Friday, October 05, 2007


This dark comedy is something of a companion piece to a better known film, the original LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. Roger Corman finished BUCKET three days ahead of schedule, so he used those days to shoot SHOP. The main character here, played by Dick Miller, is a busboy at the Yellow Dog, a beatnik coffeehouse. Although the denizens of the Dog, a group of poets, folk singers, artists, and hangers-on, are mostly portrayed as pretentious, Miller still yearns for their respect, especially because he gets belittled regularly in front of them by his boss (Anthony Carbone). He particularly wants to impress the lovely and likable Barboura Morris. Miller decides to become a sculptor and tries desperately one night to make a bust ("C'mon, be a nose!" he whines at a piece of clay). When he tries to rescue a cat stuck inside his wall but accidentally kills it instead, he covers it with clay and the next day, passes it off as a statue. The piece, called "Dead Cat," becomes a sensation at the cafe after the resident poet (Julian Burton) proclaims it a masterpiece, calling Miller a genius whose "hands have been carrying away your empty cups of frustration." When a clean-cut narc (future game show host Bert Convy) tries to arrest Miller, he bashes the cop's head in with a frying pan and suddenly he has Sculpture #2, "Murdered Man." The corpses and statues begin to pile up until the inevitable tragic ending. Though the movie works as a dark satire, I also felt some genuine empathy for Miller, which is a tribute to both his acting and the clever screenplay by Charles B. Griffith. Given the limitations of budget and time, it's amazing how much of the film works well. The supporting cast is strong, with Ed Nelson as another narc, John Brinkley and John Shaner as a couple of stoners (possible models for Cheech and Chong) and especially Burton as the pompous poet who we sort of grow to like--or at least consider the most likable beatnik in the bunch. Alex Hassilev, of the 60’s folk group The Limeliters, gets to sing a grisly folk ballad or two. Miller went on to a long career as a sort of cult actor in movies such as THE HOWLING, PIRANHA, 1941, and THE TERMINATOR. The title is in the public domain and therefore available on disc from a number of sources, but the MGM DVD sports a sparkling clean print. [DVD]

No comments: