Roger Corman, “King of the B Movies” 1926-2024

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AFI FEST 2007 Presented By Audi: Portrait Sessions - Day 9

Producer/director Roger Corman photographed at AFI Fest, November 9, 2007 in Hollywood. | Mark Mainz/Getty Images for AFI


Independent director-producer Roger Corman, legendary for his exploitation films and horror/sci-fi flicks (for which he was dubbed “King of the B Movies”), died on Thursday, May 9, 2024. He was 98. 

In addition to directing or producing hundreds of films on threadbare budgets, Corman also nurtured a generation or two of Hollywood talent, including Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson, Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme, James Cameron, Ron Howard and Joe Dante, and helped launch or revive the careers of Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and Sandra Bullock. He also made Edgar Allen Poe a familiar marquee name at drive-ins. 

“Apache Woman”

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American International


Corman began directing low-budget westerns, teen dramas and science fiction films in the mid-1950s, with the western “Five Guns West,” and “Apache Woman” (1955), starring Lloyd Bridges as a federal agent who falls hard for a Native American beauty (Joan Taylor).

“It Conquered the World”

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American International


After working as an uncredited director on “The Beast with a Million Eyes,” Roger Corman’s second sci-fi film was “It Conquered the World” (1956), in which a human scientist tries to help a Venusian take over Earth.

“Swamp Women”

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American International


“Swamp Women” (1956) had all the elements you’d need for a B-movie: Three tough gangster molls breaking out of prison, an undercover policewoman pretending to be a bad girl, stolen diamonds, a rugged geologist – and a swamp!

“Naked Paradise”

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American International


In “Naked Paradise” (1957), Beverly Garland and some mobsters try to trick a cruise boat skipper into committing a robbery.

“Not of This Earth”

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American International


Director Roger Corman’s “Not of This Earth” (1956) offered a space vampire with a thirst for blood.

“Rock All Night”

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American International


In “Rock All Night” (1957), two killers (Russell Johnson, the Professor on “Gilligan’s Island,” and Jonathan Haze) hold the patrons of a rock ‘n’ roll bar at gunpoint. The kids still manage to dance. Featuring music by the Platters and the Blockbusters.

“Movies for teenagers were generally innocuous teenage comedies – Walt Disney specialized in a number of films of that sort,” Corman told CBS News. “And I understood that youth is not that frivolous. So I dealt with more serious subjects, frankly somewhat exploitation. I had teenage crime, teenage hotrod pictures and so forth. But they were tougher films. And they succeeded very well.”

“War of the Satellites”

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American International


Talk about ripped from the headlines: Corman filmed the sci-fi adventure “War of the Satellites” in about a week, and got it into theaters just two months after Russia launched Sputnik.

“Sorority Girl”

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American International


“Rich, smart, pretty … and all bad!” “Sorority Girl” (1957) showed the dark side of college life when a girl rejected from a sorority gets her revenge – with gossip. Take THAT!

“Machine Gun Kelly”

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American International


Corman shot “Machine Gun Kelly” (1958) starring newcomer Charles Bronson in just 10 days. With such tight budgets, Corman had to work fast and solve problems creatively. For example, Corman didn’t have a bank set to shoot a robbery scene, so it was all done with shadows.

“One of the French critics said what a brilliant idea to show only the outlines of the robbery!” Corman laughed.

“Teenage Caveman”

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American International


Before Robert Vaughn was “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” he was a “Teenage Caveman,” who had to deal with teenage cavewomen (courtesy of Darrah Marshall) and dinosaurs (courtesy of stock footage from “One Million B.C.”).

Corman said not all of his exploitation films also contained a social message. This one did, and while we won’t give it away, we can say it beat “Planet of the Apes” to a similar twist by 10 years.

“The Wasp Woman”

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American International


A year after 20th Century Fox’s “The Fly,” Corman directed “The Wasp Woman” (1959), which showed the bad things that can happen when you mess around with wasp enzymes.

“House of Usher”

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American International


“House of Usher” (1960) was the first of Roger Corman’s highly-successful adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe’s macabre tales, and his first with Vincent Price, who became inseparably linked to the Poe films.

