Influential B-movie king Roger Corman dies at 98

B-movie king Roger Corman, who directed and produced hundreds of low-budget films, has died.

B-movie king Roger Corman, who directed and produced hundreds of low-budget films, has died. Photo: Getty

B-movie king Roger Corman, who directed and produced hundreds of low-budget films such as Little Shop of Horrors, has died at the age of 98.

Corman died on Thursday at his home in Santa Monica, California, his daughter Catherine Corman said in a statement.

“He was generous, open-hearted and kind to all those who knew him,” the statement said.

“When asked how he would like to be remembered, he said, ‘I was a filmmaker, just that’.”

Starting in 1955, Corman helped create hundreds of films as a producer and director, among them Black Scorpion, Bucket of Blood and Bloody Mama.

A remarkable judge of talent, he hired such aspiring filmmakers as Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, James Cameron and Martin Scorsese. In 2009, Corman received an honorary Academy Award.

“There are many constraints connected with working on a low budget, but at the same time there are certain opportunities,” Corman said in a 2007 documentary about Val Lewton, the 1940s director of Cat People.

“You can gamble a little bit more. You can experiment. You have to find a more creative way to solve a problem or to present a concept.”

The roots of Hollywood’s golden age in the 1970s can be found in Corman’s films.

Jack Nicholson made his film debut as the title character in a 1958 Corman quickie, The Cry Baby Killer, and stayed with the company for biker, horror and action films, writing and producing some of them.

Other actors whose careers began in Corman movies included Robert De Niro, Bruce Dern and Ellen Burstyn.

Peter Fonda’s appearance in The Wild Angels was a precursor to his own landmark biker movie Easy Rider, co-starring Nicholson and fellow Corman alumnus Dennis Hopper.

Boxcar Bertha, starring Barbara Hershey and David Carradine, was an early film by Scorsese.

Corman’s directors were given minuscule budgets and often told to finish their films in as little as five days.

When Howard, who would go on to win a best director Oscar for A Beautiful Mind, pleaded for an extra half day to reshoot a scene in 1977 for Grand Theft Auto, Corman told him: “Ron, you can come back if you want, but nobody else will be there.”

Corman’s pictures were open for their time about sex and drugs, such as his 1967 release The Trip, an explicit story about LSD written by Nicholson and starring Fonda and Hopper.

He also discovered a lucrative sideline releasing prestige foreign films in the US, among them Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, Federico Fellini’s Amarcord and Volker Schlondorff’s The Tin Drum.

The latter two won Oscars for best foreign language film.

Corman got his start as a messenger boy for Twentieth Century-Fox, eventually graduating to story analyst.

After quitting the business briefly to study English literature for a term at Oxford, he returned to Hollywood and launched his career as a movie producer and director.

Some of his former underlings repaid his kindness years later. Coppola cast him in The Godfather, Part II, Jonathan Demme included him in The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia and Howard gave him a part in Apollo 13.

Most of Corman’s movies were quickly forgotten by all but die-hard fans. A rare exception was 1960’s Little Shop of Horrors, which starred a bloodthirsty plant that feasted on humans and featured Nicholson in a small but memorable role as a pain-loving dental patient.

It inspired a long-lasting stage musical and a 1986 musical adaptation starring Steve Martin, Bill Murray and John Candy.

In all, Corman produced 498 films and directing 56 over the past half century.

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