Lately, I've been reading Roger Corman's autobiography (written with Jim Jerome), "How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime" (1990, Random House, $18.95. - soon to be issued in paperback).
In case you don't know the name, Corman is the king of low-budget exploitation, which includes all kinds of bizarre movies - and some darn good ones - that dominated drive-ins during the '60s (though he made his first movie in 1955 and his most recent last year).Corman's best films are probably his lavish, wide-screen Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, many starring Vincent Price. He also did the original "Little Shop of Horrors" in 1960, notorious for having been shot in only two days.
The Corman stock company was the jumping off point for a number of star moviemakers and actors, including Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, Sylvester Stallone, William Shatner, Peter Fonda, Peter Bogdanovich, John Sayles, Martin Scorsese . . . .
And a quote in the book from Scorsese sort of sums up Corman's philosophy:
"He (Corman) once said, `Martin, what you have to get is a very good first reel because people want to know what's going on. Then you need a very good last reel because people want to hear how it all turns out. Everything else doesn't really matter.' Probably the best sense I have ever heard in the movies."
The reason for dwelling on Roger Corman for a few paragraphs here is that reading his book caused me think how much fun it would be to see some of his old black-and-white cheapos again, those silly science-fiction, horror and teenage exploitation pictures he turned out with regularity when I was a young, impressionable moviegoer. (That explains a lot, doesn't it?)
Most of these movies were pretty awful, of course, but there's something irresistible about them - all those goofy plots, low-budget special effects and papier-mache monsters boasted a certain charm.
A handful of Corman's best/worst movies . . . or worst/best movies . . . are available on video: The aforementioned "sick comedy" "The Little Shop of Horrors"; another, equally black-humored effort, "A Bucket of Blood"; and a number of the-title-tells-it-all pictures like "Swamp Women," "She-Gods of Shark Reef," "Attack of the Giant Leeches," "The Wasp Woman," "The Last Woman on Earth," "The Creature from the Haunted Sea," "The Wild Angels," "The Terror," "The Trip," "The Comedy of Terrors," "The Tomb of Ligeia" and Corman's latest, "Frankenstein Unbound."
But what about some of my favorites?
Would you believe these movies have never been released on video: "Attack of the Crab Monsters," "The Viking Women and the Sea Serpent," "Not of This Earth," "Teenage Caveman," "War of the Satellites."
Hard to believe.
After all, you'd think with all the modern garbage that comes out on video each month they'd have room for some of the old garbage.
- SO, ANYWAY, WHILE I'm immersed in the Corman book, what should cross my desk but an announcement that RCA/Columbia Home Video has acquired two Corman films for release in June - "It Conquered the World," starring Peter Graves, Beverly Garland, Lee Van Cleef and a monster that appears to be a giant carrot on wheels, along with "Machine-Gun Kelly," starring Charles Bronson - with Morey Amsterdam in a supporting role.
Two other non-Corman titles, "I Was a Teenage Werewolf," with young Michael Landon in the title role, and "Female Jungle," with Jayne Mansfield," round out RCA/Columbia's initial releases under the banner, "Drive-in Classics."
This is great news for bad-movie buffs.
Can "Attack of the Crab Monsters" be far off?
- ODDLY, SOME OF CORMAN'S best films were released on video some years ago but are currently out of circulation.
"The House of Usher," "The Pit and the Pendulum," "Tales of Terror," "The Masque of the Red Death" and the comical "The Raven" - arguably the best of his Poe adaptations - as well as "X - The Man With the X-Ray Eyes" and others, were available during the '80s but are now on moratorium, as the video companies like to say when a title is pulled.
Fortunately, some stores in the Salt Lake Valley still have them in stock from the earlier video incarnation.
- QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Roger Corman, asked in 1985 at the United States Film Festival in Park City why Francis Ford Coppola, who made low-budget quickies with Corman, seems to have been stuck in the rut for 20 years of making over-inflated movies that usually go over budget:
"He got away from me."