Roger Corman, the King of the B-movies, has passed away at 98 years old.

You can rightly use the word legend when speaking about Roger Corman. Starting in the mid-1950s he produced just under 500 movies in his lifetime. Sure, most of them were low-budget horror, sci-fi and crime dramas, but he made some entertaining stuff.

Corman was a director and producer. He was also an actor, starring in movies like Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, Apollo 13 and Scream 3. They were minor roles, as he loved being behind the camera more than anything, directing or producing.

He was famous for making movies for little or no money. Some of his budgets started as low as $30,000 and went up to $360,000 for The Wild Angels, which he considered a “big-budget movie”.

He was owed a couple of day’s work from Boris Karloff, so he shot 20 minutes of footage with Karloff. Then took 20 minutes of footage from the Karloff movie The Terror. He then shot 40 minutes of footage of other actors and bam – he made Targets. Corman said about the movie:

“I can take the 20 and the 20 and the 40, and I’ve got a whole new 80-minute Karloff film.”

I’ll Make You Famous

Corman created American International Pictures and helped launch many careers. He gave Jack Nicholson his first role at the age of 21 in The Cry Baby Killer. Nicholson then starred in 8 of Corman’s movies, including playing the masochist dental patient in the original Little Shop of Horrors.

Corman

Martin Scorsese was a young director looking for work and Corman gave him his break. Here he is talking about his friend.

Actors like Peter Fonda and Bruce Dern had their breaks in Corman movies. An unknown actor, Rober DeNiro, was cast in Bloody Mama in 1970, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Other Hollywood names that owe him credit are Francis Ford Coppola, Sylvester Stallone, James Cameron and Ron Howard.

Early Life

Born in Detroit, he originally studied to be an engineer. He was hired as a messenger at 20th Century Fox and worked his way up to Story Reader.

He sold his first script to Allied Artists and was unhappy about the final movie, so decided he would like to produce himself.

With the $3,500 he made from selling the script, he raised another $6,500 from friends and made Monster from the Ocean Floor. On the movie, he was the producer, writer, and truck driver and even did some of the stunt driving.

He later earned more respect with the series of movies he made from the works of Edgar Allan Poe. The House of Usher, The Masque of the Red Death and The Tomb of Ligeia all still stand up today.

Corman’s other early works, The Wild Angels, Bloody Mama and The Trip, were all slatted by the critics, but they all made money. He made The Intruder, starring a very young William Shatner, about a rabble-raising white supremacist in the South. I watched this recently and it is an excellent movie.

Corman

Later Years

He burned himself out with his directing, sometimes shooting a movie in just two or three days. Little Shop of Horrors (1960) was shot on a leftover set from another movie. He didn’t like to waste money and would shoot a movie on the tightest budget he could.

In the documentary, Corman’s Work: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (which is a great documentary) he said in an interview how the cost of movies was “disgusting”.

He couldn’t understand how a movie could cost $30 million. When one director asked for a helicopter shot, Corman replied:

“I’ll get you a ladder”.

He became known for making “T&A” movies, but when The Big Doll House (1971) made over $10 million on a meagre budget of just $125,000, he knew he was on to something.

In 2009, he received an honorary Oscar and rightly so. He launched some huge careers, made movies with a passion and loved cinema. He understood how Hollywood worked, as this quote is still true today:

Horror films always do well. But in cycles. One horror film will do well, and people will make lots of horror films, saturate the market until there are too many horror films and people will slow down making horror films. And then it’ll start up again.

Roger Corman died at his home on 9th May, surrounded by his family. RIP legend.

Corman


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