Women in Horror Month (WiHM) is an international, grassroots initiative, which encourages supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries. Whether they are on the screen, behind the scenes, or contributing in their other various artistic ways, it is clear that women love, appreciate, and contribute to the horror genre. Psycho Drive-in is joining in by sharing articles – some classic, some new – celebrating the greatest women in the genre! There’s a song by Neil Young, called “Powderfinger,” in which a young man attempts to protect his family from an approaching gunboat. All of the older men are either gone or passed out drunk and he realizes that he’s going to have to do all of the thinking. So, he reaches for his father’s rifle and, in determination (or maybe resignation), says, “And I just turned 22, I was wonderin’ what to do.” It’s a great way to start the second half of Young’s 1979 Rust Never Sleeps, his loud and clanging guitar sounding especially anarchic after the more subdued, folksy first half of the album. The song has been covered by a variety of artists, from rock bands to jazz quartets, but my favorite version is by the pseudo-country trio the Cowboy Junkies. It was on their third outing, The Caution Horses, that they tackled one of Young’s best songs . . . and made it their own. They toss out his nearly punk rock approach and transform it into a languid river journey toward an inevitable fate. None of the lyrics have changed, but you cannot escape Margot Timmins soft, sad voice as unmistakably female. Narratively, the lyrics are still about someone picking up the gun because no one else is capable of doing it, but now it’s a young woman who is prepared to kill or die to save herself and those she loves. What was a tragic tale of a young man’s death has become a stunning display of feminine strength and courage. I was thinking of this song as I read about Julie Corman. Yeah, I know, you’re going to say that you’ve never heard of her. Well, surely even the most neophyte lover of b-movies and auteur cinema knows the name Roger Corman. He, of the shoot-first-ask-questions-later, low-budget school of filmmaking, who gave the world such classics as SHE GODS OF SHARK REEF, MACHINE GUN KELLY, THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, and X: THE MAN WITH X-RAY EYES. In the mid-1960s, he also gave the world some of the best, most feverish depictions of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories that we’ve seen yet. His was the work of drive-in movie dreams and exploitation flick ecstasy. With a career directing, producing, and distribution that’s lasted for six decades, those who have worked for him have gone on to use what they’ve learned in much more fabulous careers: Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, Pam Grier, Jack Nicholson. Amidst the money-grab moviemaking he consistently churned out, all of those rubber-suited monsters and barely-clothed barbarian beauties, he managed to squeeze one of the best performances ever from William Shatner. Anyone who doubts the abilities of either man should immediately watch THE INTRUDER (1962), wherein Bill is a segregationist who arrives in a small town to stir up racial animus among the locals. There’s nothing laughable here, though it lost enough money that Corman never attempted anything like it again. In addition to his boast that he made a hundred movies in Hollywood and never lost a dime, Corman was a pioneer in putting women in roles behind the camera. It wasn’t a matter of him being some kind of feminist revolutionary. He did it for the same reason that his drive-in movies were chock full of violence and nudity: it just made financial sense. He could hide all of the social critiques and borderline profound commentaries he wanted in his movies as long they were accompanied by big-breasted Amazon women swinging a sword. I said I am going to hire the best person and many times that was a woman. I wasn’t doing it to help these women, I was doing it because they were very talented. There’s nothing more democratic, if not even feminist, than to toss out all considerations of gender and just look for whoever can best get the job done. It was for this reason that his wife got the opportunity to become the excellent producer that she did. She wasn’t his wife yet, of course. She was still Julie Halloran, a bright English major who had graduated from UCLA, working in the marketing department of the Times. Knowing that he was one of the few producers who hired woman as more than just go-fers, she applied for a job at New World Pictures, Corman’s motion picture distribution company. The choice was between her or Stephanie Rothman, who had graduated Phi Beta Kappa at Berkley, gotten a Masters at USC, and was the first woman ever to win the Director’s Guild of America Fellowship for a student film. Corman hired Rothman and asked Julie for a date. Corman’s film BLOODY MAMA (1970) had made a lot of money a few years earlier, so API naturally wanted a sequel. He asked Julie, “why don’t you handle the money on this one?” Though he didn’t really say it, this also entailed coming up with some kind of idea for the story. Julie enjoyed doing research, so she tried to find out about real-life female gangsters. There wasn’t much information available. She called a friend at the D.A.’s office, and he informed her