Hopefully everyone out there already knows who Charles B. Griffith is. If you’ve seen any of the early works of Roger Corman, then at least you’ve seen some of his work. But if not, then this is a perfect opportunity to learn about this very talented and very underrated man. This interview was conducted at the Cinema Wasteland Movie Memorabilia show on April 1st, 2007. He passed away later that September. He will be missed.
Kitley’s Krypt: How did you meet up with Roger Corman?
Charles B. Griffith: Jonathan Haze took him a stack of my scripts to read and then he hired me. I don’t know if he read the scripts or not, but he was impressed with the quantity. So he put me to work writing westerns.
KK: Your first horror/sci-fi film was Not of this Earth (1957)?
CBG: Well, it was really It Conquered the World (1956), but that was a rewrite of somebody elses script.
KK: When writing for Corman, were there a lot of rewrites or deviations from the scripts?
CBG: In his early days, he would make a yellow pad of notes of changes. I would object to them…and then I would go do them. But then in later years it was constant. I finally had to quit. It became too much.
KK: Since Corman’s films were always so low budget, were you writing for that budget, or were you just writing the story and letting them worry about it?
CBG: Well, the first two scripts I wrote for him were way too expensive for him to do. And then I learned. So the third one, The Gunslinger (1956), he was going to shoot half of it out at Ingram’s Ranch in the Hollywood Hills and half of it out in Iverson’s Ranch beyond the valleys. That was another hour a day on the bus, which added up to two days of travel.
So I went to Ingram’s Ranch and went all over the place looking for shots where he could do it there instead of going out to Iverson’s. I found the shots, wrote the picture to the shots, named the characters after the signs that were already up over the stores in the town there and turned it in. He was impressed and he shot it.
KK: Being the writer, did Corman give you ideas of what he wanted, like “I want a crab monster movie,” or were they original ideas that you came up with?
CBG: Mainly he would hire me to write something. He’d say, “I want you to write something called “Attack of the Crab Monsters.” It was going to be called Attack of the Giant Crabs, but he changed that. But that was all he said. So I said, “Does it have to be atomic radiation?” And he said, “Yes.” That was the only discussion we had. I said, “I’ll do it, but I want to direct the underwater sequences. I’ll do it for a $100.” He said okay. He didn’t ask if I could dive or not, which I couldn’t at the time. So I got to direct the underwater stuff.
He called one day and said that he was sending the actors over there so I could teach them how to dive. So I said, “Thank you.” Then I called Jonathan Haze and said “Roger is sending the actors over in 20 minutes so I can teach them how to dive.” He said that he’d be there in five minutes. So he came over with the gear and taught me how to dive in time to teach the actors.
KK: When were you writing the monster stuff, did you have any details of what the monster would look like, or did you leave that up to the makeup people?
CBG: No, I never knew what they’d look like. It was always a disappointment because they were so cheap.
KK: How was it working with Paul Blaisdell?
CBG: Oh, he was a pussycat. Great guy, and a good artist. They just never gave him any money.
KK: How much time were you allowed to write the scripts?
CBG: Well, in the beginning, they used to take me about three weeks. But then he’d get more urgent. Once, on a Friday, he said, “We’re shooting Monday. So rock all night.” So I had to stay up and do it in 24 hours. That was the shortest one. But I told myself, “Well, they do it for television and radio, what the hell.” Some of it was better fast. Little Shop of Horrors took five days. Not of this Earth? – that was a three-weeker. Attack of the Crab Monsters? – a few days.
KK: Were you ever on the set during filming?
CBG: Sometimes. Usually I was at home working on the next one.
KK: What was the best thing about with Roger Corman?
CBG: (pause) Now, that is a tough question. He was amiable when there were no demands. He’d take us to lunch. We had just finished Bucket of Blood, and that got applause on the set from the crew. That was very unusual. So Corman said, “Let’s do it again, right away.” So we went around Hollywood getting drunk. I got knocked out by Larry Tierney. And then we came up with the Little Shop idea. So that was five more days of work. I played five parts in it, I directed the 2nd unit, all sorts of stuff. We had a lot of fun doing that.
KK: What would say was the worse part of working with Corman?
CBG: Oh…getting paid. In the later years, the nit-picking. Because he began to believe the French film magazines that he was an auteur. So he decided to get more involved, and that became an impossibility to deal with.
KK: You’ve worked in just about every film genre. Which one did you enjoy working in the best?
KK: In the late 70s / early 80s, you started to direct. What was the reason for moving to that position?
