For over half a century, the king of B-movies Roger Corman has been shaping cinema as we know it. He's launched huge industry names, turned tropes, and ruled the anti-establishment roost. He's made around 400 titles, had three huge retrospectives at the British Film Institute, the Museum of Modern Art and Cinémathèque Française, and been presented an Academy Honorary Award for his enrichment of the movie business. Yet, outside of the industry, very few people know his name. Hopefully, 2017 will be the year that changes.
In but a few weeks we'll see a sequel of one of Corman's most infamous titles, Death Race 2000 — this time titled #DeathRace2050 — an outrageous, action-packed race to the death in cars that are suited and booted to maim the literal living shit out of their opponents. Check out the trailer below:
To celebrate this new film, what better excuse is there to take a look at Corman's back catalog and the major movies his work has inspired? Ready. Set. GO!
1. The Fast And The Furious
In 1955 Corman produced the original fast-paced car-chase movie, The Fast and the Furious — a film that, like its wildly popular successor, centered on a high-speed chase over treacherous terrain in the company of a beautiful woman. In fact, in the early days, when he wasn't making horror flicks or darting around in space, Corman's name became somewhat synonymous with racing movies, creating influencers like 1963's The Young Racers, 1968's The Wild Racers and, of course, 1975's #DeathRace2000, which starred a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone.
Fun fact: Every car you see in The Fast and The Furious OG was borrowed from a local dealership, raced, then cleaned up and returned once the movie wrapped. Now that's how you shoot on a budget!
2. Grand Theft Auto
Another of Corman's auto-centric productions that continued to (probably) inspire an absolute beast of a franchise was Grand Theft Auto, significant not only because of its evergreen appeal and obvious affect on the gaming industry, but because of how it was developed in the first place. In a nutshell, a young writer had co-written a comedy with his father titled Tis The Season, and had approached Corman for financial assistance. Though Corman wasn't exactly thrilled with the script, he bargained that if this young fellow agreed to star in his next project Eat My Dust!, then not only would he hand over a wad but he'd also assist him in developing and directing another movie.
That movie was 1977's Grand Theft Auto, and that young fellow was Ron Howard — the director of Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind and Frost/Nixon.
3. Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas — In Fact, Most Scorsese And De Niro Movies
Unlike the traditional approach, when it came to sequels, Corman tended to repeat rather than follow up, using similar casts and setups to recreate the essence of the original. So, when the moment arose to redo his 1970 gun-totin' gangster movie Bloody Mama some years later, that was the method he opted for — the only difference being that this time a young first-timer by the name of Martin Scorsese would direct, and it would be titled Boxcar Bertha.
When he'd finished the picture, Scorsese screened it for actor/director John Cassavetes (star of Rosemary's Baby) who stamped the seal of fate on the director's relationship with Corman:
"Marty, you've just spent a whole year of your life making a piece of shit. It's a good picture, but you're better than the people who make this kind of movie. Don't get hooked into the exploitation market, just try and do something different."
Check out the trailer for Boxcar Bertha below:
Scorsese took heed of Cassavetes's advice and he never worked with Corman again. Regardless, he dubbed Corman a "great mentor," and the "kind of artist [who is] able to nurture and inspire" — a comment that is truly visible in Scorsese's work in two ways in particular:
- His next movie, 1973's Mean Streets — which still holds a score of 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and was apparently one of the late James Gandolfini's biggest influencers — applied the principles he'd learned while working with Corman on Boxcar Bertha; mostly, how to film a movie quickly, and the importance of trusting your vision.
- His longterm relationship with Robert De Niro. The pair met thanks to Corman's discovery of both talents and together the two went on to make some of the most important Italian-American movies of all time. These films include Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Casino and Raging Bull.
