Has anybody been involved with as many cult movies as Roger Corman – as director, producer, writer or overseer of New World Pictures? The Pit And The Pendulum, X-The Man With The X-ray Eyes, The Trip, The Wild Angels, Caged Heat, Bucket Of Blood, The Masque Of The Red Death, Battle Beyond The Stars, Death Race 2000, Bloody Mama, The House Of Usher, Piranha, Humanoids From The Deep, It Conquered The World, etc, etc, etc. And did anybody else launch the careers of as many filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese, Joe Dante, James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola and Ron Howard?  In fact we may not have had Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson if it wasn’t for him. The legend, who sadly passed away two days ago at a very impressive 98 years of age – still a real shock because in fairly recent interviews he seemed so full of energy – claims that only one film he directed, produced or oversaw lost money, the 1961 anti-racism drama The Intruder starring William Shatner, its failure causing him to stay away from full blown “message movies” thereafter, any message to be beneath the surface and the main thing being entertainment. I doubt that he was lying. Look at Corman’s filmography, and you’ll see an incredible knack for making the very most out of a small budget, for providing pulpy fun that also had wit and intelligence. Admittedly there probably aren’t that many films which were shot in just two days and one night, but will there ever be any as good as The Little Shop Of Horrors?

His early creature features and gangster thrillers are masterpieces of economy; laugh if you may, but watch Attack Of The Crab Monsters and be surprised at how intelligent [I’m not joking] a film with a title like that can be. Of course for horror fans Corman is loved first and foremost for his iconic series of films based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe, usually starring Vincent Price, beginning with House Of Usher and finishing with The Tomb Of Ligeia. These amazing movies, aside of course from the comedic The Raven, get to the gloomy, depressed heart and soul of Poe, yet are also fabulously fun, great to look at and superbly filmed – in fact so well filmed that one wonders why Corman didn’t go on to become a really big director in the cinema world. He had the skill to make masterpieces and could make a small amount of money go really far; one can’t imagine that he’d ever go overbudget, which would have made producers and studios love him. And the incredible X; The Man With The X-ray Eyes showed that he had real visionary ambition. What a deep piece of cinema that really is, a true masterpiece of micro-budget sci-fi that can be thoroughly enjoyed yet which also makes you think.

And yet Corman seemed to then reign himself in. He was obviously disheartened with, after working for AIP for ages, contracts with Columbia and Paramount coming to little [he says they kept rejecting his ideas], and he didn’t enjoy the experience of making two films for a major studio – The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre where he was given a $2.5 million budget and made it for $400,000 less, and his pet World War 1 project Von Richthofen and Brown. So he focused more on exploiting “youth” genres, especially the counter-culture movement which he seemed to have mixed feelings about. One can just about see that his black comedy Gas.s.s.s was intended as a balanced satirical commentary on the subject, but AIP decided to mutilate it. In fact they really didn’t treat Roger with much respect, despite the amount of money that he made for them over many years.

And so Roger finally decided to leave and form New World Pictures where he could take more of a back seat, yet the films, often directed by filmmakers who went on to become big names, usually bore his touch, despite seeming to exploit every other exploitation fad  – from biker movies to nurse movies to women in prison movies to car movies. The company also saw a lot of success distributing art house movies from abroad. Legal shenanigans saw Corman forming later companies and perhaps overseeing rather too many remakes of past glories, but he was able to adapt, as well as direct one final film, Frankenstein Unbound, though his passion for filmmaking seemed to be less visible. Nonetheless the likes of the SyFy channel became happy homes for Corman’s brand of horror, science fiction and action. Certain efforts like Carnosaur became very popular, yet I feel a certain sadness when thinking about Corman’s later years, because I think that he was capable of so much more. Yes, he insisted that monster rape footage be added to Humanoids From The Deep, yes he bought two Russian space movies and inserted footage from them into several of his own pictures, yes he attempted and achieved the great folly of producing a Fantastic Four movie [officially unreleased but easy to find, shush!!!] on a ridiculously low budget. But he also often showed class, style and invention. Sheer incredible talent.

R.I.P. Roger. I’ve been going through your Poe pictures yet again. Death being their main theme, they seem even more melancholic with the knowledge of your passing, but the most important thing is that they seem timeless. How did you achieve such exquisite and resonant yet also highly commercial artistry with so little?

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About Dr Lenera 1980 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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