Tuesday, May 14, 2024

The Late Great Roger Corman

Roger Corman has been called "the King of the B's" and "the King of Schlock." By any nickname, he was a pioneer of independent cinema. And while many of the films he made were considered embarrassingly bad by critics, he also made a number of films considered classics, including The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), X-The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), and The Trip (1967). Roger Corman died May 9 2024 at the age of 98.

Roger Corman was born on April 5 1926 in Detroit. It was in 1940 that his family moved to Beverly Hills. He attended Beverly Hills High School and afterwards studied industrial engineering at Stanford University. During World War II he served in the United States Navy. It was after he was discharged that he decided he was not interested in engineering. Having become fascinated by movies after his family had moved to California, he got a job as a messenger at 20th Century Fox and eventually became a story analyst. After he failed to receive credit for his work on The Gunfighter (1950), he left 20th Century Fox. He then went to England where he did graduate work in English Literature. He spent some time in Paris afterwards.

Once he returned to the United States he worked for a time as a literary agent and script reader. Noticing the low quality of many of the scripts he read, Roger Corman decided he could do better. He wrote the script House in the Sea and sold it to Allied Artists for $4000. It was retitled Highway Dragnet and released in 1954 and starred Joan Bennett and Richard Conte. He used the money from that script sale to finance his first film, Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954), directed by Wyott Ordung. He followed Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954) with the crime drama The Fast and the Furious (1954). The Fast and the Furious (1954) was distributed by a new company, American Releasing Corporation (ARC), founded by entertainment lawyer Samuel Z. Arkoff and sales manager James H. Nicholson. ARC would eventually be renamed American International Pictures (AIP), and Roger Corman would have a long relationship with the company.

Roger Corman's next film distributed by ARC would also mark his directorial debut, the Western Five Guns West (1955). In the late Fifties Roger Corman would direct the movies Apache Woman (1955), Day the World Ended (1955), Swamp Women (1955), The Oklahoma Woman (1955), Gunslinger (1956), It Conquered the World (1956), Naked Paradise (1957), Not of This Earth (1957), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Undead (1957), Rock All Night (1957), Teenage Doll (1957), Carnival Rock (1957), Sorority Girl (1957), The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent (1957), War of the Satellites (1958), Machine-Gun Kelly (1958), Teenage Caveman (1958), She Gods of Shark Reef (1958), I Mobster (1959), The Wasp Woman (1959), A Bucket of Blood (1959), Ski Troop Attack (1960), House of Usher (1960), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), and Last Woman on Earth (1960). Although Roger Corman's name is closely associated with American International Pictures, some of his well-known movies were released by Allied Artists, including Not of This Earth, and Attack of the Crab Monsters. He made movies for yet other companies.

In the Sixties Roger Corman directed Atlas (1961), Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961), Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), The Intruder (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), Tower of London (1962), The Raven (1963), The Young Racers (1963), The Terror (1963), X-The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Secret Invasion (1964), and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964). It was in August 1965 that Roger Corman signed with United Artists to make two films over three years. It was also in the mid-Sixties that he signed a contract with Columbia. Ultimately, he made no projects for either studio and returned to making independent movies. He finished the Sixties directing The Wild Angels (1967), The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967), The Trip (1967), Target: Harry (1969), Bloody Mama (1970), and Gas! -Or- It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It (1970).

It was on July 8 1970 that Roger Corman founded New World Pictures with his brother Gene. In the Seventies Mr. Corman concentrated on producing movies, although he would still direct a few. A He directed Von Richthofen and Brown (1971) and did uncredited directing on  Deathsport (1978), and  Battle Beyond the Stars (1980). After the Seventies he would direct only one more movie, Frankenstein Unbound (1990).

Roger Corman was prolific as a producer of movies, producing many, many movies in addition to those he directed himself. On IMDB his credits as a producer number 493. In the Fifties he produced such films as Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954), The Fast and the Furious (1954), Night of the Blood Beast (1958), The Brain Eaters (1958), Hot Car Girl (1958), The Cry Baby Killer (1958), and Beast from Haunted Cave (1959). In the Sixties he produced such films as Dementia 13 (1964), Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965), Queen of Blood (1966), Blood Bath (1966), The Shooting (1966), Devil's Angels (1967), Targets (1968), and The Dunwich Horror (1970).

In the Seventies he produced such movies as Boxcar Bertha (1972), Sweet Kill (1973), Caged Heat (1974), Cockfighter (1974), The Arena (1974), Death Race 2000 (1975), Eat My Dust! (1976), Fighting Mad (1976), Grand Theft Auto (1977), I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1977), Piranha (1978), Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979), Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), Galaxy of Terror (1980), and Smokey Bites the Dust (1980).  In the Eighties he produced Forbidden World (1982), Space Raiders (1983), Suburbia (1984), Amazons (1986), Sweet Revenge (1987), Slumber Party Massacre II (1987), Munchies (1987), Andy Colby's Incredible Adventure (1988), Masque of the Red Death (1989), The Terror Within (1989), Naked Obsession (1990), and Slumber Party Massacre III (1990).

