Okay, so I’ve already admitted how much I love Roger Corman movies, but if you’ll remember a key line in my otherwise effusive praising of the King of the B’s, I said that in order to find the diamonds you have to search through a fair bit of rough. We’ve focused on the diamonds, now it’s time to take on some of the rough.
Dart Number One: (60 points) Sequelitis in extremis-Roger Corman has never met a sequel he didn’t like. This is a man who took a pretty good kickboxing movie, Bloodfist, and made nine sequels. Nine sequels, most of them starring Don The Dragon Wilson. He’s even picked up the rights to movies not from his canon and made sequels for the, like he did with the extra-forgettable soft core film Emmanuelle 6.
I saw Corman on the Independent Film Channel’s show Dinner for Five, where he talked about his ability to churn out sequels and milk every dime out of a concept. With the Carnosaur releases (all of which I like, for what it’s worth), he made a chart. The first Carnosaur was a surprise hit and made quite a bit of money. The second Carnosaur also made good money, but wasn’t nearly as popular. Using the differential between the first and second Carnosaur films, he predicted the profits for Carnosaur III: Primal Species and made his movie under that budget. He was accurate enough in his prediction that he knew that the Carnosaur franchise had been adequately milked, and there would be no Carnosaur IV, V, and VI due to diminishing returns on his investment. Had Bloodfist 2050 made money, I guarantee you we would’ve had Bloodfists for the next 10 years.
Dart Number Two: (120 points) Cheapness – One of the reasons Roger Corman is able to produce so many movies that make money is because he was the cheapest film producer in the known universe until Lloyd Kaufman wrested the title away from him. Corman still works on the cheap, but the quality is higher these days. If he had time left on a location he’d rented, he’d get the crew and actors together and do another movie, or do two movies at the same time to spread out costs. He did Little Shop of Horrors in two days, so the legend goes, so he could win a bet (more on that later). He reused the same burning roof shot in multiple films in his very good Poe cycle, though for him the budgets were quite large and allowed him to show off actual filmmaking talent.
It’s not that Roger was a bad filmmaker, because I don’t think he was. He was just cheap because he had to be. When AIP had an idea for a film, they’d tell Roger what they thought up, give him a budget, and left it up to him to make a film out of the idea or ad campaign. So he reused stuff from his other movies (as he still does today). A running joke on Mystery Science Theater 3000 was that whenever there was a prolonged scene with nothing happening in it, one of the riffers would credit it to guest director Roger Corman. To his… I guess credit, one thing Roger could do was pad a film to meet a minimum length requirement, even if it meant 15 minutes of walking.
Dart Number Three: (180 points!) The Corman Legend – So, did Roger Corman actually make Little Shop of Horrors to win a bit? Did he really do LSD before making The Wild Angels? Did he really just take marketing ideas from AIP and turn them into movies as cheaply as possible? Did he really gamble several movies’ worth of budget on House of Usher’s production in confidence to make it a hit? Did he really retitle The Intruder as I Hate Your Guts! because he blamed William Shatner for its failure, and did he really get run out of three towns while filming it?
I don’t know what to believe when it comes to stories told by Roger Corman. So much about him seems too unbelievable to be true, and some of what is said about him probably isn’t true, though it adds to his legend as a filmmaker. The one thing I know about Roger that I can say is probably very true is that he’ll put his name on anything in an attempt to make money off it. He knows he’s a commodity, and wisely (like Quentin Tarantino), he’ll tack his name over top of any movie he releases that may need a boost.
Roger Corman is nothing if not an incredible businessman. He’s made money off of most, if not all, of his films, started several successful production/distribution arms and movie studios, and his eye for talent has launched some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. But he’s also signed his name to a lot of crap, cut a ton of corners (making the film Raptor out of scenes cut from the Carnosaur trilogy), and embellished his own formidable legend quite a bit via the magic of self-promotion.