Tag Archives: Roger Corman

ROGER CORMAN’S A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959)

The cult favorite Bucket of Blood (1959) was ahead of its time, literally pioneering the phrase “supplemental feature.” Having finished A Bucket of Blood ahead of schedule, Corman fashioned his supplemental material in a second cult favorite feature, Little Shop of Horrors (1960), shot on an old  set.  As a producer, Corman’s oeuvre is, naturally, outrageously varied, from Z-grade potboilers to arthouse films. Corman’s output as a director was almost as varied, but the quality of his work took an improved turn with this film (with no small assistance from writer Charles B. Griffith, who also penned Shop). Corman’s directing career essentially ended with 1971’s Von Richthofen and Brown, although he returned nineteen years later  for Frankenstein Unbound (1990), which was mostly panned. Like the director himself, Frankenstein Unbound may be underrated; as underrated as some of Corman’s Poe films are overrated.

Still from A Bucket of Blood (1959)Producers Samuel Z. Arkoff and James Nicholson challenged Corman to break his own record of a six day shoot, quality be damned. Despite the five-day shoot, Bucket of Blood remains one of Corman’s best efforts. It is essentially a reworking of House Of Wax (1953) transplanted to a beatnik coffee shop.  (in his only starring role) plays the geek busboy Walter who wants to become as hip as the beatniks, poets, jazz musicians, and artists at the Yellow Door Cafe. Walter not only want to impress his customers, but also his unrequited love: hostess Carla (Barboura Morris). He gets his opportunity when he accidentally kills a cat, panics, and covers up the evidence in clay. He becomes an artistic sensation. Before you can say “Sweeney Todd,” Walter’s next masterpiece is of the two-legged mammalian variety. An irksome detective joins the list of victims turned masterpieces; and, naturally, Walter’s posthumous fame will supersede his homicidal proclivities.

Although Griffith’s humor is obvious and caters to two-dimensional stereotypes of artists and beatniks as insufferably pretentious, the movie wins due to admirable cynicism in the writing, combined with Corman’s staid directorial style and a cast with personality. Although Little Shop of Horrors is probably the better film, Bucket of Blood has earned its status as an authentically quirky cult film.  What may be Corman’s most ambitious “B” film was three years away: The Intruder (1962), a different type of horror altogether, which will appear in this space next week.

ROGER CORMAN’S THE TERROR (1963)

Roger Corman‘s The Terror has been in public domain for half of forever. The result, predictably, has been a plethora of DVD prints, ranging from wretched to execrable. It is a legendary film that his its equal share of fans and detractors. The Terror marks the only time  actually “starred” in a film directed by Corman (1963’s The Raven does not really count, as Karloff was secondary to Vincent Price). How much of the movie Corman directed is debatable. , , , Jack Nicholson, and Dick Miller are all reported to have directed parts of The Terror, although only Corman is credited.

The story behind the film is well known. Corman had finished shooting The Raven ahead of schedule and still had Karloff on contract for four days. Not one to waste money, Corman whipped up a second movie starring the actor. Part of the myth regarding this film is that it was made in its entirety in 48 hours. Actually, Karloff’s scenes were shot in three to four days. Corman utilized the castle set from the first film, later scenes were added, and the entire movie was produced over a nine month period, which is something like an epic for Corman. Corman, of course, masterfully sculpts his own mythology, but filming commenced without a finished script, and that is probably why it took so long to pull something halfway salable out of it. It’s not really an advisable filmmaking method.

Still from The Terror (1963)The Terror has finally been released in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, and has rightfully received accolades for the remastering on the Blu-ray. Unfortunately, the DVD part of the combo has had a high number of reported defects. Regardless, the film looks beautiful in the Blu-ray transfer, rich with 1960s colors. It finally looks nearly as good here as the excerpts we see of it in the Corman produced Targets (1968-dir. Peter Bogdanovich). The Continue reading ROGER CORMAN’S THE TERROR (1963)

CAPSULE: MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Mark Hartley

FEATURING: Roger Corman, Eddie Romero, , Pete Tombs, , , ,  Marlene Clark, Judy Brown, R. Lee Ermey, Danny Peary,

PLOT: Documentary covering exploitation films made in the Philippines in the 1970s and 1980s, both by Filipinos and by American companies looking for cheap labor and exotic locations.

