Alan Smithee Podcast 82: The Little Shop of Horrors (1960, Roger Corman) / Please Don’t Eat My Mother (1973, Carl J. Monson)

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The legend of Roger Corman could be entirely summed up by the 50-plus years longevity of The Little Shop of Horrors, a film shot under the most chintzy of circumstances which has nonetheless lived on as a musical adaptation and as a perennial staple of cult horror-comedy. What’s odd is how despite being made by his usual gang of misfits and dope addicts, it’s a real oddity in his oeuvre as a producer because he so seldom made comedies. Charles B. Griffith’s screenplay for Little Shop, however, is arguably one of the greatest comedy screenplays ever written and Corman’s few other dark comedies – A Bucket of Blood and Gas-s-s-s are quite excellent. Obviously he preferred more financially reliable b-movie genres, which is our loss.

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It’s easy to take a movie like Little Shop of Horrors for granted, but as we discuss in this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, irreverent and even mildly “tasteless” humor was in pretty short supply when the film was made and Griffith’s particular brand of weirdo Beatnik by-way-of Borscht Belt humor is a pretty singular achievement. The film has a unique voice and rather than feeling cramped and slapdash by the nonexistent budget, its comedy feels intimate and casual – which is to say, its flaws become its strengths and that’s the surefire miracle which redeems any film of limited means. The weirdest moments concerning the talking plant Audrey Jr, the sadistic dentist Dr. Farb and a deadpan-ad-absurdum parody of Dragnet have an integrity and conviction which wouldn’t have been present in a more polished film. Little Shop of Horrors paved the way for dozens of weird horror-comedies over the years; its influence can be felt from Spider Baby to Basket Case to less overtly “horror” type comedies that are seemingly populated by genuine crazies – like the films of John Waters or Alex Cox’s immortal Repo Man.

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Of course, for a lot of people the only noteworthy thing about Little Shop of Horrors is that it features one of Jack Nicholson’s earliest, and most twisted roles as a masochistic dental patient named Wilbur Force. His two minute scene is certainly the most important part of the film to home video distributors, who were all to glad to trick unsuspecting consumers into thinking he starred as Seymour Krerlboine.

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A lame ripoff of the Addams Family theme begins the 1973 Little Shop cash-in Please Don’t Eat My Mother, which is of all things a pornographic remake. Unlike your straightforward pornographic parody film, PDEMM straddles an uncomfortable line between being awful soft porn and simply an unfunny remake of Little Shop. Amazingly, there’s enough resemblance to the original film to strongly suggest that Carl Monson (or at least the writer) was a genuine fan of the Corman movie. Unfortunately everything run through the ringer of Please Don’t Eat My Mother comes out with a filmy, sludgy residue from which no entertainment value can be wrung, let alone titillation.

NEXT EPISODE: SAINT VALENTINES DAY (MASSACRE) SPECIAL! THE ST. VALENTINES DAY MASSACRE (1967, ROGER CORMAN) / SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959, BILLY WILDER)

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Episode 37: Mean Streets (1973, Martin Scorsese) / Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991, Mark L. Lester)

This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast we grab our pieces and visit two urban jungles of two different ethnicities. Who runs their little ethnic enclave better, the Little Italians or the Little Japanese? If either film is to be believed, crime is a huge problem in both areas. The big difference is whether the local mob is home grown or imported directly from Big Tokyo. This also determines the tone of the movie, since one of the films directors carries some childhood sympathies for the people and lifestyle, while the other cast a world famous white guy and dropped him into smack dab into yellow peril.

Mean Streets is the film that made Martin Scorcese famous. The story involves the mafia, a subject which his films helped make famous almost as much as another Italian American gentleman, Francis Ford Coppola, with The Godfather that very same year. Unlike that famous crime saga, this film focuses on the low levels of mob employment and a young man struggling to justify his future career with his Catholic fear of eternity in Hell, played by Harvey Keitel. As if this weren’t enough to worry about, his best friend – Robert DeNiro, in a star making turn – is a loose cannon with a big mouth and debts all over town.

Scorcese never really grew as a filmmaker: he was great from the start. His interests didn’t have to grow either, he would continue to make films about crime, Catholicism and urban alienation with or without DeNiro in the coming decades and has only recently seemed to choose projects based on books he picked up at the library, like a random biography or cheesy horror novel. Mean Streets is at the epicenter of personal connection to the things which mattered most to him, filmed in the part of New York he grew up in and scored to the pop songs he grew up listening to. A real Italian slice of life with extra parmesan.

If the filmmakers behind Showdown in Little Tokyo had made Mean Streets, someone probably would’ve been killed with a pizza. That is to say, director Mark L. Lester of Commando fame did not bring with him any personal cultural understanding of the Japanese culture. The biggest overtures to Japanese culture are the casting of two non-Japanese Asian-Americans, Tia Carrere of Wayne’s World fame and Bruce Lee’s belated son Brandon Lee in his first American film.

The real star is not just a white guy but one of the whitest guys you know: Dolph Lundgren, out to clean up the mean streets of Little Tokyo with the superior understanding of Asian martial arts that only a Swedish guy can engineer. He and Lee trade some gay banter, crack skulls, and unlike a lot of buddy actions movies we’ve seen here on An Alan Smithee Podcast, director Mark Lester truly does not mess around when it comes to flattering one’s short attention span with outrageous violence. A big dumb fun dose of brain damage from 1991, the year that action movies died inside.

NEXT WEEK: THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942, FRANK TUTTLE) & CONGO (1995, FRANK MARSHALL)

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Show Notes: Episode 3: The Trial of the Incredible Quentin, Part 1 of 2

This episode, Matthew and Andrew start their examination of Quentin Tarantino–discussing his “original trilogy” of RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION and JACKIE BROWN, as well as his steady screenwriting work during the 1990s.

It surprised me we never got around to discussing Tarantino’s iconic soundtracks, but they fall under my basic rubric for the guy: he appropriated other peoples really cool stuff so that his name would forever be associated with it.

- Chip

Films discussed:
Maximum Potential (1987), Reservoir Dogs (1992), True Romance (1993), Natural Born Killers (1996), Pulp Fiction (1994), Four Rooms (1995), From Dusk ‘Till Dawn (1996), Curdled (1996), Girl 6 (1996), Jackie Brown (1997), Clerks (1994), Badlands (1973)