The Master (of the cheap movie)

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A Tribute To Roger Corman

My Opinion

Somehow someway, whether directing or producing, Roger Corman could turn out a movie in a couple of days using virtually no money. I’d call him the Wal-Mart of moviemakers but I hate Wal-Mart and I like Corman’s movies so that would be unfair. Corman made some classic 50s schlock like "Attack of the Giant Leeches" but also played Hammer Studios game with his great period Poe pieces with Price (Vincent, sorry about that). Although I’m not a fan of the later non-horror material, his early stuff somehow manages high water marks on both my craptacular and classic scales.



Corman was born in Detroit, Michigan to Anne and William Corman, an engineer. He received an industrial engineering degree from Stanford University. He began his career in 1953 as a producer and screenwriter, and began directing in 1955.

Until his so-called "retirement" as a director in 1971 (he continued to produce films even after this date) he would produce up to seven movies a year; his fastest film was perhaps The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), which was reputedly shot in two days and one night (supposedly, he had made a bet that he could shoot an entire feature film in less than three days; another version of the story claims that he had a set rented for a month, and finished using it with three days to spare, thus pushing him to use the set to make a new film). This claim is disputed by others who worked on the film, who have called it part of Corman's own myth-building. Quite a number of his films, such as Last Woman on Earth (1960), contain elements of science fiction.

Corman is probably best known for his filmings of various Edgar Allan Poe stories at American International Pictures, mostly in collaboration with Richard Matheson as screenplay writer including House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962) The Raven (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964). All but Premature Burial starred Vincent Price. After the film version of the Raven was completed, he reportedly realized he still had some shooting days left before the sets were torn down and so made another film, The Terror (1963) on the spot with the remaining cast, crew and sets.

He also directed one of William Shatner's early films, The Intruder (1962). Based on a novel by Charles Beaumont, the film, made for approximately USD$80,000, has become famous for its treatment of segregation and civil rights. He has produced over 300 movies and directed over 50.

Corman did return to the director's chair once after 1971 with Frankenstein Unbound (1990), although this was poorly received.

A number of noted film directors have worked with Corman, including Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme, Donald G. Jackson, Gale Ann Hurd, Carl Colpaert, Joe Dante, James Cameron, and John Sayles. Many have said that Corman's influence taught them some of the ins and outs of filmmaking. In the extras for the DVD of The Terminator, director James Cameron refers to his work for Corman as, "I trained at the Roger Corman Film School." The British director Nicolas Roeg served as the cinematographer on The Masque of the Red Death. Actors who obtained their career breaks working for Corman include Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Michael McDonald, Dennis Hopper, Talia Shire, and Robert De Niro.

Many of Corman's proteges have rewarded him with cameos in their works. Hence he had cameo performances in such acclaimed fIlms as The Godfather Part II and The Silence of the Lambs.

His autobiography, titled How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime (ISBN 0-306-80874-9), documents his experiences in the film industry. In 2000, Corman was featured alongside cult filmmakers Harry Novak, Doris Wishman, David F. Friedman and former collaborators including Sam Arkoff, Dick Miller and Peter Bogdanovich in the documentary SCHLOCK! The Secret History of American Movies, a film about the rise and fall of American exploitation cinema.

Corman was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2005 New York City Horror Film Festival. Corman was the fourth recipient, joining George A. Romero, Tom Savini and Tobe Hooper who had previously received the award.

A number of important and influential filmmakers and actors had their first big break with Roger Corman. The following list is limited to Oscar winners.

Francis Ford Coppola - directed Corman's Dementia 13. Oscar winner for The Godfather Part II Jack Nicholson - co-wrote and acted in two Corman financed movies "Ride the Whirlwind" and "The Shooting" James Cameron - directed Corman's Piranha II: The Spawning. Oscar winner for Titanic Jonathan Demme - wrote and directed Corman's Caged Heat (aka Renegade Girls). Oscar winner for The Silence of the Lambs Ron Howard - directed Corman's Grand Theft Auto. Oscar winner for A Beautiful Mind Martin Scorsese - directed Corman's Boxcar Bertha. Oscar winner for The Departed Other major directors from the Corman school have included Peter Bogdanovich, Joe Dante, Jonathan Kaplan, and John Sayles.

