The Terror + The Little Shop of Horrors

by Glenn Erickson Dec 02, 2023

“Feed Me!”  Female ghosts and man-eating plants!  It’s another good disc of Roger Corman favorites, especially for collectors hungry for an improved presentation of Corman’s comedy classic The Little Shop of Horrors, the hilarious off-the-wall original. Also looking good is his semi-pirated ‘add-on’ entry to the Poe cycle THE TERROR, starring Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson and Shirley Knight. As usual, our concentration is on producer-director Corman’s amazing ability to evade the industry’s Guild rules to produce under-the-radar fantasies of remarkable quality. It’s a double-disc presentation.

The Terror + The Little Shop of Horrors
Film Masters
Street Date December 12, 2023 / Available from Amazon / 29.95
Starring: Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles, Dick Miller, Jack Nicholson; Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson, Sandra Knight, Dick Miller.
Produced and Directed by
Roger Corman


The last few years have brought us very good editions of cult fantasy movies, either newly made available for home video, or made too available via poor graymarket Public Domain copies. It’s a pleasure to finally view favorites in sharp transfers, often in their original widescreen theatrical aspect ratios. These offerings are from just the last two years: The Trollenberg Terror,  The Brain Eaters,  Robot Monster,  The Head,  Giant from the Unknown,  Battle of the Worlds,  The She-Creature,  The Flesh Eaters,  Beyond the Time Barrier, and both  Dementia and  Dementia 13.

The label Film Masters has recently contributed to the fun with a double bill of  The Giant Gila Monster with  The Killer Shrews, and just before that, a pair of Roger Corman Filmgroup releases,  Beast from Haunted Cave with  Ski Troop Attack. This new Filmgroup pairing combines two Roger Corman films long abused on awful VHS and DVD copies.  The Terror is the much-maligned Boris Karloff picture with Jack Nicholson, and  The Little Shop of Horrors is the original comedy classic. Together, they’re also an unintentional Jack Nicholson double bill . . .

The fans of these shows know them well, so our background notes once again emphasize Roger Corman’s unique approach to low-budget filmmaking, in two different production environments mandated by the Hollywood Guilds. The evaluation section below may help potential purchasers decide whether their earlier disc editions need replacing.

Although The Terror is the Film Masters’ featured title, we’re putting Little Shop in first review position, to keep things chronological.



The Little Shop of Horrors
1960 / B&W / 1:85 widescreen / The Passionate People Eater / 70 min.
Starring: Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles, Dick Miller, Myrtle Vail, Toby Michaels, Wally Campo, Jack Nicholson, Karyn Kupcinet, Toby Michaels, Jack Warford, Charles B. Griffith.
Cinematography: Archie Dalzell
Art Director: Daniel Haller
Film Editor: Marshall Neilan Jr.
Original Music: Fred Katz
Screenplay by Charles B. Griffith
Produced and Directed by
Roger Corman

The Little Shop of Horrors could be the granddaddy of hipster cult movies. It’s easily Roger Corman’s funniest comedy, a miracle considering that Corman isn’t known for an expansive sense of humor. It’s the best example of the late-’50s trend toward morbid-but-mild ‘sick’ humor. Wild writer Charles B. Griffith sought to top his previous concoction for Corman, the less manic beanik classic A Bucket of Blood. The result is a legendary movie, one that later became a stage musical with its own big-budget movie adaptation.

As Walter Paisley would say, the storyline is Strictly From Hunger. Pitiful skid row pauper-schlemiel and amateur botanist Seymour Krelboyne (Jonathan Haze) keeps his miserable job at the flower shop of penny-pinching Gravis Mushnik (Mel Welles) by virtue of an oddball plant he’s grafted together: Audrey Jr., named after Seymour’s cute-but-dumb co-worker Audrey Fulquard (Jackie Joseph). Eccentric customer Burson Fouch (Dick Miller) likes to eat carnations, but his prediction that the interesting plant will attract paying customers comes true, much to Mushnik’s delight. Seymour’s fortunes take a disturbing upswing when the voracious vegetable tastes human blood. As it works out, dead bodies plant food is fairly easy to come by on skid row. Seymour becomes the toast of skid row as Audrey Jr. grows bigger … and hungrier. The gluttonous fauna is soon talking to Seymour, demanding he bring it more human flesh: “I’m hunnnnggggreeeeee!!”

The Little Shop of Horrors is still a laugh riot, thanks to the engagingly non- PC playscript by Roger Corman’s least-honored major creative contributor. Charles Griffith started early with Corman, scripting a tall stack of of the director’s better-known early exploitation efforts. Readers of Mad magazine immediately understood Griffith’s twisted sense of merriment; the posters for his A Bucket of Blood typed the humor as “…sick, sick, sick …” Corman’s earlier efforts had targeted a youth audience interested in monsters and juvenile delinquents, but these new pictures went for a slightly more sophisticated crowd. The offbeat jokes appealed to the college crowd and hipsters tuned into foreign film fare.


