I, like most other people, knew Roger Corman's work before I knew his name or reputation. You couldn't miss his movies if you were a horror or exploitation fan. I saw Attack of the Crab Monsters, Dementia 13, House of Usher, and numerous others on TV when I was very young.

I remember being about eighteen and partying at some guy's apartment. They were watching a classic Corman nurse picture: Candy Stripe Nurses. Little snit that I was, I didn't like it. I was a clueless snob with no real concept of quality.

Now, as a sixty-something, I find Candy Stripe Nurses to be a perfectly fine piece of smart/stupid fun.

Later I learned more about Roger Corman. His name came up time and time again when I read genre magazines and books in the eighties. When I got my first VCR I rented a lot of everything, but I made a point of watching every Corman title I could get my hands on.

I learned another aspect of Roger Corman's work sometime around 1988. A mutual acquaintance was a big movie fan. He liked art pictures and talked about Wim Wenders, Jean-Luc Godard, John Sayles, and Ingmar Bergman. I brought up Roger Corman to him, and the guy said Corman was a hero to art cinema fans for bringing important international films to American screens.

Roger Corman was a man of contradictions. He made exploitation movies with artistic aspirations. Roger had the mind of a capitalist and the soul of a revolutionary. He was a serious businessman who surrounded himself with young radicals.

People still call roger Corman the King of the B Movies, and there's plenty of reasons for it, but he was so much more. The man who directed and/or produced things like Monster from the Ocean Floor, Death Race 2000, The Big Doll House, and It Conquered the World also made The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, a serious look at a cataclysmic time and atrocity in American history. Corman addressed racism and school segregation in 1962 with The Intruder. He chronicled turbulent youth with The Wild Angels and The Trip. Corman documented the punk rock scene with Suburbia.

At a time when low budget moviemaking was almost entirely comprised of men, Roger employed women. Not just for eye candy, but as producers, directors, crewmembers. I don't think he did this to show off. He simply wanted the best talent he could get for his budget. Sometimes it happened to be women.

My favorite period of Corman's career was the New World Pictures era. By that time he left the director's chair to focus on production and distribution. There was a loose assortment of talented oddballs who worked on his movies, many of which are personal favorites of mine: Piranha, Death Race 2000, Cannonball, all the Nurses and Teachers movies, Rock 'n' Roll High School, Humanoids from the Deep, Eat My Dust!, Crazy Mama, and so many more.

Bad filmmaker? People still say that. I wonder if they've seen Masque of the Red Death or The Pit and the Pendulum

Roger didn't make the transition from film distribution to home video well. Oh, he was busy making movies, but the magic was mostly gone. Concorde/New Horizons tapes were everywhere, but few were truly good movies. For every winner like The Drifter, The Nest, Brain Dead, or Hollywood Boulevard 2 there was a stinkbomb like Nightfall or Lords of the Deep. I was grateful they were there, happy to see Corman still hard at work.

I turned off my devices early last night and this morning I woke to learn Roger Corman died. I was devastated and I cried real tears. Not only for the man's death. He lived a long, very rich life. I cried for days gone by, never to return.

I'm old enough to have seen some of the movies in theaters. Death Race 2000, Piranha, Caged Heat, and the truly jaw-dropping Galaxy of Terror. These movies, and countless others, represent a time and place that is gone forever. Freedom, innocence, and anarchy reigned in his movies. They took us down the back roads of America, with rebellious youth, deranged killers, rock and rollers, and of course the aforementioned nurses and teachers.

Roger Corman was the epitome of everything I hold dear about the movies. In Corman's World fun and thrills came first, but he presented his stories with a social conscience and an attempt at artistic integrity. All while keeping a tight hold on his budgets.

Corman's World is gone. We've grown too corporate, too confined, too connected for his brand of outlaw guerilla filmmaking. He was a maverick, an artist, a con man, and from all I've heard, kind of a tyrant.

I'm hard pressed to think of anyone who is more important to the history of cinema, who is more influential, who broke so many barriers. No one, I think, can touch Roger Corman.

He's up there, with Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, and Ray Milland. Dick Miller, Paul Bartel, Candice Rialson, and Beverly Garland are there, along with Jonathan Demme, Monte Hellman, Peter Bogdanovich, and Dennis Hopper. The night is long and endless, and the movies never stop rolling. If heaven is a drive-in theater, which I always dreamed about, Roger Corman is its God.

I was ready to watch a movie this morning, but the news prompted me to watch Hollywood Boulevard instead. I've seen it more than any other movie and I literally know every word by heart. Hollywood Boulevard is a satire of New World Pictures. It's a comedy but co-director Joe Dante says that no matter how wild and outrageous it is, the reality was even more outlandish. I cannot think of a better movie to watch right now.

Goodbye, Roger Corman.

Written by Mark Sieber

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