From Wikipedia


This is a limited directorial filmography, Corman has produced over 300 films and directed or acted in probably another 100+. For a complete filmography check out the Internet Movie Database

Swamp Women (1955)
Five Guns West (1955)
Apache Woman (1955)
Day the World Ended (1955)
The Oklahoma Woman (1956)
Gunslinger (1956)
It Conquered the World (1956)
Naked Paradise (1957)
Carnival Rock (1957)
Not of This Earth (1957)
Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)
The Undead (1957)
Rock All Night (1957)
Teenage Doll (1957)
Sorority Girl (1957)
The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent (1957)
I Mobster (1958)
War of the Satellites (1958)
Machine-Gun Kelly (1958)
Teenage Cave Man (1958)
She Gods of Shark Reef (1958)
A Bucket of Blood (1959)

Ski Troop Attack (1960)
The Wasp Woman (1960)
House of Usher (1960)
The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
Last Woman on Earth (1960)
Atlas (1961)
Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961)
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
The Premature Burial (1962)
The Intruder (1962)
Tales of Terror (1962)
Tower of London (1962)
The Young Racers (1963)
The Raven (1963)
The Terror (1963)
The Haunted Palace (1963)
X (1963)
The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
The Secret Invasion (1964)
The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)
The Wild Angels (1966)
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967)
The Trip (1967)
Target: Harry (1969)

Bloody Mama (1970)
Gas-s-s-s (1971)
Von Richthofen and Brown (1971)

Frankenstein Unbound (1990)

My Reviews

Swamp Women (1955)- This isn’t really horror but it is a Corman flick included in one of my Horror Themed boxes o’ DVDs. Here we have one of those ‘women in prison’ subgenre flicks. There are 3 women who know where some stolen diamonds are and they won’t tell. So the cops plant a detective in prison with them, fake an escape, and let the crooked women lead the detective straight to the diamonds. Mayhem and curvy gals in short shorts ensues. There is some painful stock footage of Mardi Gras and of birds and alligators but mostly the flick moves along at an OK pace. The acting, dialogue, and poorly staged fight scenes between the gals offer little, but the location shooting in Louisiana is impressive at times, keeping budget constraints in mind. The end is so painfully predictable that I was bummed I spent 70 minutes watching the movie though. This is really just pure low budget fluff, if you miss this one, you ain’t missing much. Still, I didn’t hate it so I’ll give it a C-.

Night of the Blood Beast (1958)- Zero budget Corman produced flick about an astronaut who crashes back to earth (to hide the fact that the budget was less than a fast food lunch they make this a top secret space mission, that way no helicopters or military uniform wearing extras are needed), apparently dead, but more in a comatose state. What is keeping him alive? What is that huge mud-bird-human looking monster lurking in the woods and how is it connected to the astronaut, who has now returned from the dead/coma? We will never really know because tough guys shoot first and ask questions later. This is typical late 50s horror/sci-fi fair and with a title like "Night of the Blood Beast" made in 1958 you should know exactly what you are getting. I wonder if the writers of "Alien" saw this back in the day. I’ll give it a C+, keeping in mind what it is (cheap) and what it isn’t (good).

Beast From Haunted Cave (1959)- Super cheap entry into the gangster-horror-monster-movie sub genre(?). This one is too long at a little over an hour! Still, it has a certain charm to it in that silly innocent 50s way. Some gangsters heist some gold from a small town bank in the Dakotas and hide out in a ski instructor's cabin in the boonies. It turns out the explosion they set as a diversion pissed off a giant spider like creature, which somehow hunts the group down, and they are stuck at the cabin as a blizzard approaches. Though it’s a little stiff, most of the acting is actually pretty good and the directing works. The effects are terrible even for the time but the monster isn’t in it much anyway. The end rolls up and you pretty much think "yeah, that’s what I thought would happen." Not bad enough for the craptacular scale. C-.

Bucket of Blood (1959): Early Roger Corman cheapie about a halfwit outcast who buses tables at an ultra hip beatnik club called The Yellow Door. Said halfwit wants to be an artist and be accepted in someway but has no talent beyond memorizing other's poetry. Then one night he's trying to make a sculpture, and failing badly, when he accidentally kills his landlady's cat. So to hide the body he naturally encases it in clay and turns it into a statue (knife sticking out and all). His sculpture becomes a big hit with the in crowd and also draws the attention of an undercover cop who's casing the place. Halfwit then proceeds to accidentally kill the cop too. Luckily he knows just what to do with the body. Meanwhile the owner of the Yellow Door discovers halfwit's secret but knows he can make some money from him so he goes along for the ride. This is a pretty decent black comedy cult favorite about loneliness and the desire to be accepted. It is cheap of course and the copy I watched was pretty bad but that aside I liked this one. Nothing great about it just a good story and fair acting, tightly paced and played out. B.

