Friday, February 20, 2009

A conversation with Roger Corman, Hollywood legend

Near the beginning of a long string of cheesy horror and sci-fi flicks that lead to his crowning as "King of the B Movies," Roger Corman brought his brother Gene to South Dakota to make "Ski Troop Attack" and "Beast From Haunted Cave" in 1959. They may not be the most well-known of our state's films, but they are very interesting to say the least.

Corman spoke to me by phone from Hollywood in January, recalling the pair of movies done almost exactly 50 years earlier. He said a contract with the motion picture union made filming in midwestern states more favorable than on the West Coast at that time. "South Dakota offered the best options for what we wanted to do," he said.

An unusual technique that Corman pioneered was to utilize the same location, cast and crew to shoot two movies at the same time. "It was something I developed. I don't want to say 'invented,' but I was the first that I know of to shoot two movies at the same location. If you do two pictures like that, you simply cut costs in half."

Michael Forest and Frank Wolff star in both movies.

"Ski Troop Attack" was the "major" film of the pair, according to Corman. It is the tale of an American troop working their way into German territory to blow up a bridge during World War II. Terry Peak Ski Area was chosen as the location for the film, with Deadwood as a base for the company.

Corman's brother Gene arrived in Deadwood about two weeks prior to Roger and arranged for local people to work props, wardrobe, carpentry and other various jobs.

He also set about filming "Beast," which involves a gang of thieves who set off an explosion in a mine to distract locals while they rob a bank. After duping a local ski instructor into leading their escape to an isolated cabin in the woods, they are lured into a cave where the mysterious "beast" attacks.

Corman remembers the Deadwood City Council as very cooperative and both films were completed on-schedule and within budget. Locals played minor roles in the two movies. "In 'Ski Troop Attack' we used the Deadwood High School ski team as the Americans and the Lead High School ski team as the Germans," he said. "It worked out very well."

Viewers of the films will recognize Terry Peak, the Broken Boot Gold Mine, the Franklin Hotel standing in for the bank, and a bar that sure looks like the Old Style Saloon No. 10 to me.

Both films are available at

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