Roger Corman is the definition of a cult film maker. The man has produced, written, or directed over 300 movies and has earned the title “The King of the B’s,” referring to his status as a god amongst the drive-in and low-budget film set. Despite his eternal lack of budget, he’s managed to become one of my favorite filmmakers, and it’s only right that since we’ve been talking a lot about Rock ‘n’ Roll High School lately that he gets his just desserts.
I really shouldn’t have to defend this pick, but I’ll make the case for Roger anyway. His direction and production of the Poe Cycle for American International Pictures turned him from a schlock director into a marketable name, and the juicy scripts written by Richard Matheson made Vincent Price into an icon for generations of horror fans and helped move the master of the macabre from William Castle black and white films to gory, beautiful color. They helped cement the memorable on-screen partnership between Vincent Price and Peter Lorre (I can’t picture one without the other), helped Basil Rathbone find a memorable role outside of Scrooge and Sherlock Holmes, and made AIP into a semi-respectable distributor of gothic horror alongside Hammer Films.
What, you need more?
Okay, Roger Corman launched the acting careers of the following famous folks: Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Dennis Hopper, and Robert De Niro; he also gave a lot of work to then-struggling actors like the aforementioned Price, Rathbone, Lorre, and people like Frank Gorshin in his twilight years. Five of the dozens of directors who learned at Roger’s feet have won Oscars: Martin Scorcese, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, James Cameron, and Francis Ford Coppola. Other graduates of the Roger Corman film school include John Sayles (who should’ve won the Oscar for Lone Star and wrote the Howling), Jonathan Kaplan (whose film The Accused gave Jodie Foster her first Oscar), Peter Bogdanovich, and Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Howling, and the classic Piranha). He produced and directed some of Richard Matheson’s best work (and we all love him). The Intruder is William Shatner’s best role ever.
Roger Corman has produced some of my favorite movies of all time. Death Race 2000 is a sick, classic, dystopian film. Carnosaur and its sequels are incredibly entertaining ‘genetically-engineered dinosaurs eat people’ movies. His run of Roger Corman Presents films on Showtime sparked my interest in rewatching his older films that didn’t include Vincent Price, like Piranha, and the films of AIP producers like Samuel Z. Arkoff, of whom Coreman’s quick and dirty exploitation filmmaking style is the spiritual (and probably actual) descendant of. Corman produced the last good (that I know of) syndicated action series on television, The Black Scorpion.
If you want to point to one person to thank/blame for the launch of niche cable television, I personally would point at Roger Corman. Even today, the movies he produces fill hours upon hours of TV programming on premium movie channels, hundreds of empty spaces in video stores, and made up some of the more memorable episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
There’s a lot of rough in Roger’s output, but if you look and sift, you’ll definitely find diamonds. Roger has produced so many movies that you’re bound to find at least 10 you like. If you can’t get behind movies like Alien Avengers, Fire on the Amazon (featuring a mostly-nude Sandra Bullock before anyone knew who she was), Big Bad Mama, and any of his many women in prison movies (The Big Doll House and Women in Cages are highly recommended), then there’s something wrong with you.