Proudly presenting the views of a certain Fool For Blood called Aaron Christensen on five films screened during Offscreen Film Festival 2015. Below you can read about Tobe Hooper‘s ‘Eaten Alive’, Roger Corman‘s ‘The Little Shop Of Horrors’ and its ’80s all-star cast musical/re-make brother, one of production company Cannon’s most accomplished efforts called ‘Runaway Train’ (starring the mighty Jon Voight) and last but not least a British sci-fi success from the sixties, ‘Day Of The Triffids’ based on a novel by John Wyndham (the man responsible for writing ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’, which was adapted into another milestone of UK sci-fi/horror cinema entitled ‘Village Of The Damned’).
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Tobe Hooper’s follow-up to the incredibly successful ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ is an ugly, dirty, punishing ride, which can be a good or bad thing, depending on your particular palate. Neville Brand offers a completely unhinged and unpredictable performance as the proprietor of a backwater Louisiana motel where the guests check in, only to be hacked up with a variety of gardening tools and fed to the pet alligator.
With little of the gripping tension and suspense that made Hooper’s debut feature such a success, we are instead subjected to an abrasively mind-numbing score (by Hooper and Wayne Bell) and a truly senseless string of murders. Brand leads the race in “weird-acting” honors, mumbling an unintelligible stream of consciousness punctuated by whooping and howling, but dedicated compatriots Carolyn Jones, Mel Ferrer, TCM alum Marilyn Burns, Robert Englund, William Finley, and Stuart Whitman are not far behind. Filled with bizarre touches, some directly lifted from Hooper’s earlier effort (prolonged scenes with tied up victims, handheld camera chases through the woods, etc.), and while it concludes with a spirited fever-pitch climax, the movie itself is a long and winding road.
THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
Filmed in two days with a $27,000 budget, this hysterical black comedy about a man-eating plant is proof positive that people, not dollar signs, make good movies. Producer/director Roger Corman hijacked a set after another studio had finished filming, dressed it as Mushnik’s Flower Shop, and proceeded to populate it with screenwriter Charles B. Griffith’s memorably wacky characters. Jonathan Haze stars as Seymour Krelborn, the nebbish hero who invents a new hybrid of plant in the hopes of saving his job, only to find that it has a taste for human blood. And it’s not shy about expressing it either, as the puppet-like pod mouth opens to plaintively whine, “Feeeeed Meeee!” The more it eats, the bigger it gets, and soon the flower shop business is booming, but at a grisly price.
The rest of the cast is terrific, especially Mel Welles’ meshugenneh shop owner Gravis Mushnik, torn between financial success and his wavering conscience. Jackie Joseph is deliciously daffy as Audrey, the object of Seymour’s affections, endowed with a gorgeous figure and a penchant for malapropism. Dick Miller’s stoic, petal-nibbling customer is a low-key treat, Myrtle Vail steals every scene as Seymour’s hypochondriac mother, and a very young Jack Nicholson delivers a priceless turn as a masochistic dental patient. Initially dismissed as one of “Corman’s cheapies,” the film eventually developed a cult following and inspired a hit off-Broadway musical, which was in turn adapted as a big-budget screen musical in 1986. Hilarious, innocuous fun.
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
Though the film version of the hit off-Broadway musical is undeniably bigger, louder, and broader than Roger Corman’s low-budget comic gem, this is by no means a bad thing. Director Frank Oz finds exactly the right notes, balancing the B-movie spoof/black comedy/big-budget musical/cartoon elements perfectly with the aid of an outstanding cast and dynamite visual effects. Rick Moranis stars as uber-nerd Seymour, pining desperately for his co-worker Audrey (the helium-voiced Ellen Greene, recreating her stage role) while hanging onto his job at Vincent Gardenia’s flower shop on Skid Row. Not long after Moranis discovers our bloodsucking botanical nightmare (whose origins are from outer space here), the little pod develops into a motormouth muppet monstrosity, brilliantly brought to life by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and vocalized by The Four Tops’ Levi Stubbs.
Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s irresistible sing-along songs carry the day, with a terrific Motown girl-group chorus guiding us along the surprisingly dark comic path of abuse, sadism, and murderous munching. Musical highlights include “Suddenly, Seymour,” “Skid Row,” the Oscar-nominated “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space,” and Steve Martin’s showstopping comic ode to ill-tempered hygenists everywhere, “The Dentist Song.” Though the all-star cameos get a little excessive, Bill Murray elevates his bit part (played by Jack Nicholson in the original) to a hysterical aria of agony as Martin’s pain-hungry patient.
Terrific character piece about two escaped convicts (Eric Roberts and Jon Voight, both Oscar-nominated) in the Alaskan tundra who manage to get themselves aboard a full throttled freight train to freedom… and then can’t get off after the conductor dies of a heart attack. The boisterous scenes between the bickering odd couple are riveting master classes in full-blooded scenery consumption, with proud ‘It’s Alive’ poppa John P. Ryan not far behind as the tenacious warden bent on recapturing his quarry.
It’s only when we leave the haunting imagery of the four-engine behemoth blazing through the snow-covered mountain scenery and dip inside the civilian railroad control room that the stench of bad acting (Kyle T. Heffner’s switch-flipping technician) and leaden dialogue (spoken by same) hits like a dead rat caught in the heating ducts. Based on a pre-existing screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, adapted by the triumvirate of Paul Zindel, Eddie Bunker, and Djordje Milicevic. Fun Fact: Russian film and theatre director Konchalovskiy later helmed the 1989 Kurt Russell/Sylvester Stallone action pic ‘Tango & Cash’.
DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS
A brilliant B-movie, with A-list ideas undermined by low-budget effects. Based on John Wyndham’s classic sci-fi novel, the world finds itself thrown into chaos when a meteor shower blinds most of the world’s population and extraterrestrial vegetation starts to get hungry for a little snack. The effects are stupefying in their unrealism, but if one can get over that (no mean feat), there are some genuine thrills to be found. Howard Keel leads a small group of people who have survived with their vision intact, dodging the bloodthirsty plants along the way. Meanwhile, in an island lighthouse, boorish marine biologist Kieron Moore and wife Janette Scott (one of the great on-screen screamers) defend themselves against attacks from the monstrous veggies while searching for a weapon to use against them.
There are some amazing scenes of city dwellers panicked and helpless in their blindness (the train station sequence is a highlight), and some of the confrontations with the Triffids are surprisingly taut. There is also a chilling scene where a group of (sighted) escaped convicts molest a boarding house of blind women. When you’re not laughing at watching the plants “advancing,” (obviously being pushed by some barely hidden stagehand) you will be pondering the brilliant “what if?” factor posed by Wyndham’s original concept. Either way, it is a thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience, although the quick “wrap-up” ending disappoints. An uncredited Freddie Francis reportedly took over directing chores from Steve Sekely to helm the lighthouse sequences after principal filming had wrapped.