Still from Machete Maidens Unleashed!

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: A few of the films mentioned (For Y’ur Height Only?) might be worthy of consideration for the List, but this documentary survey is a curiosity piece—and possibly a place to get ideas for your Netflix queue.

COMMENTS: There are two strands to Machete Maidens. One is the history of an enterprising but anarchic third-word film industry and the American carpetbaggers who flocked there to make cheap pictures, packed with war stories from those who were there. Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos (who loaned army helicopters to American filmmakers in the evenings after they’d spent the mornings strafing Islamic rebels) and notorious first lady Imelda (who allegedly ordered dead workers’ bodies to be left in the cement of the Manila Film Center so the project could be completed in time to host a film festival) remain in the background as villains throughout the entire epic. On the front lines, American filmmakers and actors relate stories of pistol-packing makeup men and cockroach-infested living conditions (at one point Sid Haig describes his accommodations by saying “I saw a rat carrying a kitten out the window”).

But as interesting as this backdrop might be, the main attraction is not the island’s political scenery, but the movies made there for export. These reflected the evolving shock aesthetic of the American drive-ins, not tropical politics. The scandalous profit margins of native filmmaker Eddie Romero’s “Blood Island” horror movies, with their cheap rubber-masked monsters menacing topless Filipino babes, were the proof-of-concept legendary low-budget producer Roger Corman needed to ship contract director Jack Hill off to the islands to produce his smash hit The Big Doll House.  This revolutionary sleaze introduced the world to the concept of women’s prisons as topless entertainment centers, and also to the enormous talents of burgeoning bust icon  Continue reading CAPSULE: MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! (2010)

DOCUMENTARY DOUBLE FEATURE: NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE AND BLUE (2009)/AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE (2010)

This post was written in contemplation of the Juxtaposition Blogathon at Pussy Goes Grrr.

In 2008 documentarian Mark Hartley scored an unanticipated film festival hit with Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!, an examination of obscure Australian exploitation movies of the 70s and 80s.  (Striking while the iron was hot, Hartley rolled out a spiritual sequel of sorts with Machete Maidens Unleashed!, which braved the even more bizarre jungle of Filipino exploitation cinema).  2009 saw another surprise critical success in Best Worst Movie, the story of the disastrous making, and triumphant cult legacy, of the ultra-ridiculous vegetarian-goblin horror movie Troll II, which managed to score an astonishing 95% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer.  Whatever the reason (maybe its the flowering of seeds planted by Quentin Tarantino), at this moment in time mainstream critics seem eager to recognize, examine, and even embrace the pleasures of schlock.  Since the last horror/exploitation doc cycle—the duo of The American Nightmare (2000) and Mau Mau Sex Sex (2001)—came about a decade ago, it appears the time is ripe for another down-home survey of the dark and shady sides of American cinema.

Still from Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film (2009)The thesis of Nightmares in Red, White and Blue, the 2009 examination of the American horror film, is that particular social conditions and historical anxieties shape the nature of the shock genre from decade to decade.  Brian Yuzna asserts that the variety of disfigured, limbless freaks specialized in playing in the twenties were inspired by the horrors of World War I and the sights of returning veterans maimed by modern munitions.  The viewpoint that American horror is strictly linked to American angst breaks down fairly early Continue reading DOCUMENTARY DOUBLE FEATURE: NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE AND BLUE (2009)/AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE (2010)

CAPSULE: TRAILERS FROM HELL!, VOL. 2 (2011) (WITH THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS)

DIRECTED BY: None credited

FEATURING: Roger Corman, Joe Dante, , Ernest Dickerson, Mick Garris, Jack Hill, Larry Karaszewski, Lloyd Kaufman, Mary Lambert, John Landis, Josh Olson, Michael Peyser, Brian Trenchard Smith

PLOT: Industry professionals deliver commentaries on twenty movies as their trailers play.

