All posts by Pete Trbovich

R.I.P. Roger Corman (1926-2024): Weirdness in Workaholism

We at last have an explanation for the Aurora Borealis illuminating the skies to the north this weekend. That’s the gates of movie heaven opening extra wide to admit one .

Roger CormanTo some movie-goers, he’s a “who?” To anybody who’s dipped a toe in movie culture, he is a giant, almost a mythical legend, some great mountain cyclops of Lovecraftian proportions. Where do you even start with Roger Corman’s legacy? The Little Shop of Horrors? The vintage Poe adaptations with Vincent Price? Easy Rider? The Fantastic Four? The women-in-prison flicks starring Pam Grier and her two D-cup co-stars? The steady churn of grindhouse and drive-in exploitation flicks, premiered and gone nearly as fast as they could be made? Death Race 2000? Or the long, long line of savant-level talented stars who passed through Corman’s production boot-camp to go on to be legends in their own careers?

It’s complicated, because Corman is also remembered as a ruthlessly pragmatic businessman, stingy with paychecks, who benefited from exploiting hungry new talent. He willingly stamped out some horrendous schlock with his name on it. Lest we forget that, we could also start with Dinocroc vs. Supergator or Sharktopus or Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfolds. To be fair, Corman was solely concerned with finding out what the audience wanted to see—and then getting it to them as fast as possible. It might take a cardboard and duct tape set and an afternoon shoot financed from change he found in a pay phone, but Corman got it done.

I try to imagine an alternate universe where Corman never existed, and the first thing I see is half of this website disappearing. It’s not just the movies he produced, directed, or acted in; it’s the big players who owed their start to Corman’s mentoring. Without Corman, you have no Scorsese, no Coppola (and hence, no George Lucas), no Ron Howard, no James Cameron, no Peter Bogdanovich, no Joe Dante— and that’s just the directors!

Reportedly, Roger Corman would not tolerate the expression “” within his presence, insisting he made A-movies on a B-budget (often while standing next to a poster of something like Night of the Cobra Women). But I don’t see him that way. He had a chance to go the big studio route working under 20th Century Fox. He had the chance to go art-house with his own New World Pictures. Roger Corman only felt at home driving his own desk, doing things his way, with a magical, forgotten talent known as a “work ethic.”

A hack. Being a hack has a proud tradition. Many of the literary greats we honor now got their start writing dime-novel pulps. You might use “hack” to describe those who write for money on a hand-to-mouth basis, such as we bloggers, bless us every one. Sure, Corman concerned himself with the art, and in the case of 1962’s The Intruder, he could even treat film as an important medium with something substantial to say. He just happened to care about the bottom line most of all.

The world needs people with such a work ethic. Doubtless, when that person is a producer who will fire you without apology for daring to go one day over schedule, that’s going to rub some people the wrong way. Rest assured, we will still be making fun of his sexploitation quickies and rubber-suit bug-eyed monsters for years yet. But we’re going to miss Roger Corman, more and more with each passing year, as the film industry’s pace-setter is no longer here to keep everyone else on their toes. You’re going to be asking in twenty years: Why does film as a medium feel so lethargic and bloodless now? It will be because Corman was not bringing up the rear, and the rest of the producers got comfortable and lazy.

Here on 366 Weird Movies, of course, we have lopsided standards, and so Corman looms larger to us than many a mainstream box office draw. We want the weird stuff, and he delivered his share of weirdness, mostly by virtue of the fact that when you’re hurling out nine films per year, a few weirdies will make it through the gauntlet the way one mutant green potato chip shows up in every bag. I don’t think Corman ever intentionally discouraged a viewer. But his low margins let him take some insane risks that paid off, and then he could content himself with making movies just for those narrow slices of the audience, like the ones whose greatest wish was to see Pam Grier’s num-nums.

Sure, Corman put out some sloppy work, but he wisely observed that most viewers would barely pay attention at the drive-in anyway. Likewise, his attempts to hop on every trend and produce a knock-off of every Star Wars were mostly pathetic. Again, this was just Corman trying to give the audience what they want, following his money-dowsing wand. Whatever weirdness that came through was a byproduct.

Nevertheless, Roger Corman is the man most remembered for proving the indie film production industry can hold its own. Like a punk rocker encountering a string quartet, he swept away all the pretense of the elite auteurs and set up his gear on stage to give us the fast jams we danced to. In a world of delicate artists wrestling with impenetrable muses and big studios flogging comic franchises for their last dollar, Corman cut clean to the bleached bone of film-making. You get it done under budget and on time, or you walk. Under his discipline, so many other talents discovered that not only could they wing it, but soar to the heavens.

WEIRD VIEW CREW: THE ITEM (1999)

In The Item, the chick, the fat guy, the mustache guy, and Dan Clark pick up a mysterious briefcase in a scenario that was intended to evoke Pulp Fiction as made by . The result, instead, is a 2.7 IMDb rating. Pete soldiers on gamely, with some herbal assistance.

(This movie was nominated for review by Val Santos. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)