In his book, "How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime," Roger Corman says that, as near as he can tell, he created a new genre in the ’50s. The black-comedy horror film. In fact, he made a trilogy: A Bucket of Blood (1959, 66 minutes), The Little Shop of Horrors and Creature from the Haunted Sea. All were penned by his main writer, Chuck Griffith, and shot in about 3 hours for around 45 cents. Of the three, Little Shop became a huge cult hit (in reality it was filmed in 2 days), but it wouldn’t exist if Roger hadn’t clipped through Bucket so quickly, and thought it’d be a gas to make another flick using the same sets, most of the same cast, and well, the same plot. Sorta.
The movie: It’s the height of the beatnik scene — back before TV’s Gilligan was tripping over coconuts, when he was just plain trippin’ as Maynard G. Krebs. And on the big screen, Walter Paisley is a slow-witted busboy at a hipster coffee shop called The Yellow Door. A steady stream of cigarette-smoking, beret-topped, counter-culture intellectuals wander through, rattling off poetry and complimenting each other’s etchings. Walter admires these seemingly sophisticated folk, and tries his darnedest to impress them. But he’s mocked for his effort. When one evening, while trying to make a clay sculpture, he realizes his landlady’s cat is stuck in the wall. Yes, really. Walter, dim as he is, plunges a knife into the wall in an attempt to free the kitty, but instead pierces its furry little heart. This sets in motion the vicious circle for the rest of the flick. Walter covers the cat in clay and shows it off as his latest work. The crowd at the coffee shop loves it, and the next thing you know, he has a full collection of art, and the movie has a body count.
It also has a lot of laughs and truly memorable performances. Specifically, Dick Miller as Walter, who is simply brilliant. Corman produced a breasty remake in 1995 with Anthony Michael Hall covering victims in plaster — ala Vincent Price in House of Wax. The remake has also been distributed as The Death Artist.
Notables: No breasts. Four corpses. Sketching. Beat poetry. One phony beard. Table saw attack. Foot chase. One dead cat.
Quotables: All-too-self-important Maxwell Brock (Julian Burton) defies traditional poetic convention, "I refuse to say anything twice. Repetition is death. To be uncreative you might as well be in your grave, or in the army." Maolia wants to rub Walter’s lamp, "You’ve got a hot light bulb glowing inside you, and I want to be warmed by it." Alice the model names her price, "I only charge 25 dollars an hour. Would you like to do me?"
Time codes: Walter gawks at a couple making out (7:18). An artist groupie makes her move (19:55). A star is born (37:55). The nekkid back of Ms. Judy Bamber (43:15).
Final thought: Wry, satirical fun. Wonderfully gruesome premise, well executed.