There’s a tendency for commentators to be quite defensive about the career of Roger Corman, the infamous ‘King of the Bs’, but there’s scarcely need – the prolific director/producer’s ‘Poe cycle’ of luxurious gothic horror movies are celebrated cornerstones of the genre, his outlaw biker movies captured the spirit of the age, and he gave an early career boost to the likes of James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Dante, Jack Nicholson and more.
In short, Corman’s achievements speak for themselves, and it’s refreshing to see them do just that in Chris Nashawaty’s beautifully designed tome Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen And Candy Stripe Nurses – Roger Corman: King Of The B-Movies, which steps back to let the people who knew and worked with the schlockmeister share their insights, neatly leading you through his entire career from his critical height to direct-to-video boom to the era of the cheapo Syfy monster movie.
For those who have already seen Alex Stapleton’s fantastic 2011 documentary Corman’s World: Exploits Of A Hollywood Rebel, much of this will seem familiar – some of the talking heads even recycle their anecdotes word-for-word, but squirrelled away later in the book are a few more high profile contributors absent from the otherwise worthy doc.
The whole James Cameron angle that was largely absent from Corman’s World is covered here with Cameron himself and his wife (and heavyweight producer in her own right) Gale Anne Hurd shedding some light on what was perhaps previously characterised as a less than happy period thanks to the Terminator creator’s troubled directorial debut Piranha II: The Spawning.
Here, the famously bristly auteur is somewhat conciliatory and revealingly matter-of-fact in his appraisal of the era, with not a hint of bitterness or blame.
Similarly, his contemporaries at Corman’s studio give a warmer glow to his infamously demanding perfectionism (it’s hard not to think of that series of ‘King of the World’ Titanic sketches on French And Saunders where he’s sitting on set with a sniper rifle), and make out the fearlessly pro-active Hurd as someone that was clearly an altogether different breed of human being.
It’s in commenting on the later working environment was like and the impact Roger Corman had on the careers of many graduates of the ‘Corman School’ – especially the Eighties period when a new generation was coming through the Corman backlot, including less typically remarked upon figures such as Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan‘s Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kamiński – that gives Crab Monsters its raison d’etre, making it a valuable contribution to any cinephile’s library.
Not always, but increasingly so toward the end, Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen And Candy Stripe Nurses – Roger Corman: King Of The B-Movies earns a place as not a rival to Corman’s World – fighting over the same scraps – but an equally worthy companion piece.