Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

Roger Corman – Part 1

Roger William Corman (born April 5, 1926) is an American film producer, director and actor. He has mostly worked on low-budget B movies. Some of Corman’s work has an established critical reputation, such as his cycle of films adapted from the tales of Edgar Allan Poe, and in 2009 he won an Honorary Academy Award for his body of work. Corman has occasionally taken minor acting roles in such films as The Silence of the Lambs, The Godfather Part II, Apollo 13 and Philadelphia. A documentary about Roger Corman’s life and career entitled Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel premiered at Sundance in 2011.

Corman was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Anne (née High) and William Corman, an engineer. His brother, Eugene Harold Corman, has also produced numerous films, sometimes in collaboration with Roger. Corman went to Beverly Hills High School and then to Stanford University to study industrial engineering. While there, Corman enlisted in the V-12 Navy College Training Program. After the end of World War II, Corman returned to Stanford and received a degree in industrial engineering. 

More interested in film, Corman found work at 20th Century Fox, initially in the mail room, he worked his way up to a story reader. The one property that he liked the most and provided ideas for was filmed as The Gunfighter with Gregory Peck. When Corman received no credit at all he left Fox and decided he would work in film by himself. Under the GI Bill, Corman studied English Literature at Oxford University. He then returned to Los Angeles, beginning his film career in 1953 as a producer and screenwriter and started directing films in 1955.

Corman began to direct films in the mid-1950s, including Swamp Women (1955). In his early period, he produced up to nine movies a year. His fastest film, and one of his most famous, was 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 is a variation of the story behind 1963’s The Terror, much of which was filmed in two leftover days with Boris Karloff and Jack Nicolson after The Raven, which featured them both, wrapped with two days to spare.)

In addition to producing and directing films for American International Pictures (AIP), Corman also partially funded other low budget films released by other film companies. In 1959 Corman founded Filmgroup with his brother Gene, a company producing or releasing low budget black and white films as double features for drive-ins and action houses. When Corman saw that black and white double features were not as successful as colour films, Corman returned to AIP with Filmgroup ceasing operation in 1962.

Corman’s greatest acclaim as a director came with his Edgar Allan Poe Series of the 1960s. Based on the works of Poe, initially made through AIP, and mostly in collaboration with writer/scenarist Richard Matheson, the series of eight films comprises House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), TheRaven (1964), The Terror (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964). Apart from The Premature Burial, they all starred the legendary Vincent Price. Corman also worked with set designer Daniel Haller and cinematographer Floyd Crosby on each film. Others who joined him include cameraman and later director Nicholas Roeg, writers Robert Towne and Charles Beaumont, and movie stars Ray Milland, Basil Rathbone, Hazel Court, Jack Nicolson, Barbara Steele, Debra Paget and Peter Lorre. 

The Corman movie The Hanted Palace (1963), which was ostensibly also based on Poe, can only be loosely linked to this series, its title deriving from the Poe poem – but its story was based primarily on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Additionally, The Terror (1963) is not based on any text of Poe’s.

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