RIP Roger Corman

So, Roger Corman died at 98.

It’s funny to me that the man who produced somewhere around 500 movies is, according to IMDb, best known for his small roles in The Silence of the Lambs and Apollo 13.

On top of that, he directed over 50 movies in 25 years between 1955 and 1980 before moving to producing only (with one more movie in 1990). He was known as the “King of B’s”, because he was famous for making movies very cheaply. However, that’s simplistic. He wasn’t totally averse to spending money. He just put the money where it mattered the most.

I’m not exactly a Corman scholar, but I’ve seen some of his movies. The ones to come to mind immediately is his original version of Little Shop of Horrors, which is often known to have started the career of Jack Nicholson, and Corman’s series of Poe adaptations from the 60s. I remember seeing those in the early 90s, when they were shown on Finnish TV late night Saturdays.

And they are gorgeous. They are color movies in the 60s, when color was still often a prestige thing. But here spending the money on what matters comes up. The color matters. The Masque of the Red Death works just that much better, when the mask is actually red. Another thing he did with these movies was that he did get Vincent Price for all of these Poe films. That’s an interesting way of forming a franchise.

Corman’s legacy is going to be weird. He seems to have been all business, because of how he approached his work, but at the same time, he did understand his audience, which was the reason for his longevity. Many studios that specialized in B-movies have come and gone, but Corman was in this business for 70 years. He was definitely doing something right.

Here’s a question: How much does a superhero movie cost? For Corman in 1994, the answer was $1 million. You might have heard this story in some form, but someone had bought the rights for Fantastic Four for movies and the contract required them to produce a movie within a certain time period. Technology wasn’t exactly where you could make an actual movie around the team, so they had Corman do it just to keep the rights. But Corman, of course, came through.

I mean, it’s not a good movie, but it’s not a bad movie either. Considering the budget, it’s actually kind of endearing. Sure, some of the effects are very bad, but at this time Jurassic Park had just come out last year, so CGI was just becoming good enough to use in movies. So, if everything else is going to be bad, the movie puts the money where it matters. The actors might not be widely known, but they are professionals, so they can play the part of the family they are supposed to be and that’s what makes the movie worth a watch.

Not that it was ever released. It did get out into the wild and you can find copies easily on the net, including YouTube, where the actual owners don’t really seem to care. And why would they at this point?

The true legacy of Corman is very different, though. What he should be remembered for is helping a lot of people in their early careers. Besides the aforementioned Nicholson, Martin Scorsese edited films for him, Francis Ford Coppola was his assistant for a time, Ron Howard was already a recognizable actor from TV, but got into directing with the help of Corman, James Cameron was a production assistant for him, there’s a bunch of actors like de Niro and Stallone, who got their first big breaks through Corman movies.

That’s one way of saving money: recognize talent when they are still cheap.

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