Roger Corman debuted with the sci-fi movie
Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954).
After scripting a police thriller, The Fast and the Furious (1954),
he directed the
film noir Swamp Women (1955) and
western movies Five Guns West (1955), Apache Women (1955), The Oklahoma Woman (1956) and The Gunslinger (1956),
but did a lot better with the
The Day the World Ended (1955), It Conquered the World (1956),
Not of This Earth (1957) and
Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), an implausible and amateurish
Scientists land on an island to study the effect of nuclear radiations.
One man dies drowned right away. The island is rocked by an earthquake.
The men discuss the mysterious disappearance of the previous group of scientists
sent to the island. They explore caves and tunnels whose origin is unexplained.
One day the French scientist is killed by a monster. The following day they
hear his voice: his body is dead but his voice and memory are still alive,
and so is another scientist who disappeared. They invite the surviving
scientists in the tunnel. The party is attacked by giant crabs. The scientists
now think that these crabs, originated by nuclear radiations, are capable of
absorbing the brains of their victims. The last three surviving scientists
have to flee the laboratory when the crabs cause a massive earthquake. One
of them sacrifices himself to electrocute the giant crab that is chasing them
and the last two (a couple) are saved.
His eclectic and prolific portfolio already included
the horror movies The Undead (1957) and The Viking Women and the Sea Serpent (1957),
the semi-musical Carnival Rock (1957),
the film noirs Teenage Doll (1957) and Sorority Girl (1957), both having teen girls as protagonists,
the sci-fi movies Teenage Caveman (1958) and War of the Satellites (1958),
the gangster movies Naked Paradise (1957), Machine Gun Kelly (1958) and I Mobster (1958),
the heist movie Rock All Night (1957) and
the exotic adventure movie She Gods of Shark Reef (1958).
A Bucket of Blood A (1959) is one of his surreal horror comedies,
scripted by Charles Griffith, and is also a document of the
beatnik subculture of the 1950s.
Walter is a waiter at a coffeehouse popular with the intellectuals. He admires
the poets and the painters, even though they look down on him. The only one
who treats him kindly is Carla, the girl of the owner of the coffeehouse, Leo.
Unbeknownst to Walter, two of the regulars, Lou, are actually undercover
agents looking for a drug dealer.
Back home Walter is entrusted by the landlady with her cat while he is trying to
learn how to sculpt. The cat gets stuck behind the wall. Walter tries to
make a hole in the wall with a knife but instead kills the cat. Then he has
the idea to wrap the cat in the sculptor's clay and present it as an original
sculpture to the coffeehouse crowd. The cat is such a success that art
collectors compete to buy it. A woman is so excited that she gives Walter
a vial of heroin. Walter is totally clueless, but one of the undercover agent
thinks he's part of the drug racket and comes to arrest him. Walter panics
and kills the agent with a frying pan. Walter can't think of any other way to
hide the body than to turn it into another clay sculpture. In the meantime
Leonard has accidentally found out the truth about the cat sculpture, but
he decides not to tell the truth after an art collector offers him a huge sum
to be the first to see Walter's next sculpture.
Walter shows Leonard and Carla his full-size sculpture. Leonard can guess
what's inside the sculpture of a murdered man and almost faints, but then
his business instinct prevails: he tells Walter that he doesn't need to wait
at the coffeehouse anymore. Now Walter is one of its famous customers.
A nude model, Alice, sort of challenges him to create a sculpture of her.
Walter cannot resist and accepts the challenge, which of course entitles
killing her. The new sculpture is another success. Walter is now a celebrated
artist, but he realizes that he needs to come up with more sculptures.
He kills a worker and severes his head with an electrical saw in order to
make a bust. Leonardo hears of the murder and then sees the bust and can easily
relate one to the other. He tells Walter that he has to stop making sculptures
and, to get rid of the ones he has made so far, organizes a show. After the
show Walter takes Carla's compliments as a love confession and proposes to her,
admitting that he's always been obsessed with her. Carla is embarrassed.
She tells him that she is not in love with him. Walter offers to make
a statue of her and she accepts. But then she examines a finger of Alice's
sculpture and sees that inside the statue there's a body. She confronts
Walter who simply starts chasing her. In the meantime at the show they
all found out what's inside the statues. Walter is running after Carla while
the others are running after him. Cornered, he hangs himself in his room.
