the right place and the right time.
As a film maker Larry Cohen has always stuck me as being quite idiosyncratic; someone who never, outside of his early blaxploitation work, really cares for market appeal. Thus films like The Stuff, Q, and this film feel like both throwbacks and mashups of various styles that were not really in vogue during the time of the films’ releases. The Ambulance in particular stand out as quite a strange movie in how it does not adhere to any particular genre conventions, going from realistic thriller to more horrific and over the top moments and even some straight up action with car chases and everything.
This diversity of flavours has never held a Larry Cohen film back I feel, especially not this one. Cohen is a master of transitioning from one mood to the next and maintaining his thrilling atmosphere while bringing in plenty of comedic and offbeat moments. Elements like the presence of Marvel Comics and Stan Lee himself stand out along with the sickening green glow that seems to precede the coming of danger. It isn’t that the film has a consistent tone, it’s that every change is natural and deserved, if odd. It’s all just a little over the top and just a little bent, perhaps best exemplified by James Earl Jones’ supporting performance as an extremely angry detective. I would totally recommend this film though I’m not entirely sure to whom, I’m sure it’s not for everyone but it doesn’t stick out as being for any other pigeonholed group, so just see it, see if it is for you. 4/5