Wasp Woman, The (1959)- Oftentimes the lust after the fountain of youth can become… horrific! Not a real tagline but fitting as the owner of a cosmetics firm begins to look her age her customer base begins to disappear. Who wants to buy cosmetics from an old lady? So she begins experimenting with jelly from a wasp courtesy an almost mad scientist. As the scientist uncovers some unfortunate side effects he is knocked unconscious in a car accident and the cosmetics CEO ramps up her treatments until, well, you can figure out the rest. Pretty typical 50s Corman material, but if you love them that way then you’ll agree it gets a B+ on the craptacular scale.

Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)- Another early Roger Corman masterpiece. Well, maybe not a masterpiece but it’s better than the title would imply. The acting, directing, and sets for the most part work pretty well for a zero budget 50s monster movie. In the swamps of Florida a poacher disappears after having told some friends that he thought he saw some sort of monster in the swamp. Meanwhile a fat sweaty guy tries to show his eye candy wife that he loves her, but he finds her with another man and chases them out into the swamp with a shotgun, they are taken away by two monsters, right in front of his eyes. The local game warden, eye candy for the ladies, along with the local law enforcement, pretty much get everything wrong and make wrong decision after wrong decision. More folks disappear before everyone realizes that atomic waste, just enough to make leeches huge, is coming down from Cape Canaveral (?!?) The sequences in the leeches' cave are actually fairly effective (not counting the leech suits) for the time. Terrible monster suits, goofy diving sequences (are swamps really that clear), silly dialogue, and stiff as board acting by our hero only make this one more fun. B+ on the craptacular scale.

Little Shop of Horrors (1960)- Classic little horror comedy that basically follows the same story as Corman’s earlier "Bucket of Blood". A half-wit delivery boy at a florist in ‘Skid Row’ is on the verge of getting fired. He can’t allow this to happen as he has to support his hypochondriac mother so he breeds a new plant that he hopes will make the floral shop famous and him secure. The plant starts out interesting enough but soon gets sick and he accidentally realizes it really likes human blood. The plant grows very quickly on its new diet but where to get more food? A series of accidents leads to bodies which leads to food, which leads to a bigger and hungrier plant. This was remade into a successful musical play and later a remake of the movie in the guise of the musical play. A classic incredibly low budget quickie from the Corman catalogue (with an appearance by a very young and masochistic Jack Nicholson). B

The Fall of the House of Usher (1960)- Richard Matheson's script is pretty faithful to Poe's tale of a man held prisoner in his house and haunted by the past deeds of his nefarious family members. The house is crumbling around them and there are no heirs and he plans on keeping it that way as a suitor tries to woe away his sister, who he has also kept in his prison. Vincent Price plays Roderick Usher in a very subdued believable manner and we are never totally clued into whether or not Usher is insane or if in fact what he says is true. This is part of the power of the film along with the magnificent sets and great acting. While I liked the film quite a bit I don't feel that it is the masterpiece many reviewers set it up to be so I'll give it a strong B.

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)- Vincent Price's dad was an inquisitor and he witnessed some heinous stuff when he was young, including the torture of his mother. Rough childhood. Luckily he's grown out of all that stuff and has a lovely and caring young wife... or has he... or is she... Nice twist on the Poe tale (which as it is wouldn't make for much of a full length movie but makes for a great read). I really liked the twist and twist again ending too. Corman was hitting his stride with these Poe/Price vehicles at this time and I think this is one of his best. Great sets, color, and acting throughout. A.

Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961)- How did Corman actually pull off halfway decent flicks with absolutely no budget? This goofy little spoof plays out like one of those "Airplane!" movies with over the top comedy mixed with a subtle wit. The plot is about a gangster hired by Cuban refugees during the Cuban Revolution to get gold out of their country. He plans on killing the Cubans and blaming it on a legendary monster that lives in the ocean, and then he’ll keep the gold. Of course it turns out the monster is real. The characters are insanely over the top as is the dialogue, but it works as a complete spoof of all things monster-gangster-spy. It gets a little tedious near the halfway point and even at 75 minutes is a little too long. Despite that I’ll give it a B but keep in mind this is low budget comedy schlock.

The Premature Burial (1962)- Corman and Poe made a good team, even though Poe had been dead for many years. Ray Milland (not Vincent Price) plays the victim of paranoia who fears being buried alive so much that it affects his entire life and of course, the force of his beliefs make the nightmare come true. This is a good old school Corman production with the fog machines working over time. Not as atmospheric as some but it passes. The ending was nice but you could see the twist coming pretty far off so no real surprises. This could've probably been great with Price in the lead. B.

