While most of the great icons of classic horror have long since passed beyond the veil, Roger Corman is very much alive and well in 2014. The low-budget, indie film master is one of the great names in horror, and Halloween is the perfect time to revisit some of the most enduring pictures of his long career. Born in Detroit in 1926, Corman began producing and directing movies in the mid-1950s, moving from B Westerns and sci-fi shockers to a Gothic period focusing on horror tales adapted from Edgar Allan Poe. His stars at the height of his horror work included Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, and even a young Jack Nicholson. Here are ten classic horror films directed by the king of the B movies that reveal Corman at his lurid best.
1) “The Beast with a Million Eyes” (1955) – Corman is an uncredited director and producer for this early schlock fest, in which aliens threaten a human cast that includes Dick Sargent and Chester Conklin. It makes a great double feature with the #2 film in this list.
2) “Attack of the Crab Monsters” (1957) – A cult favorite, this sci-fi horror is a classic low-budget creature feature, with giant crabs picking off humans on an island that is also sinking into the ocean. You’ll often find it paired with another aquatic schlock favorite, “Attack of the Giant Leeches” (1959), which Corman and his brother, Gene, produced but did not direct.
3) “A Bucket of Blood” (1959) – Corman moves into black comedy with this tale of murder for the sake of art. Dick Miller stars as a young man who first finds popularity with a dead cat disguised as a sculpture and then moves on to larger “subjects” for his special plaster treatment. Try pairing it with the 1953 Vincent Price classic, “House of Wax,” which treats the same theme in a somewhat more serious manner.
4) “House of Usher” (1960) – The first of Corman’s great Poe adaptations, this Gothic chiller stars Vincent Price as Roderick Usher, who insists that his sister (Myrna Fahey) cannot marry because of a terrible family legacy. Eerie paintings by Burt Shonberg (credited as Burt Schoenberg) contribute brilliantly to the haunted atmosphere. (Read more about the paintings in this blog post from The Girl Who Knew Too Much.)
5) “The Little Shop of Horrors” (1960) – The original cult classic about man-eating plants from outer space, this Corman favorite stars Jonathan Haze and Jackie Joseph, but film fans will be struck by the presence of Jack Nicholson in an early screen role (he had made his movie debut in another Corman production, “The Cry Baby Killer,” in 1958). Make a double feature with the original version and the 1986 musical directed by Frank Oz.
6) “Pit and the Pendulum” (1961) – Vincent Price returns for more bloody thrills in another Poe adaptation, with John Kerr, Barbara Steele, and Luana Anders as his costars. This time the horror unfolds in the torture chambers of Spain during the age of the Inquisition.
7) “Tales of Terror” (1962) – Corman and screenwriter Richard Matheson opt for horror comedy in this trilogy of Poe tales, with Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Basil Rathbone reveling in their various roles. The second segment, which merges the plots of “The Black Cat” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” is the most fun, with Lorre and Price as glorious comic foils. The third story, starring Price and Rathbone, provides the most genuine chills.
8) “The Raven” (1963) – Corman delivers more horror comedy with Price, Lorre, and Boris Karloff, this time in a sly and very funny treatment of Poe’s famous poem. Scream queen Hazel Court also has a memorable role, but Jack Nicholson makes an especially amusing appearance as Peter Lorre’s son.
9) “The Masque of the Red Death” (1964) – Corman and Price return to full horror mode for this Poe treament, and Hazel Court also stars. Shot in England on more lavish sets than the earlier pictures, Corman fans often cite “Masque” as a favorite of the Poe series.
10) “The Tomb of Ligeia” (1964) – The last of Corman’s Poe films is also one of his best, with Vincent Price returning once more to star as Verden Fell. Elizabeth Shepherd stars in a dual role as both of Fell’s wives, the dead Ligeia and the living Rowena.
For even more classic Corman movies, try “The Wasp Woman” (1959), “Premature Burial” (1962), and “The Terror” (1963). You can learn more about Roger Corman’s life and career by watching the video at the top of this article.