An affectionate absurdity reigns from the start, with non-stop jokes delivered by broad character stereotypes played to perfection. Jonathan Haze is more than adequate as the whiny, empty-headed Seymour. Jackie Joseph’s Audrey is sexy, ditzy and adorable, finding a rainbow in every disappointment. A diva of goofball malapropisms, she’s always fumbling her diction. By contrast, Mel Welles’ Gravis Mushnik is a fountain of ineffectual worries and frustrated avarice, filtered through a scrim of thick Jewish humor. Another of Mushnik’s daily clients is Mrs. Shiva (Leola Wendorff), a wailing widow ever in need of flowers for funerals. She comes in looking for attention, and perhaps a discount.

Humphrey Bogart said it — Everybody Comes to Mushnik’s. Just when the klutzy Seymour’s job is in jeopardy, Audrey Jr. attracts a pair of giggly teens (Tammy Windsor and Toby Michaels) who also have a big contract to award for Rose Bowl flowers. Gravis gives Seymour a warm hug: “I have a son!” We always thought Welles’ Mushnik a loveable curmudgeon, perfectly played. Corman biographer Mark McGee quoted Welles as saying that at least one distributor rejected the movie, judging it to be being Anti-Semitic.

Other flower shop visitors include Mrs. Hortense Feuchtwanger (Lynn Storey), a lady from a snooty horticultural society. A desperate burglar is played by writer Griffiths, who also returns in a number of other bits. The smoothest comedy material is delivered courtesy of Corman’s permanent actor-fixture Dick Miller, whose flower-eating freak represents the growing counterculture: “Do you want I should wrap them?” asks Mushnik. “No, I’ll eat ’em here!”  Charles B. Griffith’s manic script mostly sidesteps the direct beatnik parody of Bucket of Blood, yet embraces the joy of oddball free expression, California style. Everybody is into their own thing – flowers, funerals, money.


The script also indulges a spot-on Dragnet parody. Detectives Joe Fink and Frank Stoolie (Wally Campo and Jack Warford) frame the story with a deadpan narration, and offer monotone banter while looking for the ‘skid row killer.’ Their clipped, unemotional speeches never change, not even when Frank says that one of his kids just killed himself playing with matches: “Well, those are the breaks.”

Corman knew when to defer to his younger, hipper collaborators — his kooky comedy ensemble really gets the joke.

The focus stays on Seymour’s plant-feeding problem. His arguments with Audrey Jr. are like a Martin & Lewis comedy routine, enlivened by the hungry plant’s persistent focus on FOOD. It’s a broad statement on the essential law of creation: the voracious plant has no patience for small talk. It just wants to eat NOW, like any cool cat with a case of the munchies. You can believe that ‘Life will Find a Way’, but Hunger already knows the Way.


The craziest scene follows Seymour’s accidental killing of dentist Pheobus Farb (John Shaner). Seymour must then impersonate Dr. Farb to receive his next patient Wilbur Force, played to the hilt by none other than Jack Nicholson, in gonzo manic mode. The ultra-masochist Wilbur reads Pain magazine. He turns down novocaine because “It dulls the senses.”  His ravings in the dentist’s chair (“Owwwwwwwww … NO! DON’T STOP!”) seem inspired by the wilder comedy record albums of the day. We wouldn’t see this side of Jack Nicholson again for another ten years.

The pace begins to crumble only at the very end, after one too many foot chases through junkyards filled with tires and toilets (hey, like, that’s symbolic of society, man). The ending opts for a bit of vegetable metamorphosis, perhaps inspired by Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It’s poetically downbeat, but we’d just as soon have the lovable Seymour, Audrey and maybe even Audrey Jr. live happily ever after. The film’s early working title The Passionate People Eater also makes us wonder if the story were partly inspired by a #1 novelty radio hit, Sheb Wooley’s The Purple People Eater.

Yes, The Little Shop of Horrors occasionally bogs down in jokes about alcoholic mothers and frustrated hookers. And it displays maybe 1/1,000th of the production value that went into the lavish 1986 musical remake, itself an adaptation of a stage musical re-thinking of Corman and Griffith’s classic show. But neither can eclipse the unique appeal of this original, a true gem.


We’ve all read that the movie took only two days to film. The scene in the dentist’s office was supposed to be longer, but the filming was so hasty that the borrowed chair and drill tower assembly wasn’t even bolted to the floor. When the whole shebang fell over, Corman just declared the scene finished and moved on. His breakneck schedule couldn’t handle the time needed for a re-set.