In the Nineties Roger Corman produced such movies as The Unborn (1991), Killer Instinct (1992), Munchie (1992), Carnosaur (1993), Dracula Rising (1993), The Skateboard Kid (1993), The Unborn 2 (1994), Angel of Destruction (1994), Hellfire (1994), The Fantastic Four (1994), Carnosaur 2 (1995), Carnosaur 3: Primal Species (1996), and The Shepherd (1999). In the Naughts he produced such films as Raptor (2001), Escape from Afghanistan (2002), Dinoroc (2004), The Hunt for Eagle One (2006), The Hunt for Eagle One: Crash Point (2006), and Supergator (2007). He was also executive producer on the TV series Black Scorpion. In the Teens he produced Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader (2012), Roger Corman's Operation Rogue (2014), Fist of the Dragon (2015), and Death Race 2050 (2017).

In addition to directing and producing, Roger Corman also acted in films, usually in bit parts or cameos. In the Fifties he appeared in the movies Monster from the Ocean Floor, The Fast and the Furious, Day the World Ended, Naked Paradise, War of the Satellites, The Cry Baby Killer, Hot Car Girl, The Wasp Woman, Ski Troop Attack, and Battle of Blood Island (1960). In the Sixties he appeared in the movies Atlas (1961), Blood Bath (1966), and Target: Harry (1969). In the Seventies he appeared in The Godfather Part II (1974) and Cannnoball! (1976). In the Eighties he appeared in The Howling (1981), Der Stand der Dinge (1982), Swing Shift (1984), Lords of the Deep (1989), and Hollywood Boulevard II (1990). In the Nineties he appeared in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Philadelphia (1993), Apollo 13 (1995), Scream 3 (2000), and The Independent (2000). He appeared in the TV movies Body Bags (1993)  and The Second Civil War (1997), and guest starred on the shows Rebel Highway, Beverly Hills 90120, The Practice, and The Phantom Eye. In the Naughts he appeared on the movies Loony Tunes: Back in Action (2003), The Manchurian Candidate (2004), Searchers 2.0 (2007), and Rachel Getting Married (2008). He appeared in the TV movies Dinoshark (2010) and Sharktopus (2010). In 2012 he appeared in Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader. He was the voice or Prospero in the segment "The Masque of the Red Death" in the animated movie Extraordinary Tales (2013).

It may well be impossible to completely access Roger Corman's impact on cinema.  While he considered motion pictures to be "..the only truly modern art form," at the same time he recognized that it was a business. He made movies on extremely tight budgets and very brief shooting schedules. That many of his movies are now considered classics is perhaps a testament to his talent as a director. Little Shop of Horrors, the movies in the Corman/Poe Cycle (particularly House of Usher and The Masque of the Red Death), X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, and others are highly regarded in some quarters. Even when Roger Corman directed the occasional misfire (of which there are quite a few), the movies made money. Much of this was due to the fact that he had a knack for noticing the latest trends. When there was a moral panic over juvenile delinquency in the Fifties, he made movies like The Cry Baby Killer and Hot Car Girl. When Hammer Film Productions revived the Gothic horror genre, he made the Edgar Allan Poe movies. In the Sixties he made biker movies.

Roger Corman was also known for giving young talent their start in movies. The number of directors who began their careers with Mr. Corman is not a short one. It includes Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, Joe Dante, and yet others. They were all graduates of "the Roger Corman School of Filmmaking," which involved making due with shoestring budgets and limited resources. Roger Corman fostered many young actors as well, most notably Jack Nicholson, but also Peter Fonda, Robert De Niro, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn, Dennis Hopper, David Carradine, and yet others.

For all his fame as a director and producer, from all reports Roger Corman was also a total gentleman. Many who knew him noted both his kindness and generosity. Those who worked with him have been effusive in their praise for him. Those who met him have also had praise for him. Regardless of what anyone might think of him as a filmmaker, he appears to have been a genuinely good human being.

One should make no mistake about it. Roger Corman made his share of bad movies. He was known as the King of Schlock with good reason. Regardless, his movies were always profitable and more often than not entertaining. What is more, than were many gems to be found alongside the dross. True, he directed Teenage Caveman and Bloody Mama, but he also directed The Intruder and The Pit and the Pendulum. Roger Corman's goal was to entertain audiences, and in doing so he revolutionized the film industry and created a few classics along the way.

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