Roger Corman fans will naturally assume that for the letter X in the A to Z Challenge I would choose Roger’s wonderfully inventive horror film, X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes. Fooled you! Instead, I’m going to write about a filmmaker and film critic to whom I have good reason to be grateful.
My story begins in 1989, when a former Cormanite named Thom Mount approached Roger with an offer he couldn’t refuse. Mount, having won his spurs in Hollywood producing Bull Durham and Tequila Sunrise, offered Roger the big bucks to return to directing, after a twenty-year hiatus. What Mount was proposing was a Roger Cormanized-version of the Frankenstein legend, which would call upon the same creative energies Roger had once put toward his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. Mount later told me, “The reason I went after Frankenstein, frankly, is that I thought this was relatively unexploited at that time, [that it was] classic material that would fit Roger’s directorial style and allow him to make something that was interesting and odd.” The budget allotted was in the vicinity of $11.5 million, a fortune by Corman’s own standards, and Mount promised Roger “the best script we can get, the best cast we can get, the best music we can get, and the best advertising campaign we can get.” Roger, then over sixty, was hesitant to get back into directing, but not for long: “They’re going to pay me a million dollars. . . .How can I say no?”
Part of Roger’s obligation was to provide a workable script. Typically, he first asked an unpaid office intern to crank out a draft. Then, rising to the occasion, he solicited screenplays from big-name writers like Wes Craven and Floyd Mutrux. At length he optioned a British novel, Frankenstein Unbound (1973), by Brian Aldiss, which added a time-travel element and some hazy metaphysical musings to Mary Shelley’s familiar story. That’s when F.X. Feeney was brought in to make something filmable out of Aldiss’s book.
Feeney was then the respected film critic of the L.A. Weekly. A CalArts graduate, he was also a creative consultant at the Z Channel, an early pay-TV service that catered to serious cinéastes. Years later he’d co-produce a documentary called Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004), which recounted the channel’s brief and ultimately tragic history. He would also earn a writing credit for helping to resurrect an unfilmed Orson Welles screenplay, The Big Brass Ring (1999). Frankenstein Unbound, though, was his first experience as a professional screenwriter. As Concorde-New Horizons story editor, I attended several meetings with F.X. and Roger, who was deeply involved in the writing process. I honestly didn’t care for the Aldiss novel, and had little faith that moviegoers would like it either. F.X.’s script contributed some vivid scenes (like the encounter between time-traveler Joe Buchanan and nineteenth-century literary superstars Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron). But the finished film, which I’ll talk about some other day, couldn’t overcome various problems, including what Mount feels was Roger’s innate sense of being overmatched by this big-budget extravaganza. I hear Frankenstein Unbound is now considered a cult classic. Personally, I’d rather not watch it again.
After my Corman bio was published, F.X. surprised me with a marvelous review: “Speaking as one who has both worked with Roger Corman and observed Beverly Gray in action during her years at Roger's right hand, I was particularly pleased and impressed by this thorough, independent-minded biography. Gray's sensitive combination of scholarly detachment and firsthand observation have made Roger come alive in all his wily brilliance.” Thanks, F.X.!
(By the way, big five-day sale on my updated Roger Corman ebook begins on April 30, and pre-sale is on NOW! Do drop by Amazon Kindle for big savings.)