Roger Corman, US producer behind beloved B-movies like ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, dies at 98

Producer Roger Corman poses in his Los Angeles office, May 8, 2013.
Producer Roger Corman poses in his Los Angeles office, May 8, 2013. Copyright Reed Saxon/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Reed Saxon/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Anca Ulea with AP
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The producer and director behind low-budget classics like “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Attack of the Crab Monsters,” Roger Corman helped launch the careers of Hollywood legends like Martin Scorsese and Jack Nicholson.

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Roger Corman, the Hollywood producer and director also known as the “King of the Bs” has died aged 98.

Corman was known affectionately by fans and industry professionals as the “King of the Bs,” for his role in bringing to life low-budget classics like Little Shop of Horrors and Attack of the Crab Monsters.

“He was generous, open-hearted and kind to all those who knew him,” his family said in a statement released on Saturday. “When asked how he would like to be remembered, he said, ‘I was a filmmaker, just that.’”

Since his career began in 1955, Corman helped create hundreds of B-movies as a producer and director – his filmography includes 2001’s Black Scorpion, 1959’s A Bucket of Blood and 1970’s Bloody Mama. In 2009, Corman received an honorary Academy Award for his work.

“There are many constraints connected with working on a low budget, but at the same time there are certain opportunities,” Corman said in a 2007 documentary.

“You can gamble a little bit more. You can experiment. You have to find a more creative way to solve a problem or to present a concept," he said.

A remarkable judge of talent

On top of his own work, Corman helped launch the careers of other Hollywood legends, hiring aspiring filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, James Cameron and Martin Scorsese as directors on his films.

Jack Nicholson made his film debut as the title character in Corman’s 1958 short film The Cry Baby Killer. Other actors whose careers began in Corman films included Robert de Niro, Bruce Dern and Ellen Burstyn.

Peter Fonda’s appearance in The Wild Angels was a precursor to his own landmark biker movie, Easy Rider, co-starring Nicholson and fellow Corman alumnus Dennis Hopper.

“Boxcar Bertha,” starring Barbara Hershey and David Carradine, was an early film by Scorsese.

Despite his penny-pinching ways, Corman retained good relations with his directors, boasting that he never fired one because “I wouldn't want to inflict that humiliation.”

Some of his former underlings repaid his kindness years later. Coppola cast him in The Godfather, Part II, Jonathan Demme included him in The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia and Howard gave him a part in Apollo 13.

Roger Corman addresses the audience during the awards ceremony of the 76th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 27, 2023.
Roger Corman addresses the audience during the awards ceremony of the 76th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 27, 2023.AP Photo/Daniel Cole

Shoestring budgets, movie magic

Corman was famous for making memorable films that strictly stuck to miniscule budgets and tight production schedules. His B-movie directors were often told to finish their films in as little as five days.

Oscar-winning director Ron Howard found this out the hard way, when he pleaded with Corman for an extra half day to reshoot a scene for his 1977’s Grand Theft Auto, his directorial debut.

Corman told him: “Ron, you can come back if you want, but nobody else will be here.”

Initially only drive-ins and specialty theatres would book Corman films, but as teenagers began turning out, national chains gave in. Corman’s pictures were open for their time about sex and drugs, such as his 1967 release The Trip, an explicit story about LSD written by Nicholson and starring Fonda and Hopper.

Most of Corman's movies were quickly forgotten by all but die-hard fans. A rare exception was 1960's Little Shop of Horrors, which starred a bloodthirsty plant that feasted on humans and featured Nicholson in a small but memorable role as a pain-loving dental patient.

It inspired a long-lasting stage musical and a 1986 musical adaptation starring Steve Martin, Bill Murray and John Candy.

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In 1963, Corman initiated a series of films based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. The most notable was The Raven, which teamed Nicholson with veteran horror stars Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone.

Directed by Corman on a rare three-week schedule, the horror spoof won good reviews, a rarity for his films. Another Poe adaptation, House of Usher, was deemed worthy of preservation by the Library of Congress.

Corman's Poe series has been cited by many contemporary filmmakers as influencing them when they were growing up.

A ‘visionary’ who ‘changed the course of film history’

Industry professionals whose lives Corman touched paid tribute to him over the weekend, sharing their memories of the producer.

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“Roger Corman was my very first boss, my lifetime mentor and my hero. Roger was one of the greatest visionaries in the history of cinema,” Gale Ann Hurd, whose notable producing credits include the Terminator film franchise, The Abyss and “The Walking Dead” television series, said in a post on X.

“A passionate and indefatigable lover of cinema for more than half a century, Corman's influence and support of artists changed the course [of] film history, and can be felt in everything from B-movies and exploitation flicks to art-house classics,” the Criterion Collection posted on X.

“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,” John Carpenter, director of Halloween, The Thing and other classic horror and action films, said on X. “I’ll miss you, Roger.”

Writer and producer Larry Karaszewski, known for Ed Wood and The People vs. Larry Flynt, said in a post on X: “Modern American cinema begins with Roger Corman. Without him we would not have Coppola, Scorsese, Bogdanovich, Nicholson, Demme and countless others. My film school was a drive in theater in the 1970s and Roger Corman was the Dean.”

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