that until recently there had been a stigma attached to reporting crimes done by women and children. Only the greatest and bloodiest offenses ever made the papers, though he may have heard about someone called Boxcar Bertha Thompson. Hers was a hard-living, Depression-era story of misadventures among pimps, murderers, hopheads, and union anarchists. Julie knew this had the potential for a great movie. She found out that Bertha was still alive and tracked her down to San Francisco, where she had been living for years as a recluse. Though she was never able to directly speak with Bertha, she gathered enough about her to help craft an appropriate story for the times. I saw it as a kind of statement about women’s rights, she said. She was a free spirit. She wasn’t constrained by the things that even the women behind the liberation movement were. She just got on a boxcar when she wanted to go somewhere, and then along the way some crimes developed. First-time filmmaker Martin Scorsese was hired to direct, bringing his own ideas about the script and a wealth of preparation. Barbara Hershey and David Carradine were brought on as Bertha and her lover, Big Bill Shelley, playing union activists who start robbing railroad companies. Their Depression-fueled crime spree stood in for the antiestablishment, free-love values of the still raging counterculture. It goes without saying that, in the still burgeoning hippie movement of 1972, the picture made a respectable amount of money and launched Scorsese’s career. Julie was not fully aware that what she had done with this film was actually the job of a film producer. She had found the story, shaped the idea into a viable movie, helped to choose both the director and the actors involved, and generally shepherded the entire process from beginning to end. It was a baptism by fire. I said at the end that I’d never do this again. It was total chaos. You could get hit by anything. It was a total miracle you could get to the end of each day. But she did make it, despite all adversity, and the resulting triumph of artistry and commercial success owed as much to her as it did to the fledgling director and the film’s stars. Naturally, Corman asked her to do it again, and she accepted the challenge. By the third film she worked on, THE YOUNG NURSES (1973), she had begun to perfect her skills. Most of the things that I really like, the rough-and-tumble of production and setting things up and so on, are things that Roger would rather not be involved with on a day-to-day basis. Indeed, some of the greatest artists are often never known because they can’t climb out of the creative side of their heads long enough to organize their lives for success. While many a cinematic auteur could conceive (and even storyboard) the most amazingly artistic film, there’s not many of them who would be capable of actually making it happen without all the things the producer does. On a daily basis, Julie would be scouting locations for shooting, coming up with a schedule in which to do it, and securing the rights for nearly anything that might appear in that film. If there’s a song that you really enjoyed in a Corman film, or in any film, it’s usually the producer who managed to get it in there. Julie Corman has never had the same urge to direct that drove her husband. Writing a story for one film, based on her own personal experience, she found that she was far too critical in the role of the artist. I think that one director in the family is enough, she said, and being the person who sets up every scene isn’t the only part to play in getting a movie off the ground. Corman himself has said that the act of filmmaking is a combination of artistry and business, and it’s only become more business since he got started. While Julie has no lack of creativity, she comes across in interviews like a well-spoken professor or an accountant, the kind which don’t often get recognized by the Arts but without whom few movies would even exist. She shares the same philosophy as her husband about sneaking social critiques into her work. While she was producing the 1975 exploitation flick SUMMER SCHOOL TEACHERS, the air quality was absolutely terrible in California. It really bothered her that she could barely see the sky most mornings, yet every weatherman would try to sell the audience on how beautiful it was to live in Los Angeles. In the film, which was a sketchy palette of sex and nudity (directed by another woman, no less), she wanted this specific scene to be included: A character wakes up, stretches, and then throws open a window upon the city. The smog is so terrible that she coughs. Meanwhile, the radio announcer goes on in the background about “there’s no smog today in L.A.” It always got a laugh, she said, but maybe somebody thought about it afterwards. She’s the kind of person who often makes people think, and not merely in terms of filmmaking. At one point Roger was invited to receive some kind of drive-in movie award (in the form of a hubcap). She heard that the people issuing the award were planning “a shopping trip for Mrs. Corman,” even though she had already produced ten films on her own by then. Without missing a beat, she sent a message back, very politely thanking them for the offer, but informing them that “Mrs. Corman would be more interested in production deals.” Sometimes you need to ask for what