Directed by Alex Stapleton, this documentary celebrates the career and legacy of Roger Corman. It features clips from various Corman films, interviews with major Hollywood players whose careers he launched, and interviews with Corman and his associates. The documentary is now available for purchase on Blue Ray and DVD and for rental on Netflix.
Roger Corman’s film career was astoundingly productive. Credited for producing 385 films, Corman began his film career working as a story analyst for 20th Century Fox. He left when Fox used some of his ideas without crediting him and began producing films on his own, creating his first film Monster from the Ocean Floor in 1954. He then joined Nicholson and Arkoff of American International Pictures, where he continued to direct and produce films. Having never gone to film school, Corman learned the art of film-making through direct experience.
In the 1960′s, Corman produced and directed his critically acclaimed Poe Movies, a series of 6 films based on Edgar Allen Poe’s horror stories. Having successfully diverged from his more lighthearted films, Corman experimented with daring social commentary in his film The Intruder, which deals with integration in the South. Though a great artistic achievement, The Intruder was a commercial failure whose polarizing portrayal of racism alienated many movie goers.
Corman’s experience with The Intruder reinforced his intuition that “the public really is the ultimate arbiter of your film.” He learned to choose topics with commercial appeal, and went on to make a series of hugely successful films that featured popular topics while dealing with deeper social issues in the subtext.
Corman developed a distinctive style that was action-packed, rebellious, and humorous, all within the constraints of the low budget film. Indeed, he embraced the limitations of working on a low budget, which allowed for the spontaneity and camp his audiences have grown to love and expect.
With the release of higher budget films like Jaws and Star Wars that borrowed from Corman’s style, the public began to expect a different kind of movie, one that cost up to $40 million to produce. As the heyday of the low budget drive-in film drew to a close, Corman changed with the times, producing films directly for television or purchase.
This documentary poignantly chronicles the dwindling of Corman’s place in Hollywood while celebrating his continued impact not only through his current productions but through the careers of his proteges and his enduring influence on Hollywood’s cinematic style. Stapleton features interviews from several of the writers, directors, and actors Corman mentored, most notably Martin Scorcese, Ron Howard, and Jack Nicholson. In a particularly touching scene, Jack Nicholson tearfully expresses his gratitude for the instrumental role Roger Corman played in launching his career.
The film closes with footage of Roger Corman accepting his Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2009 Oscar Governor’s Awards. He ends his acceptance speech with an encapsulation of the secret behind his cinematic success: “Keep gambling. Keep taking chances.”
The Dunwich Horror, based on H.P. Lovecrafts’ eponymous short story, centers around the enigmatic character of Wilbur Whateley, who tries to summon ancient gods known as “The Old Ones” by performing a pagan ritual from the Necronomicon, an Arabic book on the occult.
The film introduces to the story a female lead, Nancy Wagner (played by Sandra Dee), a co-ed who finds herself entranced by Wilbur. She first sees him while she is returning the Necronomicon to the Miskatonic University Library for Dr. Armitage, a professor who had just finished giving a lecture on the book. She agrees to let him peruse the Necronomicon even though it is a rare and valuable artifact and the library is closing and drives him to his home in Dunwich where he drugs her. Drugged and under the influence of Wilbur’s preternatural charm, Nancy agrees to spend the weekend at the Whateley house, unaware of the dark ritual Wilbur has planned for her.
Dean Stockwell as Wilbur Whateley
Stockwell steals the show with his exageratedly creepy portrayal of Wilbur Whateley. From the intense expression in his eyes to his monotone, awkwardly halting speech, every that Wilbur does is unnerving. Stockwell’s over the top creepiness, along with his afro and mustache, lighten the mood of the film with a campy, seventies vibe.
After his performance in The Dunwich Horror, Dean Stockwell, a former child actor, went on to star as John Cavil in the 2006 remake of “Battlestar Galactica”, Mark Whiting in the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, Colonel Grat in the 2002 TV series “Star Trek: Enterprise” (2002). He has gone on to receive an Oscar Nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the 1988 film Married to the Mob and 4 Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for his role in the 1989 “Quantum Leap”.
The Dunwich Horror remodels the Lovecraftian sense of the supernatural and the unimaginable, portraying it visually and musically as late sixties psychedelia. The atmospheric soundtrack and avante garde cinematography–which includes indirect camera angles, layered scenes, flashing colored lights, and Vaseline-smeared camera lenses–create the impression of an acid trip gone eerily wrong.
This feeling of psychedelic horror reaches the first of several climaxes in the scene where Elizabeth unwittingly releases Wilbur Whateley’s monstrous twin.
In addition to putting a psychedelic spin on Lovecraftian horror, the film adds a female lead and makes the sexual undertones in the story (which Lovecraft merely hints at) explicit. A brief romance occurs between Wilbur and Nancy, who is mysteriously drawn to him despite warnings from her friend Elizabeth and Dr. Armitage. Also, in the film, Whateley attempts to summon the Old Ones by having their leader, Yog Sothoth, impregnate a scantily clad Nancy while in the original story he tries to summon them by simply reciting verses of the Necronomicon.
Release and Legacy
The Dunwich Horror was released on January 14, 1970. Though the final scene of the film, which shows Nancy pregnant with Yog Sothoth’s supernatural seed, seems to set up a sequel, no sequel was ever made. In 2009, however, another film verson of “The Dunwich Horror” premiered on SyFy. Though not a remake or sequel, it also stars Dean Stockwell, this time ironically in the role of Dr. Armitage, Wilbur Whateley’s nemesis.