“The Little Shop of Horrors”

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American International


“The Little Shop of Horrors” (1960) was filmed in two days and a night, thanks to a standing set at a studio where Corman had his offices. “It was a very good set,” Corman told CBS News’ Mo Rocca. “And why let a set go to waste? So I had about $30,000, and I designed a picture that could be made for the $30,000 that I had available.”

“Little Shop” went on to become a hit stage and movie musical, and bit player Jack Nicholson (as a masochistic dental patient) got one of his most prominent early roles.

“The Last Woman on Earth”

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American International


In five weeks Corman shot three films in Puerto Rico, including “The Last Woman on Earth” (1960), which shared pretty much the same cast as “Creature From the Haunted Sea,” through fewer women. Screenwriter Robert Towne – who became better known for his much better “Chinatown” – wrote the script on the fly, and acted as well (under the pseudonym Edward Wain).

“Atlas”

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American International


Filmed among ancient Greek ruins, “Atlas” (1960) was a minimalist muscleman epic.

“Creature From the Haunted Sea”

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American International


An afterthought after shooting “The Battle of Blood Island” and “Last Woman on Earth,” “Creature From the Haunted Sea” (1961) was Corman’s chance to wring one more film from his cast and crew. When bad guys try to blame some murders on a horrible sea monster, they’re surprised to learn that – this being a B-movie – there really is a horrible sea monster!

“The Pit and the Pendulum”

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American International


Vincent Price returns to the land of Poe in Corman’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” (1961), and is joined by European horror queen Barbara Steele in her first U.S. film.

Director and Star

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American International


Roger Corman with Vincent Price.

“Premature Burial”

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American International


What is it with Corman and being buried alive? Not only did “Pit and the Pendulum” feature a woman encased alive, but “Premature Burial” (1961) starred Academy Award-winner Ray Milland in a tale of a man who fears he won’t be quite dead when he’s buried.

“The Raven”

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American International


Richard Matheson, who contributed to Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone,” wrote the script for the comic horror film “The Raven” (1963), in which sorcerers are engaged in a battle of wits. With Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and, for good measure, Jack Nicholson.

“The Terror”

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American International


Against, Corman saw the economy of using sets that were still standing. And because “The Raven” wrapped early and Boris Karloff still had a few days on his contract, why not take advantage of the situation?

Corman and five other, uncredited directors (including Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Hill, Monte Hellman, Dennis Jacob and Jack Nicholson) shot “The Terror,” kind of making it up as they went along.

“X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes”

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American International


Ray Milland was back in “X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes” (1963), in which experimental eyedrops allow him to see though anything – clothes, skin, walls. Don Rickles co-stars.

“Masque of the Red Death”

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American International


Corman’s best Poe adaptation was the 1964 “Masque of the Red Death,” starring Vincent Price as Prospero, a Satan-worshipping prince who meets his doom.

“Masque of the Red Death”

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American International


Nicholas Roeg (who later directed “The Man Who Fell to Earth”) was the cinematographer of “Masque of the Red Death,” which was the best-designed and best-looking of Corman’s horror films.

“The Undead”

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American International


“The Undead” (1956) mixes a prostitute, hypnosis, time travel and witchcraft into one story.

“The Wild Angels”

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American International


Peter Fonda starred in “The Wild Angels” (1966), based on the exploits of the real Hell’s Angels. Also along for the ride were Bruce Dern, Nancy Sinatra, Michael J. Pollard and Diane Ladd. Uncredited assistant director: Peter Bogdanovich.

“The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”

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20th Century Fox


For “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” (1967), Roger Corman actually worked for a major Hollywood studio – 20th Century Fox – with a terrific cast (Jason Robards, George Segal, Harold J. Stone, Ralph Meeker, Joseph Campanella). But the experience (in terms of big studio waste) left a bad taste in Corman’s mouth, and he pretty much stuck to independent work for the duration of his career.

“The Trip”

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American International


Now THAT’S more like it: “Roger Corman’s “The Trip” (1967), about some really bad LSD trips, starring Peter Fonda, Susan Strasberg, Bruce Dern and Dennis Hopper, with a script by Jack Nicholson.

“Gas-s-s-s!”

