Legendary filmmaker Roger Corman dies

Tributes paid to a man who helped shape modern cinema

by Jennie Kermode

Roger Corman's Masque Of The Red Death
Roger Corman's Masque Of The Red Death

Roger Corman, who directed 55 films and produced over 450, as well as fitting in an acting career, has died a month after his 98th birthday. Tributes poured in from those he worked with, who remembered him for his energy, his generosity, and his enormous influence in shaping cinema as we know it today.

Starting out in the early 1950s as a director and producer of B-movies, Corman quickly made a name for himself with his dynamic visual ideas and his ability to overcome all sorts of challenges to bring a project to fruition. Even early works like She Gods Of Shark Reef and A Bucket Of Blood show hints of the flair that would make his name, and by 1961's The Pit And The Pendulum, he had developed a style which enabled him to make an indelible impression even when working with very simple sets and props. That film saw him work with Vincent Price, and the two partnered on a series of films adapted from the work of Edgar Allan Poe, including The Raven, The House Of Usher and The Masque Of The Red Death, as well as a memorable take on the story of Richard III, Tower Of London.

Roger Corman
Roger Corman Photo: Odessa International Film Festival

Although he was best known for his genre work, Corman also had an interest in other kinds of cinema, and was often ahead of his time, as one can see from his 1962 film The Intruder, whose take on right wing agitators is highly relevant today and which helped to launch the career of one William Shatner. This is even more apparent in his work as a producer, where he played a key role in introducing US audiences to the work of similarly legendary figures such as Ingmar Bergman, François Truffaut and Akira Kurosawa. US directors including Martin Scorsese, John Sayles and Francis Ford Coppola have credited him with getting them a start in the industry and nurturing their careers. He also discovered big name stars such as Bruce Dern Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, Tommy Lee Jones and Jack Nicholson (whose performance as the dentist in his original version of The Little Shop Of Horrors is a true star-making turn).

Corman was passionate about his work and never lost the drive to do more, continuing to work as a producer until 2021 and mentoring people even after that. During Covid lockdowns he ran an online competition to keep people making films even in isolation. Alongside film, he loved music, and often showcased his favourite punk bands in films he was producing. He received the first ever Producers' Award to be presented at Cannes and received an Honorary Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). His work was also featured in a documentary, Corman’s World: Exploits Of A Hollywood Rebel.

As an actor, Corman enjoyed many notable cameo roles. He can be spotted in the likes of The Silence Of The Lambs, The Manchurian Candidate and Apollo 13, as well as in the kind of bargain basement shockers he always loved, like Sharktopus.

Describing him as "one of the most influential movie directors in my life," John Carpenter said "It was my privilege to know him. He was a great friend. He shaped my childhood with science fiction movies and Edgar Allen Poe epics."

"Roger Corman was my very first boss, my lifetime mentor and my hero," said producer Gale Anne Hurd. "Roger was one of the greatest visionaries in the history of cinema."

Roger Croman's The St Valentine's Day Massacre
Roger Croman's The St Valentine's Day Massacre

"He gave me my first shot at directing," said Ron Howard. "He launched many careers and quietly led our industry in important ways. He remained sharp, interested and active even at 98."

Scottish producer Lawrie Brewster remembered Corman, who attended the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2009, as an "indie film titan" who had gone out of his way to help his developing company, Hex Studios, while Alan Jones of Frightfest praised him for his remarkable ability to spot talent and launch careers. Everyone in genre cinema knew him as a man who, though he believed in keeping film budgets low, was always willing to invest in people, donating a lot of his own time and energy to cultivate the next generation of creative spirits.

"We lost a trailblazer, supporter and friend…a legend," said Barbara Crampton, star of Chopping Mall, which he produced in 1986, while Nancy Sinatra said "Working with Roger in The Wild Angels was a highlight of my life. He was a such a lovely man."

According to his daughter Catherine, Corman passed away at his home in Santa Monica. He is survived by Catherine, her three siblings and his wife, producer Julie Halloran, with whom he enjoyed a famously happy marriage for 54 years, In a statement to the press, Catherine said "He was generous, open-hearted and kind to all those who knew him. When asked how he would like to be remembered, he said, ‘I was a filmmaker, just that.’"

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