Corman could film The Little Shop of Horrors so quickly because the major scenes in the flower shop were rehearsed to perfection beforehand, and also because he rolled two cameras on each take, in the style of a TV sitcom. The continuity matches between the two cameras are flawless. It works because the skit comedy was so well rehearsed — big chunks of scenes were covered in single takes. Corman must have agonized over paying for that dual camera setup . . . even as it proved incredibly economical in the long run.

But that’s not the whole story. There was an important reason for filming his picture in just two days …

Sometime in the 1980s, actress Jackie Joseph sat for a TV interview with the popular L.A. movie host Tom Hatten. Asked why they filmed Little Shop so quickly, Ms. Joseph spilled the whole story:

Corman initially planned to shoot his self-financed Filmgroup production in January of 1960, for maybe a week or a little more. Then he was informed that new Screen Actors’ Guild rules would come into effect on January 1, 1960: producers would no longer be able to pay actors under the table, or ‘buy them out’ for undisclosed sums. From here on in, Guild productions would have to fully report all hirings, and in most circumstances pay residuals.


Corman had a sterling reputation for honesty, but the rules didn’t allow for handshake deals — all contracts would have to be on paper. The additional legal and reporting accountability would cost real money. Little Shop of Horrors was already underway. To stay out of trouble, Corman had to shoot before New Years.

Even with his big cast and dialogue-heavy script, Roger Corman beat the deadline. The director hired his actors for five days, but spent a full three of them on rehearsal, pre-planning every shooting detail. Josephs said that the filming went quickly and smoothly with the TV-style two-camera system. The flower shop interior scenes — most of the movie — was indeed filmed in two extra-long days. The silent sequences of Seymour roaming around skid row and the junkyards were all filmed later, by Charles Griffith.

The changes affected Hollywood filmmaking far beyond The Little Shop of Horrors. The higher cost of Guild-sanctioned productions wiped out an entire sub-industry of micro-budgeted, under-the-radar filming. Roger Corman’s claim that he never lost money was probably founded on the principle of never putting his money at risk, which is impossible when playing by industry roles that now defined ‘low-budget’ as anything under a million dollars. Corman and his brother Gene adapted by fleeing the jurisdiction of the Guilds. The next Filmgroup productions were made in Greece and Puerto Rico.

American-International’s James Nicholson had already predicted the end of cheap B&W exploitation double bills, for other reasons. With the bottom line for moviemaking raised, they no longer made economic sense, either. The whole industry felt the squeeze. A.I.P. began to take big risks with relatively classy drive-in product: the color & ‘scope Edgar Allan Poe films, the fairly elaborate Jules Verne adventure Master of the World, imported Italian sword-n-sandal pictures.

The new guidelines forced Roger Corman to upgrade his career, becoming a director first and a producer second. His future with A.I.P. became a battle for control. As an independent producer, he continued to exploit loopholes in the industry’s rules — as illustrated by the second feature in Film Masters’ Blu-ray double bill.



The Terror
1963 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / 79 min.
Starring: Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson, Sandra Knight, Dick Miller, Dorothy Neumann, Jonathan Haze.
Cinematography: John Nicholaus
Art Director: Daniel Haller
Costume Design: Marjorie Corso
Film Editor: Stuart O’Brien
Original Music: Ronald Stein
Screenplay by Leo Gordon, Jack Hill
Additional uncredited directors: Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, Jack Nicholson, Jack Hale, Dennis Jakob
Produced and Directed by
Roger Corman

As the 1960s rolled in, Roger Corman was determined to keep producing even as his directing career continued to thrive. He fled the Hollywood system — to Greece, to Ireland, and to multiple European locations for his Grand Prix drama The Young Racers.  Realizing that the real profits earned by his Edgar Allan Poe series were being claimed by distributor American-International, he tried to make The Premature Burial under an independent arrangement . . . only for Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson to maneuver their way back into control.

Undaunted, Corman found a new and creative way to utilize his non-Union Filmgroup Company. Owed a few day’s work by Boris Karloff at the finish of The Raven, he set up a legit Guild production at Producers Studios on Melrose. He he also had control of key physical elements from the Poe series, like art director Daniel Haller’s familiar castle sets.

The quest: more Edgar Allan Poe Box Office Dough.

The story was confected to require a minimum of Karloff’s input. Corman directed all the scenes required of Karloff very quickly, and then ended the official shooting phase for what would become The Terror. With perhaps a little less than a third of the film finished, Corman then turned to the group of collaborators that had accumulated over the past eight or nine years, and finished the film a bit at a time, in stealth shooting sessions that he did not personally direct. Over the course of several months, he dispatched his most talented acolytes to distant locations up the California coast, with full instructions on what to film. That explains the six uncredited directors listed above. Coppola, Hellman, Hill and Nicholson, future directing notables all, took turns shooting non-Karloff scenes for The Terror.