Tales of Terror (1962)- Pretty strong entry into the Roger Corman Poe Cycle. This is a 3 tale omnibus, story one being that of ‘Morella’. She died young and blamed her infant daughter on her sickness, her husband sent the daughter away when she was young and keeps his wife’s body in the bedroom. The daughter, now 26, returns and all is far from well. It is well acted with great sets and use of color but seems to end a tad abruptly; I’ll give it a B-.Story two combines ‘The Black Cat’ with ‘The Cask of Amontillado’. A drunken wine expert embarrasses a famous wine expert in a contest. The famous wine expert then begins an affair with the drunkard’s wife and things of course do not end well for anyone involved. Peter Lorre is great as the drunkard and Price as the over the top wine taster, A+. Finally ‘The Case of M. Valdemar’ gives us a dying Price character who agrees to be hypnotized at the moment of death, against the advice of his doctor and wife, so that moment can be studied. He becomes trapped between life and death and winds up being very unhappy. I’ll give this an A+ too. These are subtle flicks that fall in line with the rest of Corman’s Poe output of this era, if you dislike them then you will dislike this, but if you dig the others then this is a must see. The 3 grades average to an A-.

Haunted Palace, The (1963)- Corman directed Price vehicle based on Lovecraft’s "The Curious Case of Charles Dexter Ward", Corman threw in a couple of lines from a Poe poem so he could make folks think it part of his successful Poe series, but it was in fact the first film based on a Lovecraft story. If you like these type of Corman flicks then I think you will like this. I liked it a lot and felt the acting and directing were great as were the sets. Amazing what can be done on Corman budgets! Price plays both the evil Curwin, a warlock who uses a town’s young maidens to try and mate with ‘The Elders’ to create a super race and is then burned by the town’s folk, but not before he curses them all, and his great great grandson, Ward, who inherits the palace and then becomes possessed by Curwin and starts up the old practices again. Price is great in his dual role and obviously relishes the chance to switch between good and evil at the drop of a hat. This film fits right in with his "Masque of the Red Death" and "The Pit and the Pendulum" and is a must see if you liked those. A

Raven, The (1963)- Classic from my youth pulling together an old Boris Karloff, a young Jack Nicholson, and Vincent Price and Peter Lorre to boot. Peter Lorre is a magician who is turned into a raven by the magician Grand Master (Karloff) and goes to a reluctant magician (Price) for help. Price ends up back at the Grand Master’s castle for what winds up being an all or nothing battle of magic. Yeah, it is as goofy as it sounds and yet, unlike a similar ‘Comedy of Terrors’, works. Why did this work for me and not the other? This pretends for the most part to take itself seriously, even though it very obviously isn’t, whereas ‘Comedy of Terrors’ goes slapstick from scene one. Still, I realize many folks will hate this, but if you like the low budget Corman quickies (goofy like ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ or serious like ‘Masque of the Red Death’) then you’ll appreciate this I think. I will give it a strong A, keeping in mind it is meant to be goofy stuff.

The Terror (1963)- Another beloved thriller from my youth. Roger Corman had Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff as well as production staff and sets under contract for a couple more days after flying through one of his famous quickies. What do you do with those actors, crew, and sets for four days? You make another movie of course. "The Terror" was obviously made very quickly for no money. The lighting and sound give that much away. Get beyond the cheapness of those elements and I think you have a fairly classic little piece. Pretty well acted and directed, although it is slow moving at times, it still maintained my interest. Nicholson is a French officer separated from his regiment during the Napoleonic Wars. He stumbles across some strange folk and then stays for a while at Karloff's castle. Some strange happenings are going on at the castle as Karloff carries guilt for deeds he did years before and may be punishing himself for it, or is someone... or something... else punishing him? Nice twists at the end. B+.

Dementia 13 (1963)- Some people say this is an early masterpiece from Francis Ford Coppola and some say it points to the genius to come. I don't know. I think it's basically just a rip off of "Psycho" with some extra nutty family members thrown in and a dead daughter instead of mother. A woman is angry at her husband for not forcing his mother to set up a will so she kills him. She then hangs around the crazy family trying to figure their secret and probably wondering why they are Irish and living in Ireland but have no Irish accents, except for the grounds keeper who has a very fake Irish accent, but this never comes up. It's a little slow moving and you wonder why everyone is so weird but there are some very effective moments. Not great but not terrible. C+

Masque of the Red Death (1964)- Roger Corman took Poe's "Masque of the Red Death" and mixed it up with "Hop Frog", added in some of his own elements and ideas and wound up with this colorful movie. A very well acted and interestingly directed movie about a sadistic prince who worships Satan and hides out in his castle with a large group of invited guests while a plague ravages the countryside. Corman's interesting use of color (which comes from the name of the story and the plot but is used well visually in this adaptation) along with some great acting by everyone, especially Price who revels in the role of a terribly evil person, make this worth a view. It often mirrors in both feel and subject matter Igmar Bergman's "Seventh Seal". B+.