He specialized in streamlined, small-budget movies that nonetheless appealed to
a broad audience, particularly to young adult men.
He then directed three adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe gothic tales, namely House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) and
The Premature Burial (1962),
the farcical horror movie The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) ,
the sci-fi movies The Wasp Woman (1960) and The Last Woman on Earth (1960),
the war movie Ski Troop Attack (1960),
The Intruder (1961), which was an adaptation of Charles Beaumont's novel,
the peplum movie Atlas (1961), filmed in Greece.
Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961) is a silly and amateurish slapstick.
The Cuban government entrusts a notorious mafia boss, Renzo, with the golden
treasure of the country, assuming that only such a figure will be able to
smuggle it out. The crew of Renzo's yacht includes the beautiful Mary-Belle
and an undercover USA spy, Agent XK150. Renzo wants to get rid of the Cuban
generals who are traveling with them by scaring them with the story of
a sea monster. Agent XK150 overhears his plan. Little do they know that the
sea monster really exists and starts killing. Initially Renzo thinks the
killings are due to his overzealous men. Following his plan, he tells the
Cubans that they need to head for an island where the sea monster cannot hit.
Then he deliberately crashes the boat and hides the trunk with the gold.
The idea is that the Cubans will eventually get tired of trying to recover
the gold. But the seamonster (the real one) starts killing. The monster
kills everybody except the spy and a girl of the island. The spy enjoys
the girl, while the monster gets the gold.
Tower of London (1962), a remake of The Tower of London (1939),
is a faux-Shakespearian costume drama.
In 1483 the dying king appoints his brother Clarence as guardian of is two
sons, including the future king.
The decision makes his other brother, Richard (Vincent Price),
jealous. Richard stabs Clarence to death while they are hugging, and let
the queen be suspected of the murder. The king dies and Richard, after
being visited by the ghost of Clarence, becomes the new guardian of the
future king. He tortures to death a faithful lady because she refuses to
discredit the queen and the children. The ghost appears to him and he
loses his mind, strangling his wife when he thinks he's strangling the ghost.
Now there's another ghost haunting him: his wife.
Justin and Margaret, who are lovers and faithful to the queen, help the queen
and the children escape. However, only the queen succeeds in taking away
only one child, and finds shelter with the Church.
Everybody else is arrested. Lady Margaret is kept hostage.
Justin is sent to Margaret's father demanding that he recognizes Richard as
the lawful king. Richard threatens the archbishop who is forced to deliver
the other child. At night Richard kills both children, thus officially becoming
the king. He is now haunted also by the ghosts of the children.
The physician Tyrus helps Justin enter the castle and free Margaret.
Tyrus dies but Justin and Margaret can escape and organize the resistance
to Richard. Richard has to go to war against the rebels. He loses the battle
and is surrounded by the ghosts of all the people he killed. As he fights
the ghosts he kills himself.
In the year of the Formula One movie The Young Racers (1963), he
the sci-fi movie X the Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963),
and the gothic The Haunted Palace (1963), an adaptation of a H. P. Lovecraft story.
The Raven (1963), another Poe adaptation, features the three stars
of horror cinema (Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre) but is more
of a parody than a horror film.
The three stars interpret three merry sorcerers in medieval times.
Erasmus Craven has been mourning his wife, Lenore, since the day she died.
One day a raven taps at his window and introduces himself as Bedlo,
who has been turned into a raven by the evil Scarabus (who is now the grand
master, succeeding Craven's father) and needs Craven's help
to recover his human form.
Once restored to human form, Bedlo tells Craven that Lenore is held prisoner
Scarabus, Bedlo, Bedlo's son and Craven's daughter head for Scarabus's castle.
Scarabus turns out to be a kind old man who has a maid who looks like Lenore.
Bedlo turns out to be a mean envious magician
(Scarabus turned him into a raven because Bedlo tried to kill him)
who challenges Scarabus.
But one of Bedlo's magic tricks backfires and Bedlo disappears.
Scarabus insists that Craven and his daughter spend the night at the castle.
Alarmed by Scarabus' dubious behavior, Bedlo's son begs Craven's daughter
to leave, but too late: Scarabus takes her prisoner. While wandering in
the castle, Bedlo's son stumbles into Bedlo... he did not die, he only
pretended. Bedlo's son frees the girl but she refuses to leave without
In the meantime, Lenore appears to Craven and we learn that she willingly
left him to move in with the wealthy Scarabus (the pure woman Craven was
mourning is basically a heartless prostitute).
