Non-Fiction Book Review

Roger Corman: Metaphysics On A Shoestring

(2006) Alain Silver and James Ursini, Silman-James Press, $24.95, pbk, 324pp, ISBN 1-879505-42-8


Probably the best book on the life of Roger Corman is still his own 1990 autobiography How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, but this book certainly has a claim to be the best book about the films of Roger Corman.

Between 1955 and 1970 Corman directed 49 films, covering science fiction, horror, fantasy, thrillers, gangsters, teen flicks, comedies, westerns and others. He added a fiftieth with Frankenstein Unbound (1990), based on the novel by Brian Aldiss. He also co-directed a further five films between 1956 and 1978. However, Corman is more likely to be remembered for the talent he fostered, the people he worked with and what he taught them than for his own output. A brief list would include Charles Griffith, Richard Matheson, Robert Towne, Charles Beaumont, Francis Ford Coppola, Nicolas Roeg, Peter Bogdanovich, Monte Hellman, Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Allan Arkush, Nathan Juran, Irvin Kershner, Curtis Harrington, Martin Scorcese, Jonathan Kaplan, Jonathan Demme, Joe Dante, Ron Howard, John Sayles, Penelope Spheeris, Jim Wynorski, James Cameron, Steve Railsback, Fred Olen Ray, Talia Shire, James Brolin and Paul Bartel. Just to cover his principal actors would take a list twice as long and would read like a Who's Who of cinema. As if that were not enough between 1954 and early 2006 Corman wrote and/or produced over 340 movies, many of which were sf or horror.

His films of sf interest include Day the World Ended (1955), It Conquered the World (1956), Not of This Earth (1956), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), War of the Satellites (1958), Teenage Caveman (1958), The Wasp Woman (1960), Little Shop of Horrors (1960), The Last Woman on Earth (1960), Creature from the Haunted Sea (1960), X - the Man with X-Ray Eyes (1963), Gas-s-s-s! (1970) and the aforementioned Frankenstein Unbound (1990). Among the better known of his horror/fantasy output are The Undead (1957), which peripherally involves time travel, A Bucket of Blood (1959), House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), Tower of London (1962), The Terror (1962), The Raven (1963), The Huanted Palace (1963), Masque of the Red Death (1964) and Tomb of Ligeia (1965). This book covers all the fifty films he directed, and the five he co-directed, as well as listing all the films he wrote and/or produced, and in addition covers the several film appearances of Corman, often for his own alumni. Needless to say, the whole shebang is lavishly illustrated throughout and contains many comments from Corman himself. While little here will surprise the seasoned Corman-viewer the book will prove a real eye-opener for those who have dismissed Corman as "just" a low-budget, exploitation film maker. The reach of his films exceeded his budgetary limitations and often succeeded in spite of this. Perhaps more to the point is the fact that his films were always entertaining, something some critics see as a negative thing, but which is essential for a normal audience.

This is a thorough and authoritative book recommended to Corman and general film fans alike.

Tony Chester

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