you want or you’re not going to get it, she said. When she got married, she had a credit card that her husband frequently used as well. She called the credit card company to request an increase, explaining that she was married now and there were two people on the card. They informed her that, since she was married, she couldn’t actually have a card now, that it had to be in her husband’s name. That was just accepted then, she said, but I did not accept it. I was maybe just a little feistier than the rest. I told them if I couldn’t have a credit card then I wasn’t going to pay their bill . . . and just come after me, because I’d like to see what happens. They said they’d take me to court, but they never did. And I never paid the bill. Society does not encourage women to push themselves as much as it does men. As a mother of two boys, Julie has watched the world cheer them on in competition and urge them to take charge in a way that her daughters were not outside of their home. Though things have changed since she was a young woman, she notes that it’s still a boy’s club in Hollywood and elsewhere. As the mother of two girls, I can say it’s not changed fast enough. Still, she says, directors like Kathryn Bigelow (and now Patty Jenkins and Greta Gerwig) are slowly starting to change the landscape. I think women need to be encouraged more to put themselves forward, to toot their own horns and to go after what they want, not to think “I can’t do it.” Certainly, her own example has done much to further that cause, if only more people were aware of her. Though she’s never gotten as much recognition as her husband, Julie Corman’s work has changed the face of Roger’s filmography. In 1984, she began an offshoot of his distribution company called Trinity Pictures. Under this label, which was her own personal production, the Cormans ventured into one of the few genres they had left untouched: family films. Included in this respectable canon of movies are A CRY IN THE WILD (1996, based on Gary Paulsen’s Newbery Award-winning novel, Hatchet), THE WESTING GAME (1997), THE DIRT BIKE KID (1985), and MAX IS MISSING (1995). In 1996, the Academy of Film and Television awarded her efforts with Producer of the Year. Then, while serving as Chair of the Graduate Film Department at NYU, she was teaching a production class when the 9/11 attack occurred. The first day of class was September 10th. By the 12th, with all production shut down by the city of New York, her students nonetheless felt the need to create something. She contacted the head of Showtime, showed him student pictures of the city in ruins, and asked what they could do. He responded, “How about $100,000 for ten student films?” Her students immediately went to work. Utilizing many of the things that she taught them, they produced a stunning set of works called REFLECTIONS FROM GROUND ZERO that still gets shown on the cable network sometimes. One of these short films in particular – “The Routine,” written and directed by Bob Giraldi – tells a complete, involving, and thoroughly heartbreaking story in no more than six minutes. Julie counts this collective film as her proudest moment as a producer, and I would encourage everyone to check it out. While she began her career with her husband, she and Roger are not necessarily a partnership. With one of the rare exceptions being that first film, they rarely work on the same projects together. We can’t agree on what kind of tile to have in the kitchen, she says, but we don’t have this problem in our work. Despite that unfortunate kitchen tile, they do run the business together and make all decisions regarding financial matters as partners. While she has worked on over 35 films, it’s a good bet that she’s nonetheless had at least a smart part in the rest of Roger’s vast catalog being financed. In 2010, at the SyFy Channel’s Fantastic Fest, both Roger and Julie Corman were honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Naturally, it was a massive 50-inch broadsword, and it was presented by film critic and historian Elvis Mitchell. The Cormans were greeted by a standing ovation from the packed audience. Mitchell said that Roger was a man who knows how to pick talent and then began running down the list (James Cameron, John Sayles, Scorsese). But, he said, Roger recognizes the wealth of talent in his own family. I can’t be up here and not say a few words about one of the most overlooked talents in film, and that is, of course, Julie Corman. The crowd went wild. As Mitchell went on, I could only imagine his words were some that Julie had wanted to hear for a very long time. Julie, who wanted to be remembered for her ability to put all the elements of a film together. Julie, who, quite simply, made it all happen. Julie was responsible for working on so many of the films that changed the image of women, he said, not just in front of the camera . . . but behind the camera as well. I think she’s continually undervalued for nurturing and for the tough work she did. And then he said it all. Tribute paid. – j. meredith (NOTE: It might be obvious, but Julie Corman’s quotes were not given to me directly. Many of them were hard to track down, however, and came from a variety of sources, including the Los Angeles Times, the Austin Chronicle, Collider, and the Film Courage site.) Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.