They are all arrested by Scarabus and Bedlo would gladly sacrifice the others
to save himself, but Scarabus turns him again into a raven that flies away.
Lenore confronts and scorns Craven.
Scarabus threatens to burn the girl alive if Craven does not reveal a trick
that Scarabus does not know.
Bedlo flies back into the cell and frees Bedlo's son who frees Craven.
Craven and Scarabus stage the ultimate duel (a carnival of stunning tricks).
Craven wins, and the castle burns down, burying both Scarabus and
Lenore (who begs in vain Craven to take her back).
Scarabus and Lenore actually survive but they have lost all their wealth and
The horror movie The Terror (1963) stars the old iconic actor
Boris Karloff and the young Jack Nicholson.
A soldier of a French regiment, Andre (Jack Nicholson), walks along the beach,
When he meets a beautiful woman, Helene, he asks her for water and directions.
She suddenly disappears and reappears elsewhere. She laughs at him. He follows
her but she just walks into the ocean. She turns into a bird that attacks him
and he almost drowns. He is saved by Gustaf who takes him to the hut of an old
woman in the middle of a forest. She has a bird, named Helene. One night he
follows the bird into the forest and finds Helene, who kisses him.
He follows her and is saved again by Gustaf just a second before he steps into
quicksand: she was trying to kill him. Gustaf tells him that Helene lives
in the castle of a baron. Andre walks to the castle, steeped on a cliff
and is welcomed by the baron (Boris Karloff), who lives alone with a servant,
Stefan. The baron denies that any young
woman lives in the castle (Andre saw her at a window). The baron shows him
a portrait of the young woman, his wife Ilsa, identical to Helene...
who died twenty years earlier.
Pressured, the baron confesses that he killed his wife after finding her in
bed with another man, Eric. He also confesses that he too has seen her ghost
recently. In the meantime, Gustaf talks to Ilsa/Helen on a cliff
and we learn that Gustaf's mother (the old woman) is the one who brought
her back to life. Gustaf tells her that Andre can help her, but she warns
him not to interfere. The old woman is a witch and she hypnotizes Ilsa/Helene
so that she will carry out a revenge for her. Stefan comes to threaten the
old woman of death if she does not leave what used to be Eric's house.
Stefan provides Andre with a horse and bids his farewell. Andre is riding
slowly along the beach when he sees Gustaf warning him of danger.
The old woman's bird attacks Gustaf and kills him. Before dying he begs
Andre to help Helene/Ilsa. Andre returns to the castle and confronts
first the girl (who kisses him again) and then the baron. The baron is clearly
still in love with the woman he killed. Andre finds out that they also had
a child. He sees the old woman near the castle and forces her to confess:
she controls Helene/Ilsa having hypnotized her for the purpose of taking
her revenge on the baron who killed Eric, because Eric was her son. Her
plan has succeeded: the baron is driven to madness and is about to commit
suicide. But the faithful Stefan reveals that Eric was not killed: it was the baron who
died in the fight, and Eric took the baron's place, mentally and physically.
The old woman has been trying to drive to suicide her own son.
The old woman is struck by lightning and burned alive. The baron has locked
himself in the crypt where he buried Ilsa and has opened the gate that lets
water in. As the crypt gets flooded, Helene/Ilsa appears to tell him the
truth. Stefan rushes to help but it is too late. When Andre arrives, he can
only rescue the woman, who should be finally healed of the witch's curse.
He kisses her but realizes that he is just kissing the skull of a skeleton.
And the bird flies in the sky.
(Why was Stefan faithful all these years to Eric?)
Secret Invasion (1964) is a mediocre war movie with an improbable and
During World War II in Egypt the British recruit five international criminals,
including an Italian thief and a murderer,
promising them early pardons if they carry out a deadly military mission:
rescue an Italian general from a German prison in Yugoslavia.
They are led by a middle-aged major, who has to deal with their temptation to
escape as well as with the dangerous masterplan to squeeze into German
territory. The partisans help them enter the city. The Italian thief devises
a plan to build a tunnel. When one of the partisans is arrested by the Germans,
the criminals want to stop and run, but the major insists. It turns out he is
haunted by the memory of his brother, who died in a similarly impossible
mission (for which he bears some responsibility).
