Directed by: Larry Cohen (Q -- The Winged Serpent)
Starring: Eric Roberts, James Earl Jones, Megan Gallagher, Red Buttons, Janine Turner, Eric Braeden
OK, you have to get past Eric Roberts’ very 1980s hair and wardrobe in Larry Cohen’s The Ambulance (1990), but once you do you’ll find yourself in the midst of an effective, good-natured and often very funny 90 minutes of exploitation horror at its best. In fact, I’d be prone to call The Ambulance Cohen’s most fully assured movie. Nearly everything about this quirky bout of campy horror works. Roberts plays Josh Baker, an artist for Marvel Comics (this is before Marvel became a big deal in the movies), hired by no less a personage than Stan Lee himself (who here is onscreen too long for his acting ability). One day Josh hits on a pretty girl (Janine Turner), who happens to be a diabetic and who also happens to collapse on the sidewalk, only to be whisked away in a peculiarly old-fashioned ambulance. When he tries to visit her in the hospital, it turns out she isn’t there and hasn’t been admitted. There’s a very good reason — she was kidnapped by a singularly deranged medico (Eric Braeden), who says things like, “I just love the feel of skin through surgical gloves.” He also has a weird private hospital where he performs undisclosed experiments on his patients that will, he admits, end in their death, but that they’ll be in perfect health when they die. Josh, trying to play private detective with a parade of quirky helpers—gum-chewing Lt. Spencer (James Earl Jones), sexy investigator Sandra Malloy (Megan Gallagher) and Carl Kolchak knock-off Elias Zacharias (Red Buttons) — eventually tracks her and her kidnapper down, but not without a good deal of often very funny mayhem. Not a great movie by any means, but apart from the dated clothing and hairstyles, it’s still a remarkably fresh and clever one.
In Brief: The great schlockmeister Larry Cohen scores an exploitation bullseye with this campy, trashy horror comedy about a comic book artist who unwittingly becomes involved in tracking down a demented doctor who—with the aid of a phony ambulance—kidnaps diabetics for his experiments. Possibly Cohen’s best film.