Roger Corman, the king of the B series

Roger Corman, the king of the B series
Roger Corman, the king of the B series

Master of American fantasy cinema of the 1960s, Roger Corman, who died at the age of 98, established himself as the champion of low-budget genre films giving the B series its nobility and unearthing numerous talents from the New Hollywood.

An early figure in independent cinema, Roger Corman shot around fifty films and produced more than 300 others, launching the careers of Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and Denis Hopper.

Among his best-known films: “The Raven”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, brilliant adaptations of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe – but also “Little Shop of Horrors”, a cult film of the beat generation and the one of Jack Nicholson’s first roles.

“He was my blood, my life force and these are not empty words,” the actor recently confided.

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American director and producer Roger Corman, May 3, 2018 in New York / ROB KIM / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/Archives

Horror, fantasy, gangster films, science fiction, western: this Hollywood figure received an honorary Oscar in 2015, an “incongruity for me who have always made low-budget films”, he said. he amused then.

In 2023, Quentin Tarantino paid him a tribute at Cannes: “I like raw, strange, twisted films and if there is a director who embodies this principle, it is Roger Corman”.

“My cinema knows no inhibitions, it is full of excess, of laughter,” retorted the old man, visibly still amused.

King of the D system, he fascinated with his lightning shoots: in 1960, he set the record with “Little Shop of Horrors” shot in two days and one night.

He also happened to direct two films simultaneously to cover costs, as he explained in his autobiography “How I made 100 films in Hollywood without ever losing a penny” (2018).

In Hollywood, we claimed to be able to complete everything from a telephone booth: production in one phone call, financing with the change of the call and filming on site.

Attack of the giant crabs

Born in Detroit on April 5, 1926, he studied engineering at Stanford. After the war, he started as a courier at Fox, rose through the ranks and wrote his first screenplay in 1953, “Highway Dragnet.” He joined AIP (American International Pictures), an independent company with a limited budget, specializing in genre cinema. He becomes its flagship producer.

In 1955, he produced his first two westerns and ventured into science fiction with “The Day the World Ended”, introducing one of his favorite themes: the overthrow of the social order after a nuclear attack.

A man of the left, he criticized McCarthyism – “It Conquered the World” (1956) – and racial segregation – “The Intruder” (1961). In 1967, the State Department intervened after the screening of “Wild Angels” at the Venice Film Festival: this first film about Hell’s Angels bikers did not reflect America, American diplomats disputed.

He renews the vampire film: in “Not of this Earth” (1956), the main character is no longer an evil creature but an ordinary person who walks around with a suitcase full of syringes. Then he ventured into the Gothic with “The Undead” (1956).

Its tantalizing titles promise humor, thrills and sex to a young audience seeking sensations: “Attack of the Giant Crabs” (1957), “The Wasp Woman” (1959), “The Creature from the Haunted Sea” (61 ), “The Mask of the Red Death” (1964) …

His adaptations of Edgar Poe’s short stories with his favorite actor Vincent Price are considered masterpieces which will have a strong influence on European horror cinema.

We also owe him the distribution in the United States of films by Truffaut, Bergman, Fellini, Kurosawa.

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