This is going be one of those posts where a geeky old curmudgeon complains about how “kids today just don’t understand.” Sorry about that… but a few years ago, I was at a horror convention where legendary producer/director Roger Corman was the guest of honor. Although the convention was huge, Corman’s Q&A was sparsely attended. In typical old-guy fashion, I turned to the person sitting next to me and started complaining. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but David Cronenberg said it better: “If Corman hadn’t done those movies, maybe today’s young filmmakers would be making westerns instead of movies like THE FOG or FRIDAY THE 13TH.”
Ironically, Roger Corman started out his career by making westerns. His directorial debut was a film called FIVE GUNS WEST (1955), an ensemble western that influenced bigger hits like THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and THE DIRTY DOZEN. But Corman saw the writing on the wall. In the mid-1950s, the western genre was ridiculously overexposed, so the young filmmaker turned to science fiction and horror, and spent the next decade laying the foundations for the horror genre as we know it today. Here are the highlights:
So why doesn’t Corman get more love from horror fans? There is the obvious explanation that he has been overshadowed by his more famous protégés, including Francis Ford Coppola, Nicolas Roeg, Robert Towne, Peter Bogdanovich and Joe Dante. There is also the fact that Corman was always a habitually restless storyteller. Screenwriter Daryl Haney explained to Corman biographer Beverly Gray: “If he knows too much about something, he begins to lose interest. I think there’s a certain amount of seeking novelty on Roger’s part. And he has to move on. If he lingers too long, he becomes restless.” In other words, he is temperamentally better suited to the role of producer—and since the early 1970s, that’s where he has focused his energy.
At the age of 90, Corman remains restless. He continues to oversee several films a year, and like many of Hollywood’s biggest filmmakers, he is still drawing inspiration from the few dozen films he made fast and cheap nearly half a century ago. That is the stuff of legend.
*Header image: American International Pictures, 1970