A Bucket of Blood (1959)
“You’re just a simple little farmboy and the rest of us are all sophisticated beatniks.”
I’m always afraid of Roger Corman movies because I figure they’ll be awful, Ed Wood-style catastrophes. But after I reminded myself that he made the great X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes, I rented these two. Both were great, quick and cheap, but very fun and full of weird humor, not the dull, cardboardy type of cheap movies MST3K always mocked (though the show did feature four Corman movies, all from ’57 and earlier). It was only Corman’s sixth year in the movie business, and the twenty-third movie he directed. Shot in five days, and entirely not bad.
Alice and Walter:
Joe Dante fave Dick Miller, in his only starring role, is slightly creepy and socially inept but eager waiter Walter at a super-hip cafe populated by some hammy characters. I was glad to learn that the songs and clothes and beat poetry were intended as exaggerated parodies of the fashions of the time, since I found it all hilarious. Especially good were cafe boss Leonard, who does a nice horrified stagger when he first discovers Walter’s secret, and Maxwell (Bruno VeSota, vet of sixteen Corman pictures) the beardy ultra-pretentious king poet.
Walter accidentally kills his cat (while trying to save it), then an undercover cop trying to bust oblivious Walter for heroin possession (in crazed self-defense), then covers them in clay and is celebrated by the locals for his lifelike “sculptures.”
Walter vs. the undercover cop:
Determined to stay famous, he starts killing people on purpose – starting with Alice (Judy Bamber of The Atomic Brain), a Marilyn-looking hottie who’s a total bitch to Walter, yet eagerly agrees to pose nude for his next sculpture. Then he murders a random dude with a table saw (“What’s that you got in the box?,” says Leonard to Walter, who is carrying a man’s head in a box – an early influence on Se7en?). Finally he’s given an art show by Leonard – I’m not clear how his plan to keep Walter from killing more people was supposed to work out – and discovered, he chases his crush Carla (Barboura Morris of Wasp Woman and The Trip) into the night until the voices in his head drive him to suicide.
Leonard finds out what’s in the box:
“I suppose he would have called it ‘hanging man’… his greatest work.”
Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
“Please don’t damage the horticulturalist.”
Opens with a pan across a comic strip drawing and a skid-row detective voiceover. The main flaw with this version versus the musical is that Seymour (Jonathan Haze of Gunslinger and Swamp Women) and Audrey (Mrs. Futterman in the Gremlins movies) are less cute and more annoying. Audrey II’s voice is good but the plant prop and puppeteering are pathetic. But the script is good, and as with Bucket of Blood it’s nice that it’s a comedy instead of a sadly self-serious horror about a man-eating plant.
I did like Mr. Mushnick, New Yorker Mel Welles playing a bearded eastern-europe type. Also good to see Dick Miller again – he’s a regular customer who eats flowers (nicely contrasted with the flower who eats people). The dentist (who is not dating Audrey) is a disappointingly regular looking guy. As the VHS box used to proudly proclaim (“Starring Jack Nicholson”), Jack plays the Bill Murray role, a masochistic patient with two minutes’ worth of groan-worthy dialogue.
As in Bucket of Blood, the first person killed is undercover police (dressed as a railway bum for reasons unknown), so a pair of Dragnet-parody cops keep hanging out at the flower shop, along with two giddy girls who want flowers for a parade float and a woman who wants to award Seymour with a prize for Audrey II. Similar ending to the other movie, really – wimpy guy who’s gained celebrity by killing people in secret gets found out, nighttime chase outdoors leads back to a familiar location where he dies (in this case, eaten by plant).
I didn’t get any Little Shop screenshots, so here’s the cast of Bucket of Blood one more time:
Both movies were written by Charles B. Griffith, later director of the Ron Howard-starring clutch-popping classic Eat My Dust. Netflix disc included Rifftrax commentary, which didn’t work too well since the movie was already a comedy, resorting to rude swipes at the low-budget production.