Roger Corman Film School

Throughout his long and storied career, Roger Corman has always been a jack-of-all-trades. As a producer, writer, director, or actor, Corman’s name has graced the credits in hundreds of films since the 1950s. This unique filmmaking impresario is probably most famous for the skimpy budgets and skimpier outfits that made his particular brand of exploitation cinema possible and profitable. Whether at the famed American International Pictures (AIP) or his own studio, New World Pictures, Corman’s films embodied a DIY ethos best captured in his own colorful description: he was the guy that could “make a film about the fall of the Roman Empire with two extras and a sagebrush.”

Part of Corman’s risk-taking ethos was epitomized by his willingness to take a chance on up-and-coming (and sometimes completely unknown) directors, giving them an early, or in some cases, a first opportunity at directing a feature film. This series celebrates Corman’s role as mentor for an incredible roster of young American filmmakers, eager to get a foot in Hollywood’s door while learning their craft from the bottom up. Highlights of the series include directorial debuts and early work by Francis Ford Coppola (Dementia 13), Martin Scorsese (Boxcar Bertha), and Peter Bogdanovich (Targets), among others. Scorsese remembered his time with Corman as the “best post-graduate training you could get in America.”

Curated by Samuel B. Prime and students from the Film and Projection Society.

The Film and Projection Society (FPS), a student-run film society at Northwestern University, is dedicated to fostering film culture on campus through film screenings, writing, and special events featuring scholars, critics, and filmmakers.

Dementia 13

Thursday, January 20, 2011 7:00 PM FREE
(Francis Ford Coppola, 1963, US, video, 75 min)

Dementia 13 is an encyclopedia of pulp. An axe murderer, a haunted Irish castle, a conniving widow, a castrating mother, a know-it-all doctor, half-naked women, and the inexplicably mobile corpse of a little girl—this movie has it all. Francis Ford Coppola was working as a second-unit director on another Corman film, The Young Racers, when he borrowed that film’s lead actors and quickly made Dementia 13, his first film for a studio. Be on the lookout for the shocking plot twist, arguably “borrowed” from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.


Thursday, January 27, 2011 7:00 PM
(Joe Dante, 1978, US, 35mm, 94 min)

A massive horde of genetically modified piranhas with a taste for human blood is unintentionally released into the waters of a summer resort named Lost River Lake. Do-gooder Maggie teams with Paul, the town drunk, to rid the lake of the razor-toothed menaces before it’s too late! This 1978 cult classic offers more than its fair share of blood, guts, and body parts. But don’t let the dismembered limbs fool you—this campy gorefest, directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins), is also a smart, thinly-veiled critique of America’s military-industrial complex. Print courtesy of the Joe Dante and Jon Davison Collection at the Academy Film Archive.

Boxcar Bertha

Thursday, February 3, 2011 7:00 PM
(Martin Scorsese, 1972, US, 35mm, 88 min)

Boxcar Bertha tells the story of free-spirited Bertha Thompson (Barbara Hershey) and her lover as they fight against a corrupt railway company. The film (Scorsese’s first feature out of film school) is often dismissed as mere exploitation or a cheap knock-off of Bonnie and Clyde, but Boxcar Bertha not only taps into the anti-capitalist rhetoric of the 1930s; it’s also notable for the director’s recurring themes, including the humane portrayal of outlaws. In Scorsese on Scorsese, the director remembers, “Roger just told me to read the script, rewrite as much as you want, but remember Marty, you must have some nudity every 15 pages.’ ”


Thursday, February 10, 2011 7:00 PM
(Penelope Spheeris, 1983, US, video, 94 min.))

Led by a cast of non-professionals and musicians, Suburbia is set against the backdrop of Los Angeles’s punk scene in the early 1980s, as seen through the eyes of Evan and his little brother, Ethan, who flee their alcoholic mother and join a street gang. Director Penelope Spheeris (who later found commercial success with Wayne’s World) drew upon her knowledge of the Southern California punk scene, which began with her documentary The Decline of Western Civilization. Spheeris’s keen sense of urban youth results in a compelling portrayal of alienated kids on the margins in Reagan’s America.

Grand Theft Auto

Thursday, February 17, 2011 7:00 PM
(Ron Howard, 1977, US, video, 84 min)

When your rich parents disapprove of your fiancé, what’s the best thing to do? Steal their Rolls Royce and elope in Las Vegas. Grand Theft Auto is a testament to Corman’s legacy as mentor. Ron Howard’s roles in The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days made him a television star, but it was Corman who gave the aspiring filmmaker his first crack at directing. The film also perfectly demonstrates the exploitation formula that has sustained Corman’s career for more than 60 years: start with a well-established genre—the car chase film—and kick it into overdrive.

Caged Heat

Thursday, March 3, 2011 7:00 PM FREE
(Jonathan Demme, 1974, US, video, 83 min)

The directorial debut of Jonathan Demme, Caged Heat smuggles a modicum of social commentary into its story of scantily-clad escapees from an abusive correctional facility. In speaking of his mentor, Demme later reflected, “Roger used to refer to himself - and we heard this endlessly - as being 40 percent artist and 60 percent businessman. But I’ll be damned, 20-some-odd years later, he’s right… because if you don’t have an eye, a passionate eye, on getting the picture done at the right cost, you just ain’t going to get to make a whole lot more of them.”


Thursday, March 10, 2011 7:00 PM FREE
(Peter Bogdanovich, 1968, US, 35mm, 90 min.)

This eerie thriller tells the story of characters on a disastrous collision course. An aging horror-film star, Byron Orlok (Boris Karloff–ostensibly playing himself) plans to retire, but a deranged young man with a stockpile of sniper rifles is picking off patrons at a drive-in where Orlok is scheduled to make a final appearance. Targets cleverly uses footage from Karloff’s performance in an earlier film, The Terror, to cut production costs. Targets (Bogdanovich’s debut) is a troubling reflection on the nature of celebrity, America’s culture of violence, and, of course, the mysterious power of cinema.