Still from Trailers from Hell Vol. 2 (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: In itself it’s not weird, though it features some occasionally weird directors discussing some occasionally weird films.

COMMENTS: Schlock movie fans who came of age in the pre-YouTube era of the 80s and early 90s remember the VHS phenomenon of the “trailer tape”: feature-length compilations of “coming attractions” that showcased just the “good parts” of some bad movies.  With titles like Terror on Tape and The Best of Sex and Violence, these tapes always covered B-movies (I never saw a compilation tape dedicated to tear-jerking British coming-of-age-dramas, but there were plenty packed with grindhouse-era sexy shockers); they often featured footage from obscure, otherwise unavailable titles.  They were a nice way to spend an evening when you couldn’t find something that caught your fancy at your local VHS venue, and, if you were like me, you’d jot down “must-see” titles from the most bizarre and salacious trailers (which almost always turned out to be letdowns when you saw the real thing).  Director Joe Dante (Gremlins, Amazon Women on the Moon) remembered trailer tapes, too, and decided to resurrect the dormant phenomenon with a 21st century twist: he added DVD-style commentary on the films from an array of his knowledgeable Hollywood buddies.  Launched as a website in 2007, the Trailers from Hell project has now annotated hundreds of films, mostly B-movies, but with a sprinkling of classics like Casablanca and even the occasional weird art film like Valerie and Her Week of Wonders.  The free trailers on the website are representative of what’s available on Vol. 2—although these selections are exclusive, there’s nothing especially premium about the ones chosen to be burned to disc.  Each pundit provides basic background on his or her movie, some trivia, some opinion, and a lot of enthusiasm: John Landis cracks himself up remembering how he responded with awe to the British Godzilla ripoff Gorgo as a kid.  If you don’t like it when loudmouths yammer over the coming attractions, you can turn the commentary off for a true circa 1989 trailer tape experience.  Films covered include several Hammer films, creature features, and the occasional overlooked mainstream film or blockbuster hit like Jaws.  The trailer of most interest to weird movie fans will be ‘s reverent analysis of Dario Argento’s Deep Red (“a very strange movie made by a very strange, and thin, man… doesn’t make logical sense, but makes lyrical sense.)”  Other commentaries you may want to check out are writer Larry (Ed Wood) Karaszewski’s take on Polanski‘s The Tenant, Lloyd Kaufman discussing his own Terror Firmer in his typical carnival barker style (he provides the collection’s only trailer with graphic violence and nudity), and Mick Garris on Flesh Gordon, the only-in-the-70s porn parody mixing silly sex with some remarkable Ray Harryhausen-inspired stop-motion effects (leading Garris to the odd observation, “the great god Porno and the penisaurus really [stand] out”).  Trailers from Hell defies recommendation: you’re either a B-film geek who finds this stuff fascinating, or you have no idea why anyone would actually spend money and waste an hour watching experts discussing ads.

Many people will find the “extra” feature more intriguing than the main feature.  It’s a remastered version of Roger Corman’s cult classic man-eating plant horror comedy The Little Shop of Horrors, presented (for the first time on DVD) in its original widescreen format.  It’s unclear just why Little Shop has never been released in anamorphic widescreen before—it seems whoever had access to the original prints would have thought of putting it out a long time ago to stand out from the glut of full frame public domain copies made from old TV prints.  I guess a widescreen Little Shop wasn’t considered economically feasible as a standalone release, but as an extra, it’s horribly cool.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…these movie-mad merry pranksters make a bunch of mostly forgotten sci-fi and horror curios sound a whole lot better than they really are.”-Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly (DVD)

DISCLAIMER: A DVD copy of this film was provided by the production company for review.