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4. Easy Rider
One factor that made Corman's work so significant in terms of cinema's overall development is that he essentially pioneered movie rebellion before Hollywood realized there was anything to rebel against. At a time — a.k.a. the '60s — in which most teen films were of the "I told you so!" Rebel Without a Cause ilk, Corman waded in and catered to an audience looking for a new kind of movie; a kind of movie parents didn't want their teenagers to see, in which kids could relate to the wayward protagonists, and a kind that delved into topics largely undiscussed (in a non-fear-mongering way, at least) by the mainstream media. A topic like LSD, for example.
Enter 1967's The Trip — a film that deals with the visual experience of LSD, and a film that Corman took acid in preparation for in order to thoroughly convey the experience. And so did the film's writer, a name you may have heard: Jack Nicholson. The project boasted both commercial appeal and political subtext, and while it wasn't much of a critical success, it inspired a cult classic that would go into production two years later: Easy Rider. This movie not only starred Nicholson but another The Trip alumni, Peter Fonda, who, (not so) incidentally had become "an icon of the counterculture" thanks to another Corman movie, The Wild Angels.
What sucks for Corman in the case of Easy Rider is that had there not been a fallout between American International Pictures (in which Corman was the principle producer) and Dennis Hopper (who was an uncredited assistant on The Trip and the director of Easy Rider), he and AIP would have distributed the movie together. Instead, it went to Columbia Pictures and Corman lost the chance to be a part of one of the most successful movies of all time.
While Steven Spielberg has called Corman's Piranha "the best of the Jaws rip-offs,” it could be said that without Corman's influence Jaws wouldn't have been made at all. Within the documentary Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel — which I recommend for a thorough dig into the artist's legacy — it's evident that his involvement in the splatter-gore scene was hugely influential, especially when it comes to the devilish happenings within murky depths. Turn to madcap horrors like 1954's Monster from the Ocean Floor, 1957's Attack of the Crab Monsters or 1959's Attack of the Giant Leeches to see how his use of dramatic buildup, blood-infused pools and scattered limbs is drawn upon within Spielberg's deep-water classic.
And while we're on the topic of horror, Eli Roth, director of Hostel and Cabin Fever, appears in the aforementioned documentary to comment on what an inspiration Corman has been to him throughout his career. So perhaps without Corman, Roth wouldn't be the master of torture porn you know him as today.
6. Star Wars
It wasn't until the release of the first Star Wars movie in the late '70s that Corman felt his aesthetic was truly threatened by mainstream cinema. After all, this is a man who had been making B-movie sci-fi for more than two decades by this point; and, as a matter of fact, was one of the few (if not the only) directors in America covering the science fiction genre at that time. So it's fair to argue that George Lucas was heavily influenced by Corman's style — which largely featured green strobing lights and other cheap-but-brilliant gimmicks — and elevated them to a Hollywood standard.
Corman’s World director Alex Stapleton told Wired upon the documentary's release:
“Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were obviously influenced by Corman when they made Jaws and Star Wars. And James Cameron, who started his career working for Corman, has consistently proven that you can make epic films that are based 100 percent on the structure of Corman-style genre pictures.”
As you might have noticed, Stapleton's comment references another wildly famous director, which leads us to our next point.
7. He's The Godfather Of The Movie Greats
To conclude — as otherwise this list would, and could, go on forever — here is a summary of the major names (and the works they've created) that Corman's brand of cinema has launched since he began creating films back in 1954:
- Martin Scorsese: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street and most recently, Silence.
- Jack Nicholson: Easy Rider, Chinatown, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Shining and Batman.
- Robert De Niro: Taxi Driver, The Godfather: Part II, The Deer Hunter, Brazil and Goodfellas.
- Dennis Hopper: Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet, True Romance and Speed.
- James Cameron: Aliens, Titanic, Avatar and The Terminator.
- Ron Howard: Apollo 13, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon and all the Dan Brown adaptations.
- Francis Ford Coppola: The Godfather Trilogy, Apocalypse Now and Bram Stoker's Dracula
So to celebrate the legacy of this wildly influential and disturbingly overlooked auteur, get yourself a copy of Death Race 2050, which will be released on Blu-ray January 17, 2017.