The Tomb of Ligeia (1965)- This was a favorite of Vincent Price's and many say it is one of the best of the Corman Poe adaptations. It does have great acting and great sets (including external location shots which were rare on Corman budgets) but despite all this I couldn't much into this flick. A strange widower lives in the ruins of a castle. He eventually falls for a woman and marries her. He wants to leave the old castle but is forced to remain for some unseen reason. He never sleeps with his new bride and she is beginning to hallucinate. Is the ghost of Prices' wife about? The movie was Ok and had some good suspense but the end kind of went on and on and wasn't really satisfying. C+.

Death Race 2000 (1975)- Classic Corman produced nonsense about an Orwellian future in which the citizens are more interested in reality television than what is really going on and they tend to believe whatever they are told from the manipulative news sources. Luckily that could never actually happen, oh, wait. Anyway, the great reality TV event is The Death Race, a race across the US where killing people amounts to points. The Rebels (or maybe the French) are trying to put a stop to the race, and the lies, but nothing is ever easy in the future! A classic stoic performance by David Carradine and a nice over the top exhibition by Sylvester Stallone as drivers round out the action. This is a drive-in camp classic, don’t expect anything else and you’ll be fine, if you don’t like that approach stay far away from this one! I’ll give it a B, perfect for what it was, but not as great as similar flicks like ‘Psychomania’.

Humanoids from the Deep (1980)- Roger Corman produced this 80s nod to the craptacular. Take his ‘Attack of the Giant Leeches’, mix in a heaping helping of ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’ and toss in tits and ass and you have Humanoids from the Deep. A town famous for its salmon fishing is slowly running out of salmon, despite that a canning company wants to open a major new cannery in town. They have a scientist who has apparently perfected making the salmon larger and more plentiful in tests and they are ready to roll it out and make the fishermen all rich, but the local American Indians are angry (cue ominous music). You know where this is going right? Oddly enough all hell is breaking loose in the town; a boat recently exploded, dead dogs everywhere, teenagers are missing. Most of this is written off to the disagreements with the American Indians, fights ensue as does the big Salmon Fest, and I’m sensing a massive finale. Anyway, we also happen to know fishlike creatures are coming ashore and killing guys and raping women (if you’re offended by the idea of man-fish raping girls steer clear, go watch some slasher flick with tons of violent deaths instead). But if you like flicks where a little spilled gas equals a giant explosion, a tossed Molotov cocktail destroys pretty much everything around, tits bounce as women are chased by a guy wearing a rubber fish-like suit, and man-fish somehow successfully attack a carnival then this is for you! Craptacular nonsense which gets a B+ on that scale.

Galaxy of Terror (1981)- Basically Alien which was basically Planet of the Vampires, but here we have a planet of worms, I think. Pretty much a trainwreck about a crew aboard a spaceship sent to find out what happened to a previous crew. What they find are dead folks, worms, and some sort of giant pyramid thing and a twist ending that you just frankly don’t care about once it rolls around. But look at who was involved: Erin Moran (Joanie from Happy Days), Robert Englund (Freddie Kruger), Roger Corman (of course), James Cameron (!?!?!), and a couple other folks you’d recognize. Hilarious FX, hilarious worm rape scene, and hilarious dialogue can’t quite make it craptacular enough for me, but I’ll give it a B on the craptacular sale, which if you think about it is a totally failure!

Terror Within, The (1989)- One of Corman’s more hated 80s productions but really, it isn’t that bad. Mainly riding on Omega Man’s and Alien’s coattails we have a near future earth where a manmade plague has wiped out almost everyone, and turned some into horrifying super-strong gargoyles. These gargoyles are horny as hell for un-mutated human women. So some survivors at an underground lab find a woman who happens to be pregnant with a gargoyle, and in a birth scene reminiscent of It’s Alive the gargoyle is born, runs away, and rapidly grows to, well, puberty and sets about killing and breeding. OK, it’s bad, but in an 80s Roger Corman sort of way so I’ll give it an A on the craptacular scale.

Buckets of Blood