Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Roger Corman’s low-budget studio gave us more than just cult movies

Roger Corman lines up a shot on the set of X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes, 1963.
Roger Corman lines up a shot on the set of X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes, 1963.
Photo: Hulton Archive (Getty Images)
Wiki WormholeWe explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,664,405-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

We explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 6,119,786-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

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This week’s entry: New World Pictures

What it’s about: The house that Roger Corman built. The beloved cult movie auteur directed such low-budget classics as Attack Of The Crab Monsters, She Gods Of Shark Reef, Teenage Caveman, and the original versions of The Fast And The Furious (for which he was also a stunt driver!) and Little Shop Of Horrors. He founded New World as his own studio, producing a parade of cult and exploitation films while continuing to direct. Countless actors and directors got their start working for Corman, and his company had a profound and often unexpected effect on pop culture.

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Biggest controversy: Many directors have affection toward New World, but Hayao Miyazaki isn’t one of them. In 1984, shortly after Corman sold the company, New World got the U.S. distribution rights to Miyazaki’s animated Nausicaä Of The Valley of the Wind, but it drastically recut the film and retitled it Warriors Of The Wind. Miyazaki was so upset by the recut that his Studio Ghibli instituted a “no cuts” policy for all future international distribution.

Strangest fact: The same studio that brought you Women In Cages and T.N.T. Jackson also introduced 1970s audiences to foreign films. Wanting to rise above his reputation for exploitation films, Corman decided to class up the joint by giving stateside releases to Ingmar Berman’s Cries And Whispers and Autumn Sonata, Federico Fellini’s Amarcord, and Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala. (Dersu is listed on the studio’s filmography right in between Blonde In Black Leather and Down And Dirty Duck.) Corman also released 1977’s Andy Warhol’s Bad, the pop artist’s final film, and later that year, A Little Night Music with Elizabeth Taylor and Diana Rigg.

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Thing we were happiest to learn: The “Corman Film School” has quite an alumni rolodex. Directors Paul Bartel, James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Dante, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, Jonathan Kaplan, John Sayles, Peter Bogdanovich, and Martin Scorsese all worked for Corman early in their careers, some starting out as interns at New World before being tapped by the boss to direct. Corman also gave early acting work to the likes of Bruce Dern, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Diane Ladd, Jack Nicholson, William Shatner, and Sylvester Stallone.

Unrelated thing we were also happy to learn: New World continued to put out beloved cult films (and gloriously trashy low-budget dreck) after Corman’s departure. The post-Corman era included Children Of The Corn, The Philadelphia Experiment, C.H.U.D., Divine/Tab Hunter Western Lust In The Dust, Girls Just Want To Have Fun, The Stuff, Transylvania 6-5000, House, Hellraiser, Return Of The Killer Tomatoes, and Heathers. (The studio also released 1987’s long-forgotten but wonderfully titled Nice Girls Don’t Explode.)

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Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Corman’s studio is now owned by Rupert Murdoch. In 1984, Corman sold New World to an investment group who took the company public. (Corman still owns the film library.) That group expanded New World into television production and the burgeoning home video market. (It also briefly owned Marvel Entertainment Group, Marvel Comics’ parent company.) The TV division produced a slew of late ’80s/early ’90s classics including The Wonder Years, Tales From The Crypt, and Get A Life, and then began buying up local TV stations around the country.

In 1993, the still-fledgeling Fox TV network signed a deal to air NFL football, which established its legitimacy alongside ABC, CBS, and NBC. But it still weren’t broadcasting in every market, so Fox bought New World, made its stations Fox affiliates, and shuttered the film division. The studio’s last movie was 1993’s direct-to-video Die Watching, about “a psychotic pornographic film director… who moonlights as a voyeuristic murderer.” Even without Corman at the helm, the studio followed his trashy muse right to the end.

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Also noteworthy: New World also made a contribution to rock ’n’ roll. The studio produced The Kids Are Alright, a 1979 documentary about The Who, and that same year, Rock ’N’ Roll High School, starring the Ramones. The original idea pitched by director Allan Arkush and fellow Corman Film School alum Joe Dante was Disco High, which then became Heavy Metal Kids, and ultimately Rock ’N’ Roll High School. The movie was first slated to star Cheap Trick, then Todd Rundgren. But none of their schedules aligned with the film’s production, so the Ramones were called in and an anarchic punk-rock masterpiece was born (despite the punk foursome’s astonishing lack of acting ability).

Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: When New World sold Marvel Entertainment, it retained its animation studio, Marvel Productions. That studio began its life in 1963 as DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, founded by legendary Warner Bros. animator Friz Freleng, and was sold to Marvel in 1981 when Freleng return to Warners. Marvel turned the studio’s efforts towards its own characters, launching animated series Spider-Man, Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends, and The Incredible Hulk in the first two years. It quickly branched out, producing Gen-X nostalgia touchstones G.I. Joe, Dungeons & Dragons, Jem And The Holograms, and My Little Pony ’N Friends, as well as teaming up with Jim Henson to produce Muppet Babies and live action/puppet series Little Muppet Monsters and Fraggle Rock. We were also delighted to learn there was a one-season animated series Kid ’N Play, about the rap duo best known for starring in the film House Party as teenagers. Kid ’N Play did not voice themselves, but appeared in live-action segments, Yellow Submarine-style. Martin Lawrence, Tommy Davidson, and Rain Pryor voiced supporting characters.

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Further Down the Wormhole: One of the many New World TV stations that became a Fox affiliate was based in Fort Worth, Texas, a city that’s famous for being next to Dallas. It’s also about 120 miles due north of Temple, Texas, a city of 78,000 that boasts being the birthplace of Rip Torn, Britt Daniel, and Mean Joe Greene, as well as Forest B. Fenn, artist, author, and owner of honest-to-goodness 21st-century buried treasure. We’ll hear the legend of the Fenn Treasure next week.

Host of the podcast Why Is This Not a Movie? His sixth book, The Planets Are Very, Very, Very Far Away is due in early 2021. He tells people he lives in New York, but he really lives in New Jersey.

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