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It’s no wonder I love the flicks I do. Like so many filmmakers and fans, I got my movie education from Roger Corman.

Our film critic remembers the late, often great B-movie king, who died earlier this month.

A scene from the Roger Corman-produced 1979 movie "Rock 'n' Roll High School."The Everett Collection

Roger Corman was not only one of my idols, he was perhaps my chief cinematic corrupter. On the independent New York City TV channels, his gorgeous-looking 1960s Edgar Allen Poe movies with Vincent Price filled more than one Saturday afternoon of my youth. In movie theaters, his New World Pictures studio filled my childhood and adolescence with such delightful exploitation fare as “Death Race 2000,” “The Big Doll House,” and “Piranha.”

The movie mogul, who died May 9 at the age of 98, also introduced me to the late Dick Miller, whose appearance in so many films produced and directed by Corman made him the one actor I was never disappointed to see. Miller’s character was always named Walter Paisley, after the killer sculptor role he played in Corman’s 1959 beatnik satire, “A Bucket of Blood.”

It’s no wonder I love the flicks I do. Like so many famous filmmakers and fans, I got my movie education from Roger Corman.

Producer Roger Corman poses in his Los Angeles office, May 8, 2013. Corman, the Oscar-winning “King of the Bs” who helped turn out such low-budget classics as “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Attack of the Crab Monsters” and gave many of Hollywood's most famous actors and directors an early break, died May 9, 2024. He was 98. Reed Saxon/AP file

Without Corman, some of your favorite directors would have had different careers. As a producer, he mentored Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Joe Dante, Carl Franklin, and Francis Ford Coppola, just to name a few. He gave them cheap budgets and a short turnaround time.

When Howard complained about not having enough money to film his 1977 directorial debut, “Grand Theft Auto,” Corman famously told him, “If you do a good job on this film, you’ll never have to work for me again.”

Corman was right. Many of the filmmakers who attended what was known as The Corman School went on to win Oscars and make movie history. James Cameron, who did the visual effects for “Battle Beyond the Stars” (1980) before directing “Piranha II: The Spawning,” eventually helmed two box-office record holders, “Titanic” and “Avatar.”


Corman’s former students would cast him in many of their films, often as an authority figure. He’s a senator in Coppola’s “The Godfather Part II,” a congressman in Howard’s “Apollo 13,″ and the head of the FBI in Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs.” He was a striking figure onscreen and a surprisingly good actor.

Speaking of good actors — or rather, great ones — Corman directed more than a few. He put two-time Oscar winner Shelley Winters (and soon to be Oscar winner Robert De Niro) through their grimy gangster-movie paces in 1970′s “Bloody Mama.” The eventual three-time Oscar winner Jack Nicholson starred alongside Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff in 1963′s “The Raven,” a ridiculous take on Poe that still gives me pleasure to this day.

(And lest we forget, Corman put Nicholson in the dentist’s chair in 1960′s “The Little Shop of Horrors,” the movie that inspired Howard Ashman and Alan Menken to make their musical version.)

Even more than the movies themselves, I loved their titles. I found such great joy as a kid opening up The New York Times to see what devilry was playing on the Deuce. Who wouldn’t want to see something called “Caged Heat,” “The Unholy Rollers,” or “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School”? My Pops took me to 42nd Street to see “Deathsport,” the pseudo-sequel to the gory David Carradine-Sly Stallone sci-fi actioner “Death Race 2000.” (“Don’t tell your mother,” he said.)

American film producer and director Roger Corman sits and talks on the telephone as actor Diana Van der Vlis and comedian Don Rickles chat on the set of Corman's science fiction film, "X: The Man With the X-ray Eyes."Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In addition to New World Pictures stoking my youthful love of exploitation cinema, Corman’s original home base, American International Pictures, also played a major role. It produced the Pam Grier tetralogy of classic Blaxploitation films that started with 1973′s “Coffy” and ended with 1975′s “Sheba Baby.” Both Grier and her “Coffy” director Jack Hill got their start with Roger Corman, who produced their first collaboration (and Grier’s official debut), 1971′s “The Big Doll House.” When Grier asked talent agent Hal Gefsky what the film was about, he told her: “It’s about women in a prison in the jungle. Bondage, torture, attempted escape, punishment, drug addiction, machine guns, sex. The usual.”


“The usual” was what New World Pictures was known for, but Corman gave audiences something more. He got the US distribution rights to films by Federico Fellini, François Truffaut, and Ingmar Bergman. Granted, he often put their movies in drive-ins, but no matter! I would have loved to have seen the faces on people attending a double feature of “Cries and Whispers” and “Candy Stripe Nurses.”

When I interviewed John Sayles (who wrote “Piranha” and the John Dillinger movie “The Lady in Red” for Corman), he said that Corman’s movies were profitable before the camera rolled on the first day of shooting. But legend has it that the man whose memoir was titled “How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime” did have one movie that wasn’t financially successful.

That film was 1962′s “The Intruder,” directed by Corman and starring William Shatner as a horrifying racist. Shatner is excellent in the role (yes, you read that sentence correctly), and it’s the one time Corman made “a message picture.” But it showed his range as a filmmaker, and I think it’s his best movie.


I know my favorite Corman-produced and Corman-directed movies (keep them separate!), but I did an impromptu social media poll to see if anyone else agreed. Turns out there’s a lot of love on the directing side for “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the most elegant of the Vincent Price Poe series, and the Ray Milland movie “X: The Man With the X-ray Eyes,” the cautionary tale whose shocking ending terrified me so badly I couldn’t sleep. Those are favorites as well.

Director Roger Corman.

As for the movies he produced, my love of The Ramones movie “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” was echoed by many of those I surveyed. P.J. Soles is just great as Riff Randell, the band’s biggest fan, and the climax of the film is a hilarious howl of anarchy. Folks also picked another fave of mine, “Targets,” Bogdanovich’s debut film that’s both a love letter to Boris Karloff and an assassin movie.

More recently, Corman supplied cable channels with crazy hybrid-monster movies like “Piranhaconda.” That’s a bridge too far for my tastes. (Look up the plot, if you dare!) Even a trash lover like me has limits. Thankfully, Roger Corman didn’t have any.

Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.