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Friday, August 14

Corman's World - Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel

I just re-watched the excellent documentary CORMAN’S WORLD (2011) recently, and was once again struck with what a terrific love letter it is to Roger Corman, his fans, and especially his work. Corman is a true one of a kind, a movie-making machine who helped launch the careers of a ton of Hollywood elite, many of whom appear in the documentary to rightfully sing his praises. He has created a tremendous body of work that will live on and be enjoyed by fans for many, many years.

The problem with producing a documentary on someone as prolific as Corman, however, is that many of his films are barely covered, or even left off entirely, in some cases. It is curious to me which films director Alex Stapleton did and didn’t choose to cover. For instance, the series of films that are among Corman’s best known (and arguably his overall best) are the Poe series of films, made for AIP.

There are a total of eight films in the “Poe” Series, so named because they are all based on - some more than others – Edgar Allan Poe stories or poems. The films in the series are: HOUSE OF USHER (1960), THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961), THE PREMATURE BURIAL (1962), TALES OF TERROR (1962), THE RAVEN (1963), THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963), THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964), THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1965).

Stapleton spends a total of two minutes on the entire Poe series of films. She glosses over them quickly, showing very brief clips from five of them (House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum, Masque of the Red Death, Tomb of Ligea, and The Raven), along with a some very brief mentions and quotes from Roger and various celebrities about them. BUT, no real facts or information are given about the production or the impact of this most influential series in his career. Heck, they are so important that a documentary could be produced on this series alone!

The most grievous omission, in my mind, is the fact that the name Vincent Price is NEVER mentioned once throughout the entire documentary! How can you not mention the name of the man who starred in seven of the eight Poe films, and who played a huge part in raising Roger’s level of respectability? Price was one of the biggest box office stars at that point, at the height of his career throughout this series. Landing him for these films was huge for Roger!

By comparison Stapleton spends two entire minutes – the same amount of time as she spent on the entire Poe series - on one film, THE TERROR. And what I found equally head-scratching, she then offsets and contrasts the Poe series against a lesser-known film in Corman’s catalog, INTRUDER, and spends a total of five minutes on that one film!

It almost seems as if she intentionally means to downplay the Poe series, and in fact even kicks off her discussion of Intruder with a dismissive comment toward them by Roger’s brother, Gene Corman - “This picture (Intruder) was the first film where Roger could actually make a statement about his personal feelings, as opposed to doing the Poe films, or the films that were just exploitation drive-in films.”

Again, I realize that in a career as massive as Corman’s you can’t spend time on every movie. But, there are some glaring omissions. But, that being said, it is still a very well made documentary, and a wonderful tribute to one of my favorite directors, Roger Corman. 

The full title of the documentary is CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL, and the DVD is distributed by Anchor Bay. Highly recommended, it’s available through Amazon.

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