Monday, October 15, 2007

Charles B. Griffith Passes On

Charles B. Griffith, the man who wrote many the screenplays to some of Roger Corman's best known movies, died on September 28 at the age of 77. The cause was a heart attack.

Griffith was born in Chicago on September 23, 1930. His grandmother was vaudevillian and radio actress Myrtle Vail. It would be his grandmother who would draw him to Hollywood, in an effort to start a career for her in television. Vail never would have a career in television, although her grandson would find a career of his own. It was in 1954 that actor Jonathan Haze introduced Griffith to producer and director Roger Corman. By 1956 Griffith would write his first screenplay for Corman, a low budget Western starring Beverly Garland called Gunslinger.

Griffith would go onto write some of Corman's best known pictures. Over the years Griffith would either contribute to or write the entire screenplays for such movies as It Conquered the World, Not of this Earth, and Bucket of Blood. Perhaps the most famous film for which he wrote the screenplay was the original Little Shop of Horrors. The black comedy, the bulk of which was shot in two days, would become a cult film and later a Broadway musical (which he helped write). In addition to writing the screenplay, Griffith also played many of the minor roles and included his relatives (including Myrtle Vail) in many of the other parts.

Griffith would prove to be a pioneer when it came to B movies. Aside from creating early American black comedies like Little Shop of Horrors and Bucket of Blood, he also wrote the biker films Wild Angels and Devil's Angels--the ancestors of the classic biker film Easy Rider. Griffith was also a pioneer when it came to the redneck exploitation films of the Seventies, both writing and directing Eat My Dust. Perhaps his most famous film aside from Little Shop of Horrors was Death Race 2000, the classic sci-fi b-movie in which hit and run driving has become the national pastime.

Charles B. Griffith was not simply a screenwriter, he also directed a few films. The first of these was Forbidden Island in 1959. He would go onto direct Eat My Dust, Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype, and Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II.

There can be no doubt about it. Charles B. Griffith was a master of B movies. Indeed, it was largely due to Griffith that a large dose of black comedy was introduced into the exploitation movies of the Sixties and Seventies. He certainly created some of the true classics of the genre: Little Shop of Horrors, Bucket of Blood, and Death Race 2000 among them. It is little wonder that Quentin Tarentino dedicated to the Death Proof portion of Grindhouse to him.

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