Legendary filmmaker Roger Corman is celebrating his 93rd birthday this week. Corman's impact on the film industry is hard to overstate, as he's has an amazingly prolific career and helped usher in the "New Hollywood" era. To mark the occasion, here are 12 essential Corman films every cinephile needs to watch.
'A Bucket of Blood' (1959)
Corman has never been shy about poking fun at his own work. This 1959 effort blends horror and comedy in surprisingly effective fashion, while at the same time satirizing the art house scene and even Corman's own previous efforts. The film follows a poor busboy who becomes a renowned sculptor after hiding his murder victims in clay.
'House of Usher' (1960)
'House of Usher' is a hugely significant entry in the Corman canon, as its the first of eight adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe tales and helped cement Corman's working relationship with star Vincent Price. It even features a screenplay by horror luminary Richard Matheson.
'Little Shop of Horrors' (1960)
While it's arguably become overshadowed by the 1986 remake and the stage musical, "Little Shop of Horrors" is another must-watch for Corman fans. This film is one of the most enduring examples of B-movie horror, showing how much Corman could accomplish with a shoestring budget. It's also notable for featuring an early role for the up-and-coming Jack Nicholson.
'The Wasp Woman' (1960)
It certainly wasn't a big hit with critics at the time, but "The Wasp Woman" is a great example of how Corman was able to cater to a growing need among 1960's moviegoers. It catered directly to the drive-in crowd with its dark, low-budget feel and sexually charged take on the typical monster movie formula.
'The Pit and the Pendulum' (1961)
Corman's second Edgar Allan Poe adaptation is still widely regarded as one of the best. Corman reunited with leading man Vincent Price for this haunting take on the classic tale, one that ends with a skin-crawling torture sequence. This film had a clear influence on an entire generation of horror writers and filmmakers.
'The Intruder' (1962)
No film is a better testament to the fact that Corman was always ahead of his time as a director. "The Intruder" served as an early starring vehicle for a young William Shatner, casting him as a meddling villain who incites racial violence in a small Southern town. Unfortunately, it's only recently that "The Intruder" has started to receive the recognition it deserves.
'X: The Man With the X-ray Eyes' (1963)
Apart from Vicnent Price, no actor is more synonymous with Corman's work than Ray Milland. The two delivered one of their best collaborations with this sc-fi horror gem, featuring Milland as a researcher who drives himself mad after granting himself superhuman vision. The groundbreaking visual effects are all the more impressive considering Corman shot it in a mere three weeks.
'The Masque of the Red Death' (1964)
"The Masque of the Red Death" is the seventh of Corman's eight Edgar Allan Poe adaptations and another major contender for being the best of the bunch. Corman agaisn teamed with Vincent Price for this tale of a selfish lord ruling over a plague-ridden village. The film also features lush cinematography from Nicholas Roeg, who would go on to have an impressive directorial career of his own.
'The Trip' (1967)
"The Trip" is among Corman's more profitable films, as it grossed a healthy $10 million on a mere $100,000 budget. Apart from its psychedlic visuals, "The Trip" is notable for laying the groundwork for 1969's "Easy Rider." It features similar counterculture themes, was written by Jack Nicholson and even features Henry Fonda (another Corman favorite) in a supporting role.
'Bloody Mama' (1970)
Corman left his mark on the gangster genre with this 1970 film, one loosely based on the exploits of a Depression-era family of criminals. Given Corman's own B-movie leanings and with a tagline like "The family that slays together stays together," it should come as no surprise that "Bloody Mama" is among the most violent and disturbing gangster movies of the '70s. The film is also noteworthy for featuring a young, pre-"The Godfather" Robert De Niro.
'Death Race 2000' (1975)
While this list is mostly focused on Corman's directorial efforts, the fact is that he's also produced hundreds of other movies. And perhaps none as famous and influential as "Death Race 2000." This dystopian action movie paved the way for future blockbusters like "Rollerball" and "Mad Max," and it's turned out to be far more prescient in its predictions about life in the 21st Century than anyone would have expected.
'Frankenstein Unbound' (1990)
"Frankenstein Unbound" is an odd coda to Corman's career, as it was his first directorial effort in 20 years and, to date, his last. But despite the middling reviews, there's something oddly compelling about this futuristic take on the story of Frankenstein's Monster. And with a cast that includes John Hurt, Raúl Juliá, Bridget Fonda, Jason Patric and Nick Brimble, this adaptation is definitely worth checking out.