Roger Corman played a big role in the direc­tion of pop­u­lar cin­e­ma dur­ing the 1960’s and 1970’s.  As a result, there a num­ber of biogra­phies avail­able (includ­ing an auto­bi­og­ra­phy from Corman him­self).  However, in-depth accounts of his time run­ning New World Pictures — the bedrock of his rep­u­ta­tion as a career-start­ing mogul — are sur­pris­ing­ly in short sup­ply.  Thus, this gap in the his­tor­i­cal record makes it pos­si­ble for Christopher T. Koetting’s Mindwarp to be an impor­tant book for b-movie his­to­ri­ans — and luck­i­ly for fans, it deliv­ers the goods in its own brisk but high­ly infor­ma­tive man­ner.

Mindwarp is a “just the facts” sort of affair, the kind whose approach is estab­lished in the first few pages of the book:  Koetting dis­pens­es with the oblig­a­tory open­ing bio­graph­i­cal chap­ter and breezes through Corman’s ear­ly years in about five pages.  In doing so, he avoids bor­ing the vet­er­an fans who will be buy­ing this book while offer­ing just enough info to give the new­bie a solid basic ground­ing.

From there, Koetting lays out a film-by-film chron­i­cle of Corman’s tenure as the head hon­cho at New World Pictures, rough­ly from 1970 to 1984.  Each film gets at least a few para­graphs and the more note­wor­thy pro­duc­tions — The Big Doll House, Death Race 2000, etc. — get a few pages.  His co-pro­duc­tion work with 20th Century Fox dur­ing the mid-1970’s is also includ­ed since projects like Capone and Moving Violation often used the same crews as his New World fare.  Brief plot syn­opses are includ­ed for each film dis­cussed and the finan­cial stats of a par­tic­u­lar release are usu­al­ly includ­ed (would you believe the biggest Corman-era New World hit was the Don Knotts/Tim Conway com­e­dy The Prize Fighter?).

This book also explores the inter­nal pol­i­tics that shaped the studio’s var­i­ous releas­es. If you’ve ever won­dered what moti­vat­ed Corman to sell New World, the rea­sons and busi­ness deals are all cov­ered in exhaus­tive detail.  A brief epi­logue chap­ter offers some details on Concorde pic­tures and his final direc­to­ri­al ven­ture, Frankenstein Unbound.  Another inspired touch is that when an actor or direc­tor leaves the New World sto­ry, their exit is marked by a few para­graphs that offer a thumb­nail sketch of their sub­se­quent career.

Mindwarp works well because Koetting strikes the right blend of respect and hon­esty in approach­ing his sub­ject.  He hon­ors Corman’s achieve­ments and is care­ful to note the many direct­ing and act­ing careers he sparked.  The author also makes note of his will­ing­ness to put wom­en in promi­nent film­mak­ing and employ­ee posi­tions, which was unique for Hollywood in that era.  However, he also shares the sto­ries where Corman’s employ­ees came into con­flict with him over his ever more promi­nent desire to cut cor­ners.  He also notes how Corman didn’t hes­i­tate to tin­ker with pro­duc­tions when he thought they weren’t com­mer­cial­ly viable (two notable cas­es are Lady Frankenstein and Forbidden World).

Koetting’s film-by-film approach also allows the read­er to get a more bal­anced por­trait of New World Pictures’ out­put.  B-movie fans usu­al­ly think of them as the pre­mier exploita­tion-flick stu­dio of the 1970’s and ear­ly 1980’s but the truth is New World had a fair­ly diverse bill of fare, includ­ing a fre­quent­ly prof­itable side­line in for­eign films by the likes of Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini and Volker Schlondorff.  There are also intrigu­ing accounts of short-lived ven­tures into tele­vi­sion movie pro­duc­tion and a mis­guid­ed attempt to beat Disney at their own game with a kid­die flick called Jimmy The Kid (a vehi­cle for Gary Coleman, no less).

However, the part of Mindwarp that will impress fans is all the mate­ri­al it offers on Corman projects that nev­er came to be.  Like any good cin­e­mat­ic show­man, Corman announced more projects than he ever made.  Some of the amaz­ing unfilmed projects dis­cussed in this book’s pages include The Phildelphia Experiment (with Ron Howard as direc­tor), an adap­ta­tion of the famous Walker Percy nov­el The Moviegoer and a Corman-helmed remake of Birth Of A Nation (!!!).  There are also excerpts from New World press­books for var­i­ous films, includ­ing a hys­ter­i­cal set of sug­gest­ed pro­mo­tion ideas for Eat My Dust.

In short, Mindwarp is the New World Pictures resource that b-movie fans have been wait­ing for.  If you are look­ing for a straight­for­ward, well-researched chron­i­cle of this studio’s Corman-dri­ven era, you can’t go wrong here.