Charles Griffith, Roger Corman’s favorite screenwriter, dies

Roger Corman and Charles GriffithCharles Griffith, the prolific writer of dozens of scripts for low-budget movies, including the original version of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, has died at the age of 77, from unknown causes.

Griffith is most well known for his long association with producer-director Roger Corman, who churned out numerous black-and-white sci-fi flicks back in the 1950s. Their credits together include IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS, and NOT OF THIS EARTH. One of their best efforts was THE UNDEAD (1957), a Bridie Murphy-inspired tale of past-life regression to the witch-burning era, but they really hit their stride when Griffith planted his tongue firmly in his cheek.

When Corman asked Griffith to whip up with a quick script for some available sets, including a coffee house, the writer crafted BUCKET OF BLOOD, a spoof of HOUSE OF WAX in which a nerdy wanna-be artist (Dick Miller) achieves recognition among pretentious beatniks for his statues (which are actually dead people covered in wax).

The comic approach payed off, and Griffith and Corman followed up with LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, a similar story about a nerdy guy whose attempts to win a girl’s love lead to homicide, in this case at the max of a man-eating plant named Audrey, who fellows, “Feed me!” throughout the film. (Griffith himself supplied the voice, and also directed second unit.)

Another comedy horror collaboration followed, CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA, but when Corman went upscale with his adaptations of Edgar Alan Poe, he switched screenwriters, working with Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, and others. However, Corman continued to tap Griffith whenever he needed another quick script, most famously when he finished shooting THE RAVEN (1963) early.

With two days left on horror star Boris Karloff’s contract, Corman asked Griffith to write “Karloff scenes” that could utilize the leftover sets and be incorporated into a film that would be finished later. The result, THE TERROR, is an absolute mess, more interesting for the behind-the-scenes story of its creation than for its on screen “terror.”

The Los Angeles Times obituary for Griffith quotes Tom Weaver giving the writer credit for much of Corman’s early success:

“Griffith’s scripts were very imaginative and often quirky and kind of subversive, and when you look at any list of Roger Corman’s early pictures, those were the ones that put Corman on the map.”

However, Griffth’s own directorial efforts (including UP FROM THE DEPTHS and DR. HEKYLL AND MY HYPE) were less interesting.

Actor Jonathan Haze, who appeared in several films written by Griffths, told the Times:

“He was very creative, he wrote really funny dialogue, and he was fast — really fast [...] Chuck was very good and very good for that time in film history. He was an innovator. He thought up those really funny, really squirrelly ideas — like the plant that eats people.”

About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

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