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Roger Corman, 1926 - 2024

Roger Corman passed away on May 9, 2024, aged 98.

The "King of Cult" should be remembered as probably the most influential individual in cinema history.

Jack Nicholson in The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Robert Vaughn and William Shatner are just a few of the actors who owe their cinema breakthrough's to Corman, while Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, Jonathan Kaplan, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron and Irvin Kershner are just a few of the Directors who graduated from the "Corman Film School".

Robert De Niro (right) in 1970's Bloody Mama

From his early beginnings as a Messenger Boy for 20th Century Fox in the early 1950's after having graduated with an engineering degree, Corman was a man of ambition. Film was his passion and his brother, Gene, had already found work in the cinematic industry. After an initial setback, Corman travelled to Europe, studied at Oxford University before heading back to try again. This time, it stuck.

In 1954, Highway Dragnet was made and Corman had written the script (originally titled House in the Sea). He was only paid for the script but not for his work on the film. He was able to use that money, along with personal contacts, to fund Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954). This was his first feature film, at a budget of about $12-15,ooo.

This laid the foundations for Corman's future and by 1960 had his name credited to almost 30 films including the original The Fast and the Furious (1954), Gunslinger (1956), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), Machine-Gun Kelly (1958), and The Little Shop of Horrors (1960). In this time we also see the beginnings of his work with Vincent Price in 1960's House of Usher, the first in his iconic series of adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe stories, and we can't ignore 1958's The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent. Yes, that is the full title.

By this point, Corman had founded The Filmgroup, his own production and distribution company, with his brother Gene. They produced low-budget films for drive-in cinemas. In his lifetime, he would also found New World Pictures, New Horizons (originally Millennium Films) and Concorde Pictures.

From 1961 through to 1969, Corman directed 22 films (uncredited for three), and this period saw the rest of the iconic Poe series with Vincent Price, who was in all bar The Premature Burial (1962). Corman was working for American International Pictures at the time, and they wanted more horror. By 1965, he had directed 42 films in total, plus 5 that he had produced. He took a year off and produced on film in that year, Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet, and on his return in 1966, he had decided to focus on producing. He directed 12 films between 1966 and 1990, of which four are the only ones he is uncredited for.

Roger Corman (left) and Vincent Price relaxing on the set of one of their Poe collaborations

With the advent of new technologies coming into cinema and costs rising, Roger Corman's film conveyor belt slowed to approximately one (credited) produced film per year between 1966 and 1979, but we see The Dunwich Horror (1970), Martin Scorsese's Boxcar Bertha (1972), Death Race 2000 (1975), Grand Theft Auto (1977) and Piranha (1978) arrive in this period. The 1980's brought us a rather sexy period, with 1980's Battle Beyond the Stars, Amazons (1986) and Slumber Party Massacre II (1987). He was back in the Director's chair one last time in 1990 for Frankenstein Unbound, for which he also wrote the screenplay.

The 1990's was a particularly busy time for Roger Corman, seen here as a US Congressman in 1995's Apollo 13

Cinema was moving in another new direction in the 1990's with computer animation/CGI technology coming on in leaps and bounds, but practical effects were still Roger's preference. 1993's Carnosaur, and its sequels in 1996 and 1997, attest to this. Roger also oversaw some remakes of earlier films in his Roger Corman Presents series in the mid 1990's, which saw him produce for this series on the Showtime Network between 1995 and 1997.

Unfortunately, though, cinema was moving away from the B-Movie style by this point. A lot of Corman's films weren't much liked outside of niche groups, cult fans and cinema fanatics like myself. However, the Corman name had permeated into the cinematic world so much, people still love the style of low-budget B-Movies in the modern era. We have the likes of 2004's Dinocroc, 2007's Supergator and 2010's TV movie - you guessed it - Dinocroc vs Supergator to enjoy, while 2010 also produced Sharktopus and 2015 gave us the duo of Sharktopus vs Pteracuda and Sharktopus vs Whalewolf.

We have Mr. Corman to thank for world-renowned (or not so renowned) favourites such as The Fast and the Furious franchise (over 10 films), Ron Howard, Death Race franchise (at least 5 films), Jack Nicholson, The Little Shop of Horrors, James Cameron, Candy Stripe Nurses (1974), Martin Scorsese, the Grand Theft Auto franchise, Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader (2010), Piranhaconda (2012), and a love for low-budget, funny and over-the-top entertainment that has become popular, whether you know his films or not.

Throughout his working life, Roger Corman directed at least 54 films, was a credited producer on at least 152 films and appeared in 19 films, including The Godfather Part 2 (1974), The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Apollo 13 (1995). That is involvement in 225 films in over 60 years of work, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. His production companies produced hundreds more, and he has influenced millions around the world in countless ways. Various sources count Roger's involvement in films at far more than 225, some reaching more than double that number. It is an incredible achievement.

Roger Corman will be missed. But he will never be forgotten.

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