Wednesday, December 26, 2007

14th September 2007: Roger Corman's Beatnik double!

A Bucket of Blood

USA 1959 b&w

Director/Producer Roger Corman Writer Charles B. Griffith

Cast Dick Miller (Walter Paisley), Barboura Morris (Carla), Antony Carbone (Leonard de Santis), Julian Burton (Maxwell H. Brock), Bruno VeSota (Art Collector)

We’ve often paid tribute to the King of B films, the Sheikh of the Shoetring himself, Roger Corman. Out of all of Corman’s notorious quickies, and God knows we’ve played a few, these are two of the best, starting with a demented slice of Beatnik kitsch, his 1959 A Bucket Of Blood.

Dick Miller, Corman’s regular schmoe in supporting roles, is note-perfect as Walter, a nebbish mop boy at local beatnik coffee house The Yellow Door, populated with a variety of boho’s and bozos attempting to outdo each other in the “far out” stakes. Tired of being ignored and, like all would-be artists, desperate to impress a young girl named Carla, Walter sets out to prove that “Art” is not just short for “Arthur”; an unfortunate accident leads to his first inadvertent masterpiece “Dead Cat With Knife”, and in no time he’s hailed as the Silent Voice of Creation. Desperate to keep up his instant pretentiousness, he looks around his shabby apartment for another subject – “Dog Nailed To Table”, “Cockroach Stuck To Coffee Cup”, that kind of thing – but a drug bust for “horse… junk… white stuff…” leads him to desperate measures, and before you can say “Narc Meets Frying Pan”, the undercover cop is the latest artistic triumph at The Yellow Door.

Overnight, Walter goes from coffee house flunky to applause junky in one foul move, and he plays the artist role to the hilt, complete with beret and air of self-importance, and a knack of taking the line, “If you’re not creative, you should be dead” to outrageous lengths. The coffee shop owner’s keeping schtum whilst making a killing in the art market, as critics hail Walter’s work as a “return to Realism”, noting “he knows how his anatomy”. Walter’s clay-covered corpses are viewed as hideous yet somehow profound, their contorted features an existential portrait of Man’s eternal suffering in a Godless universe – or some nonsense.

“Crazy… crazy,” Walter admits, and he’s spot-on, thanks to a supremely witty script by Charles B. Griffith loaded with sharply observed satire, and compact direction from Corman. Beatniks, bongos and berets are easy targets (The Beverly Hillbillies, anyone?), but Corman and Griffith stay on the right side of caricature, and was successful enough a formula to rework into their next picture together, the original Little Shop Of Horrors, coming up later tonight. Meanwhile it’s time to put the “art” into “party movie” and fill up a bucket – with punch, of course! – for the 1959 A Bucket Of Blood.

The Little Shop Of Horrors

USA 1960 b&w

Director Roger Corman Writer Charles B. Griffith

Cast Jonathan Haze (Seymour Krelboin), Jackie Joseph (Audrey Fulquard), Mel Welles (Gravis Mushnik), Dick Miller (Burson Fouch), Jack Nicholson (Wilbur Force)

In 1986 I was in high school on the Sunshine Coast. Like every testosterone-driven sixteen year old I dutifully trooped along to the stage-musical-turned-comedy film The Little Shop Of Horrors about a man-eating plant named Audrey 2 hoping to catch a glimpse of foliage, and I suspect I was the only nerdy teenager who walked out of the cinema saying, “Meh! I liked Corman’s original better.” No wonder I didn’t go on any dates until final year uni (sigh….)

Twenty one years later I still stand by that assessment. Roger Corman’s 1960 Little Shop Of Horrors is a one-of-a-kind black comedy micro-classic, a cheaper-than-cheap attempt to cultivate genius out of – well, blood and bone fertilizer. Introduced with clipped Dragnet-style narration, it’s the tale of a failing flower shop on Skid Row, its very Yiddish owner Mushnik and his schlepping assistant Seymour. As a final resort to keep his job, Seymour breeds an odd mutant weed and names it Audrey 2 after Mushnik’s cute daughter, much to the horror of Seymour’s bedbound hypochondriac mother, who insists he play around a little, or at least until she’s in an iron lung.

Soon Audrey 2 has filled the store – literally - and is a sensation, and a quietly impressed Mushnik can’t keep up with demand. But Audrey 2’s growing at an exponential rate and Seymour’s discovered it’s a Venus Fly Trap that needs human flies. Its insatiable taste for blood leads Seymour to feed it body parts – whether it’s any old body lying around, or one he has to procure from scratch. “Feeeeeed meeeeeeeee!” Audrey, I know how you feel! Who do you have to blow to get a bagel round here? Oy, I’m schvitzing like a mentsch right here…

Little Shop… reunites director Corman with screenwriter Charles B. Griffith in virtually a less deadpan and more deliberately cartoonish rewrite of their previous hit A Bucket Of Blood (1959), with the flower shop standing in for the coffee shop, and the man-eating plant for Walter’s clay-covered corpses. Dick Miller (A Bucket Of Blood’s Walter) has a cameo as a compulsive flower muncher, alongside a VERY young Jack Nicholson as a dental patient with a pain fetish. Sure, the remake is flashier AND it’s a musical, and its singing plant sounds like Rick James, but the original has its own unique and indefinable charms. Presenting the first, the best, the cheapest: 1960’s The Little Shop Of Horrors.

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