Today: May 29, 2024

Roger Corman – King Of The Bs

This September sees the release of Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen, And Candy Stripe Nurses – an outrageously rollicking account of the career and life of Director / Producer Roger Corman. FilmJuice are offering readers the chance to win copies of this beautifully lurid coffee table homage to the King of the B’s … And to celebrate, Ed Boff look back at the work of a filmmaker who has inspired the likes of Cameron, Copploa and Scorsese, as well as entertained generations of cult film fans …

When it comes to B-Movies one name stands out, not just for his number of films but for sheer range and success – Roger Corman.  Starting out back in 1955, Corman’s filmography includes 56 directing and 404 producing credits.  In 1957 alone he directed and released nine movies, from The Saga Of The Viking Women And Their Voyage To the Waters Of The Great Sea Serpent, to the monster movie Attack Of The Crab Monsters.  He was able to do this because of his talent for quick shoots and tight budgets. Little Shop Of Horrors, which only cost $27,000, was shot in two days on sets left over from his own A Bucket Of Blood (which had the luxurious filming schedule of five days).

Despite low production values, Corman’s films were more often hits rather than misses.  The secret was knowing where a production’s limitations were so that he could focus on what he could pull off rather than couldn’t.  While Corman’s films were often plagued by low budget effects and costumes, they also put a lot of emphasis on storytelling. Many of his ‘50s Bs are well remembered for their ideas and dry humour. The Undead, for instance, deals with reincarnation/mental time travel. The Wasp Woman touches on portrayals of women in advertising. A Bucket of Blood’s look at the ‘beat’ demographic. While The Little Shop of Horrors (which was later made into a legendary musical) blended comedy and horror with great success.

It also helped that he often had a lot of good talent working with him.  In fact, many of those who worked with him at American International Pictures and later New World Pictures became major names in their own right. People like Francis Ford Coppola, Nicholas Roeg, Jack Nicholson, Joe Dante, James Cameron, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard and many, many more.

However Corman’s most respected works – and rightfully so – were his series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations.  From 1960 to 1964, he made eight adaptations of some of the classic tales of Poe (and one by HP Lovecraft, which was sold as Poe’s The Haunted Palace by the distributors).  These were impressive cinemascope Technicolor works that often created dreamlike atmospheres and set pieces of almost unbearable tension.  A few were also successful as dark comedies such as The Raven and the Black Cat segment of Tales Of Terror.  Scripts for several were provided by Richard ‘I Am Legend’ Matheson, and nearly all starred Vincent Price, alongside other classic horror stars like Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone and Peter Lorre.  It was these films which gave Corman the opportunity to truly showcase his skills as a director, and the subject matter really made his critics sit up and pay attention at last.

From giving many of today’s big names their start into the industry, to the way he’s inspired indie filmmakers since, Corman’s impact cannot be underestimated.  His films are both enjoyable and daring – often touching on subjects many studios at the time didn’t, such as the LSD themed The Trip.  There are many gems among the title’s he’s produced too, such as the original Piranha and the satirical Death Race 2000 (Main Picture).  Sure, these days it’s mostly him giving a blessing to titles like Sharktopus but his work back in the day still holds up, even the ones that became episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  With many of his films out on DVD now, and The Fall Of The House of Usher just given the Blu-Ray treatment, now’s the time to give his back catalogue a try.

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