(On Cable TV, November 2018) I wasn’t expecting much from Pit and the Pendulum: horror movies of the early 1960s can be undistinguishable from one another, especially given how many of them were made with small budgets and indifferent actors. But from the first few minutes, there’s something remarkable about the film’s use of colour (in an early-sixties horror film!), its confidence in using a flashback structure and, of course, in Vincent Price’s performance. Director/Producer Roger Corman became a legend for a reason, and Pit and the Pendulum remains surprisingly effective. Great sets help, as does the unusually stylish flashback cinematography. The titular pendulum and pit set is also quite good. This being said, my favourite moment in the film is the stinger at the very end, which takes barely a second to remind us that something horrible is still happening to one of the antagonists—and will keep happening for a while. It’s an amazingly good jump-conclusion to a decent horror film.
(On Cable TV, December 2017) I’m usually a forgiving audience for older movies—I’m getting into the mindset of forgiving the limitations of the time, and it certainly helps that what has survived until now is usually what deserves to be seen again. But even this patience has its limits, and I could feel it being tested during Little Shop of Horrors, an ultra-low-budget Roger Corman effort that seems memorable more for outrageousness than quality. Reportedly shot over two days for a paltry five-figure budget, Little Shop of Horrors makes up for its limited means through high invention: What if it was a comedy about a carnivorous plant? Of course, comedy is subjective and black comedy even more so—to me, Little Shop of Horror is more grating and mean-spirited than anything else. It is, I’ll concede, memorable: In addition to the ludicrous premise, Jack Nicholson shows up in a manic Jim Carreyesque performance as a masochistic dental client. Still, even at a running time of merely 72 minutes, the film is more of an ordeal than I had expected. Much of its contemporary popularity can be explained by how it’s in the public domain, and was later adapted as a musical and then another bigger-budget movie. As itself, though, Little Shop of Horrors is not as much fun as it could be.
(On DVD, July 2011) There seems to be an almost unexplainable appetite among young viewers for cheap trashy monster features, and Sharktopus seems determined to exploit this fascination without shame. Playing up the camp elements of such stories, Sharktopus mashes a shark and an octopus (well, maybe a squid) and sets in in the middle of an intensely familiar monster-movie plot. Someone gets eaten every few minutes while the plucky adventurers go hunting for the rogue creature. Revelling in cheap special effects, Sharktopus doesn’t rise far above its “SyFy Pictures” straight-to-cable-TV pedigree: it only looks good when compared to some of the worst abominations coming out of SciFi/Syfy. The acting is over-the-top, the script barely shows signs of sentience, the cinematography struggles to capture the lush tropical location… and yet, Sharktopus isn’t a complete waste of time, largely because it doesn’t really take itself seriously. It’s not a comedy, but the nature of its set-pieces is ridiculous enough to suspect that someone is clearly having some fun behind the camera. The actors have their own charm (Eric Roberts understands that he’s there to bark, whereas Sara Malakul Lane does have, to quote another character, that “sexy librarian thing going on”) and the forward narrative rhythm of the film isn’t too bad. Sharktopus may be trash, but it’s engaging in its own way. For producer Roger Corman, already a legend of B-movies, this is practically second nature: deliver an exploitation movie, make it fun, make it fast and don’t worry too much about respectability.