CBG: Well, I always had wanted to. It was just continuing the script to the end. It was finishing the job. It’s all in your head when you write it. Much more is in your head than in the script. Then you turn it over to a director and he gets a whole different read on it. Sometimes it’s better, but usually it’s not. On Little Shop, I directed the 2nd unit. It was fun too.
KK: Since you have worked as a writer, actor, director, 2nd unit director, was there any one of those positions that you enjoyed the most?
CMG: Probably 2nd unit directing. More freedom. Run all over the place. Drive there, drive there. Grab a shot. Maybe have a permit. Maybe not. Maybe have sound, maybe not. That was just a party, directing 2nd unit. Directing is much harder work, but very enjoyable.
KK: What can you say about Mel Welles?
CBG: Nicest guy in the world. He was my partner and best friend for years. And he’s gone now and that’s a shame.
KK: You also worked as 2nd unit on Michael Reeves’ first movie, known in the states as The She-Beast (1966).
CBG: Yes. I wrote that to get a plane ticket for my girlfriend to come over. That was his first picture. He needed a little hand-holding. His ideas for shooting day-for-night were wrong – some cameraman had put him on – and I sort of corrected that. But he was a great guy. He came to visit me in California one time with his girlfriend. She got killed by being hit by a rear-view mirror of a car. She had the greatest body I ever saw.
KK: Let me throw some titles out and give me any good or bad memories about them. Not of this Earth (1957)?
CBG: Good memories. It was fun. I did some 2nd unit on that one too.
KK: How about The Undead (1957)?
CBG: Roger said, “Give me Bridey Murphy,” which was the transgression thing. I said “They’re making that at Paramount.” He said, “Never mind, we’ll beat them out.” So I wrote him a script called The Trance of Diane Love. It was all in iambic pentameter, or the parts in the Middle Ages were in iambic pentameter. He liked that at first. But then he gave it out on the street for people to read and they didn’t get it, so he had me change it all to English. So we had that debate. Then he called it The Undead. I said “That’s zombies.” He said, “Never mind.”
KK: Beast from the Haunted Cave (1959)?
CBG: He was going to South Dakota to make a couple of pictures, and that was one of them. He said, “Give me Naked Paradise…in a cave…and add a monster.” That was the only instruction I had. That was the same with Creature from the Haunted Sea. Naked Paradise again with a different monster.
KK: Death Race 2000 (1975)?
CBG: That had been written once, but I did a new script. It was taking me too long to go peer through the old one and do the new one. I’d get mixed up. But that was fun too.
KK: You also were 2nd unit director on that, correct?
CBG: Yea, for many of the killing scenes. Paul Bartel was a little sensitive about doing that. So they had to be beefed up for Corman.
KK: How about Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype (1980)?
CBG: That’s probably my favorite, after Little Shop. That was the next to the last picture that I did at Cannon. But it was never released. It still followed the structure of Little Shop. You’d never know to see it.
KK: How was it directing Oliver Reed?
CBG: Hell on wheels. Drunk on wheels. He kept me drunk on vodka half the time. But he was the greatest dubber I’ve ever seen. He’d see it run through once and then he could do it without looking at the screen.
KK: Up From The Depths (1979)?
CBG: That’s probably the worst.
KK: What happened?
CBG: Everything possible happened. No money. No help. No wardrobe. No problem. Just do it. There are no flowers in the Philippines like they are in Hawaii. It was suppose to be in Hawaii, but it was shot in Philippines. They had a producer Cirio Santiago down there and Prestige Pictures. They sent a lot of people down there – mostly girls.
KK: Was the script lacking from the beginning?
CBG: The script he had written by a secretary in his office. I think his respect for scripts was going fast. He didn’t care. As long as a few elements were there, that was it. He didn’t care how good the script was. It was a really bad script. I polished it a bit. Corman said, “As a director, you’re expected to polish the script.” I said, “Am I? You mean polish…from page one?” You had to. And even then it was no good because the structure was no good. The characters were okay. Kedric Wolfe was in it, and he was one of my regulars.
KK: What did you think of the monster?
CBG: The Pish? That’s what they called it. Well, it was crazy. It was red and had big bug-eyes. It had to be a comedy. We made an effort to make it funny. But Roger wanted a hard-hitting serious picture.
KK: I read that Corman edited the picture afterwards?
CBG: I finished the picture in the Philippines, got the music done there, sent it back. Then I flew back, and when I got there he’d already cut 75 minutes. “Cut here, cut there.” The editors are saying, “That’s a set-up. That’s a payoff. You can’t do that.” And he did it anyway. So it was ten times as bad when he finished cutting it.
KK: I appreciate you taking the time for us.
CBG: No trouble at all. Thank you.