CAPSULE: THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Roger Corman

FEATURING: Jonathan Haze, Mel Welles, Jackie Joseph, Dick Miller, Jack Nicholson, Charles B. Griffith

PLOT:  Mild-mannered delivery boy Seymour breeds a new plant in an attempt to impress

Still from Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

his boss and the sexy cashier at his flower shop; the talking mutant Venus flytrap grows to extraordinary size, but only so long as it is fed a constant supply of blood and bodies.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not weird enough, though it certainly marches to the beat of its own drummer.  Filmed in two days from a quickie script by Roger Corman scribe Charles B. Griffith written on the fly to take advantage of some leftover storefront sets, Horrors was seat-of-the-pants filmmaking.  Aided by an inspired cast, the inherent quirkiness of the Faustian plant food fable shines through.  Often called the best movie ever shot in 48 hours, The Little Shop of Horrors is a fast, fun ride that every cinephile should check out at least once; it’s a triumph of imagination, dedication, and sheer luck over budgetary constraints.  It’s too bad it’s not a little bit weirder.

COMMENTS: “I’ve eaten in flower shops all over the world, and I’ve noticed that the places that have the most weird and unusual plants do the best business.”  That’s the sort of universe Little Shop of Horrors takes place in, one where minor characters stand by casually chomping on salted gardenias and handing out plot advice to the principals.  Set in a mythical Skid Row, “the part of town everybody knows about but nobody wants to see—where the tragedies are deeper, the ecstasies wilder and the crime rate consistently higher than anywhere else,” this is black comedy circa 1960.  Not only is murder made a joke, but more scandalous taboos like sadomasochism and prostitution are part of the fabric of daily life on Skid Row.  Man-eating plant aside, the movie’s greatest charm is the cast of crazy supporting characters that pop in and out of the story: the floral gastronome, Seymour’s hypochondriac mom, an unlucky woman whose relatives are constantly dying, two flat-affect flatfeet (broad spoofs of the duo from “Dragnet”), a pair of bouncy high school cheerleaders, a hooker who persistently tries to pick up a hypnotized trick, Continue reading CAPSULE: THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960)

THE SHOOTING (1967): AMERICAN-STYLED DISSONANCE

As part of our continuing effort to restore all the posts lost in the Great Server Crash of 2010, we’re reprinting this column from Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema, originally published on Sep. 23, 2010.

Several years ago European avant-garde composer Pierre Boulez dismissed the cranky, experimental music of American composer Charles “take your dissonance like a man” Ives as “having come from an insurance salesman.” By contrast, Boulez’ own music is tinkly Euro-avant, a musical tradition that was given freedom towards academic experimentation by old money. Not a single Boulez work can get under the skin like Ives’ “Gong on the hook and ladder” or “Symphony 4.”
American horror has long had a fitful relationship with the American avant-garde; it has also been more genuinely disturbing than anything Europe has produced. Kentucky born Tod Browning produced jagged, feverish dreams while Brit James Whale produced well-crafted, sophisticated, and witty fairy tales. There is something far more unsettling in Lon Chaney painfully looping fishing wire around his eyeballs, or Lon Jr. “accidentally” strangling an extra, than there is in Boris Karloff’s passion for cricket. An avant-garde filmmaker even approached the infamous “naive surrealistEd Wood, hoping for a collaboration, but by then Wood was too drained and too ravaged by rejection to respond.

So, it seems only apt that B-horror maestro Roger Corman financed Monte Hellman’s sojourn into a western Oz. Hellman’s The Shooting (1967) could be a disturbed and disturbing younger sibling to Maya Deren‘s At Land (1944).  Carole Eastman’s Sarte/Camus-like screenplay is wistfully organic and, simultaneously, startling in its unflinching, unromantic bleak minimalism, assisted greatly by Gregory Sandor’s desolate camera work.

Still from The Shooting (1967)The Shooting begins where Anthony Mann left off, and may well be the defining subversive post-Mann western.  Former bounty hunter and miner Willet Gashade () returns to camp only to find his twin brother, Coin (also Oates) missing and his partner, Leland, shot dead by an unseen sniper.  Left in the camp is the hysterical Coley (Will Hutchins) who relates to Willet that he overheard an argument between Leland and Coin.  Coin had “ridden down a Continue reading THE SHOOTING (1967): AMERICAN-STYLED DISSONANCE