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American International


Socially-responsible drama? Or teen fantasy? In “Gas-s-s-s!” (1970), a nerve gas leak kills everyone over the age of 25. Who survives? Bob Corff, Elaine Giftos, Bud Cort (“Harold and Maude”), Talia Coppola (later Shire), Ben Vereen, Cindy Williams (“Laverne and Shirley”), and Marshall McLuhan. With cameo appearances by – we’re not kidding – Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Gandhi.

“Boxcar Bertha”

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American International


Director Martin Scorsese’s second feature film, “Boxcar Bertha” (1972) starred Barbara Hershey and David Carradine as fugitives on the run from the law in this Depression Era story. 

“Death Race 2000”

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New World


For Roger Corman’s new production company, New World, Paul Bartel directed “Death Race 2000” (1975), a futuristic actioner of a cross-country road race. The challenge? Run over as many people as you can. Starring David Carradine as a half-robot named Frankenstein, and Sylvester Stallone as his arch nemesis.

“Cannonball”

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New World


In this follow-up to “Death Race 2000,” David Carradine played a similar role in “Cannonball” (1976). In addition to Roger Corman playing a bit part, Martin Scorsese appeared as a mafioso.

“Rock ‘n’ Roll High School”

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New World


Roger Corman produced “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” (1979), directed by Allan Arkush and featuring the Ramones. Not wanting to waste a good opportunity for footage, the film was shot on the campus of a South Central L.A. high school that was slated for demolition.

“Piranha”

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New World


Written by John Sayles, “Piranha” (1978) was director Joe Dante’s tongue-in-cheek horror film about mutated fish that are very hungry, and which naturally gravitate toward women wearing skimpy bikinis.

After graduating from Roger Corman’s stable, Dante went on to direct “Gremlins,” “Matinee” and “Innerspace.”

“C.H.U.D.”

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New World


During his long career Corman has produced nearly 500 films. Among the more memorable, at least for its title, is “C.H.U.D.” (1985), an acronym which stands for “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller.” And you do not want to meet up with any of the cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers here.

“Android”

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New World


Klaus Kinski starred in the 1985 sci-fi film “Android.”

“Frankenstein Unbound”

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20th Century Fox


After a long hiatus, Roger Corman returned to the director’s chair with “Frankenstein Unbound” (1990), based on the novel by Brian Aldiss that mixes time travel with the real Victor Frankenstein and his monster. Starring John Hurt, Raul Julia, Nick Brimble, Bridget Fonda, Catherine Rabett and Jason Patric.

“Dinocroc”

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New Concorde


The characters of “Dinocroc” (2004) obviously didn’t get the memo from “Jurassic Park”‘s characters: Don’t mix reptiles with ancient dinosaur DNA!

Governors Awards

Roger Corman, Lauren Bacall and Gordon Willis

AMPAS/Richard Harbaugh


Along with Lauren Bacall and cinematographer Gordon Willis, Roger Corman (far left) received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, November 14, 2009. Several graduates of the so-called “University of Corman” were on hand to honor him.

“Sharktopus”

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SyFy


But Oscar didn’t change Roger Corman: His 2010 production for the SyFy Channel, “Sharktopus,” starred Eric Roberts and some scantily-clad actresses in a tale of a U.S. Navy project to create a genetically-engineered hybrid of shark and octopus that runs gloriously amok.

Roger Corman

Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences' Inaugural Governors Awards

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images


“I think that to succeed in this world you have to take chances,” Corman said upon accepting his honorary Oscar in 2009. “Many of my friends and compatriots and people who’ve started with me are here tonight, and they’ve all succeeded. Some of them succeeded to an extraordinary degree. And I believe they’ve succeeded because they had the courage to take chances, to gamble. But they gambled because they knew the odds were with them; they knew they had the ability to create what they wanted to make. 

“It’s very easy for a major studio or somebody else to repeat their successes, to spend vast amounts of money on remakes, on special effects-driven tentpole franchise films. But I believe the finest films being done today are done by the original, innovative filmmakers who have the courage to take a chance and to gamble. So, I say to you: Keep gambling, keep taking chances.”

By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan



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