The six let the Germans capture them so that they are taken to the very prison
that they plan to break into. The Germans begin to torture them but they use
their criminal skills to escape dressed like German soldiers.
They find the general, who fears it's a trick,
and have to kidnap him against his will.
Chased by the Germans, they fight heroically until the partisans arrive and
turn the escape into a colossal battle.
The major and three of the criminals are killed.
The surviving two, the Italian thief and the murderer, deliver the general to
the partisans, but the partisans recognize him as a fascist who is impersonating
the general on behalf of the Germans.
The Italian thief threatens to kill the impostor unless he addresses the Italian
troops and commands them to rebel against the Germans. The impostor is ready
to betray him and order the exact opposite. Then the murderer, who is still
dressed like a German, has an idea: he kills the impostor, pretending to be
a German killing the noble Italian general. This causes the Italian troops
to indeed rebel against the Germans. The murderer dies a hero, killed by
the angry Italians. The Italian thief, the mastermind of the whole operation,
is the only survivor of the original team.
The Masque of the Red Death (1964) and
The Tomb of Ligeia (1965) were his last Poe adaptations.
The Wild Angels (1966) was a film about juvenile gangs, a pioneering
The psychedelic The Trip (1967), scripted by Jack Nicholson, is one
of his best films.
Paul is a director of television commercials.
His wife Sally is leaving him.
His friend John takes him to a drug party that is being held in his luxury
mansion and then gives him a dose of acid.
John hallucinates and finds himself walking on a beach, making love to
a beautiful woman, wondering in a enchanted forest, being chased by evil
riders wearing black hoods into a misty cave. He sees himself die and being
buried by the black-hood knights.
Every now and then he wakes up and talks to John, who is sitting in the
room, observing him like a psychiatrist.
The images get more confusing like a merry-go-round.
At night, as John falls asleep, Paul leaves the house and enters someone
else's house, where he wakes up a little child. Then he walks in the
streets (always haunted by the images of his acid trip). He stops by
a launderette where he scares a friendly woman who runs out to call the
police. Paul escapes and hides in a night club where loud music is being
played and people dance wildly, notably some body-painted naked women.
When the cops walk in, he has to flee again, running through the dark
streets while still hallucinating.
He returns to the mansion, where he is welcome by Max and a beautiful woman.
He makes love to her and, after many other hallucinations including being
chased on the beach by the black knights, he wakes up to a new day.
St Valentine's Day Massacre (1967) is a gangster movie about the famous shootout. The narrator, so interested in the historical and social background of the gang wars, is a god-like entity who knows what each character is thinking as his death approaches.
The narrating voice informs us of the gang wars in Chicago
during the "Roaring Twenties"
for control of bootlegging and gambling operations.
We see scenes of brutal killings.
Al Capone is furious with his men because his rival Bugs Moran is gaining ground.
Flashbacks show us previous attempts on the lives of the two mobsters.
Moran orders the murder of one of Capone's friends, and Capone retaliates by
personally executing the killer.
Capone orders an attack on Moran's headquarters (a garage). Five men are killed
but Moran is not there. Capone also kills two of his own henchmen who are about
to betray him.
Both Moran and Capone lose: they both end up in prison, and Moran dies of cancer while Capone dies of
dies of syphilis after being released.
He directed the thriller Target Harry (1969),
and especially the gangster movie Bloody Mama (1970)
and the post-apocalyptic satire Gas-s-s-s (1970).
Von Richthofen and Brown/ The Red Baron (1971) is about the legendary German aviator of World War I
who represents the old moral code. He is finally killed by a Canadian aviator
who hate the war and in real life is a humble farmer.
Corman then stopped directing and limited his work to producing and financing
films, remaining hyper-prolific and employing directors such as
Jonathan Demme and
He returned to directing with Frankenstein Unbound (1990), an adaptation of Brian Aldiss' sci-fi novel (1973).
His autobiography is titled
"How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime"
For all the pages written by film critics about his "art", Corman was only
interested in making the most amount of money with the smallest possible investment.
First and foremost, he was amazingly skilled at guessing which kinds of movies
that could be cheap to make would appeal a large audience.
It was a marketing skill, not an artistic skill, the one at which he excelled.