Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Jazz Score: Jazz in Genre

Jazz is not usually thought of in conjunction with genre films, but it does turn up in the odd (or very odd) sci-fi or horror picture. British tenor star Tubby Hayes appeared as himself and played on the soundtrack for one story in the Amicus horror anthology film Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, which also featured the sophisticated gruesome twosome of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (in separate story arcs). Moon Zero Two, a rare Hammer Films foray into sci-fi, has not aged well, but at least boasts a pretty cool Don Ellis score. Add to their ranks some of ultra low budget auteur Roger Corman’s films, including Bucket of Blood (trailer here), screening at MoMA as part of the Jazz Score retrospective.

Bucket is probably most notorious for the film it spawned: Little Shop of Horrors. As the near-legendary story goes, after wrapping Bucket, Corman realized his sets were paid up through the next two days, so why not crank out another picture in that time? Both films also feature a score by the same composer, jazz cellist Fred Katz.

The onetime musical director of the Chico Hamilton Quintet, with whom he is seen in Sweet Smell of Success, the cerebral Katz might seem an unlikely associate for the camp king Corman, but he scored several of his pictures. Katz’s score often swings in a crime jazz mood, while at other times it reflects the goofy whimsy of Charles B Griffith’s beanik spoof. Katz’s fellow Hamilton alumnus Paul Horn (before his defection to New Age music) also appears in the opening scene, accompanying an over-top pretentious poetry recital, in the spirit of the jazz-and-poetry performances of the era.

Cult actor Dick Miller plays busboy Walter Paisley (a sad sack character he would revive for future Corman productions), slaving away for unappreciative beatniks in a hipster coffee house. By accident, he kills his landlord’s cat, which he conceals by disguising the body as a statue. When his “Dead Cat” is received as a work of genius, he logically starts escalating with humans.

Many Corman enthusiasts prefer Bucket to its more famous offspring. The story might be ridiculous, but it has its clever moments. In particular, Julian Barton is spot-on as the pontificating poet Maxwell Brock, looking like an unkempt Theodore Bikel, while Katz and Horn, perhaps the greatest talent attached to the film, lend it a touch of class. Clearly a product of its time and budget, Bucket still has an undeniable charm. It screens at MoMA this Thursday.