As a Guild signator, Roger Corman couldn’t afford to be caught directing a pirate production. When Jack Hill or Monte Hellman was up in Big Sur filming Sandra Knight and Jack Nicholson in the surf, or Jonathan Haze and a trained hawk, they may have been pretending to be make a student film. Note that some of the uncredited directors receive screen credit for other contributions: screenwriter, second unit director. “I’m not directing, I’m the location manager!”

For a movie made piecemeal, The Terror holds together quite well. During the Napoleonic Wars, a French Lieutenant named Andre Duvalier (Jack Nicholson) stumbles into a strange seaside landscape. He meets Helene (Sandra Knight, married to Jack Nicholson at the time), a mysterious, somewhat mesmerizing woman. When she suddenly disappears, Andre learns from the locals Katrina (Dorothy Neumann) and Gustaf (Jonathan Haze) that he’ll have to inquire at the castle of Baron Victor Frederick Von Leppe (Boris Karloff) to learn more about her. Baron Von Leppe and his uncooperative valet Stefan (Dick Miller) try to discourage Andre’s investigation. But the young soldier sees Helene again, only this new phantom calls herself Ilsa. To free her, he must uncover the castle’s horrible secret.

Only the proliferation of awful Public Domain video copies can account for The Terror’s undeserved reputation as a loser. It has qualities apart from the official entries in the Corman-Poe series. Fellow UCLA film studies scholar James Ursini felt that The Terror was a superior riff on the whole Poe ethos. Jim’s approach was structural and literary in basis; his idea of a profound Roger Corman film is The Undead, with its stylized dialogue and patently ‘unreal’ settings.


As the star Boris Karloff carries only about a quarter of the storyline, the script by Leo Gordon and Jack Hill fleshes out sidebar dramas that involve a vengeance-driven witch and a beautiful phantom woman. Corman packs the transition montages with his familiar stock shots of castles, lightning bolts and crashing waves from the Poe series. In place of an expensive A.I.P. title sequences, he reverts an animated artwork sequence by Paul Julian. Most importantly, he inverts the standard fiery Poe finale in favor of an impressive flood scene. Looking at the thousands of gallons of water rushing into the crypt set, two things come to mind: “I can’t believe Roger Corman paid for this” . . . and “Did poor old Boris Karloff almost drown?”

The Terror doesn’t play like a show cobbled together from multiple shoots. Corman, his film-student associates and loyal actors fashion it into a coherent Gothic fairy tale. Costume horror of this kind didn’t do the cast many favors. Jonathan Haze tried his hand at writing but mostly appeared in small parts in later Corman films. Beautiful Sandra Knight had a promising beginning in Robert Mitchum’s Thunder Road but then was seen either on TV or low-budget horror; after this effort she played in Corman’s far less organized mishmosh Blood Bath.


Jack Nicholson must have been frustrated during this phase of his career, not knowing if he’d ever find his footing as an actor, and not really gaining traction as a writer either. With his utterly contemporary face and manner, Nicholson is the weak link in the acting chain. He plays everything method-neutral and as naturalistically as possible: no overstated reactions or big emotions. He recites his lines with a curious no-contractions storybook cadence, purposely flattened out. Only toward the end does he seem to belong in his vintage military costume.

Nothing can dim Boris Karloff’s appeal. He clearly loved performing and lends his full energy to the abbreviated role. Knowing that he was physically weak and having bad back problems, we worry about Karloff as he climbs stairs and struggles with various cast members. Karloff even takes part in the first few shots of the flooding scenes, which look pretty rough. We hope Sandra Knight had lifeguard training.

In addition to the elaborate finish, the film’s action includes a couple of fistfights and some mayhem on a seaside cliff. The back story about illicit lovers and a murderous curse maintains our interest. We want to know the secret of the Baron’s wicked past — will the spectral Helene / Ilsa free herself from her curse and ride off with the handsome soldier?


The Terror may be the champion of ’60s Gothic horrors about characters that wander dank corridors. Every disturbance in the castle requires Andre or Stefan to walk for a minimum twenty seconds, seldom finding what they’re looking for. The Baron takes at least four separate strolls down to the crypt, with each trip traversing the same rooms, opening the same gates and cruising the same secret passageways.

A single corridor set outside of the haunted bedchamber is redressed to serve as multiple locations, a Daniel Haller art direction trick that fails when we realize that plaster patterns in the walls aren’t changing. Jack Nicholson is supposed to be moving through different parts of the passage, when he’s really walking past the same corner, three times in a row. Eerie sound effects and Ronald Stein’s effective music convert this narrative padding into core content.

At his always eye-opening blog Shadowplay, critic David Cairns took the time back in August to study Roger Corman’s ultra-efficient ‘corridor bingo’ filming method for The Terror. Cairns edited a 6-minute sampler of corridor-wandering actors moving through the same sets for different scenes in the film, all shot completely out of continuity. With nobody listed as a script supervisor, did Corman work from some master continuity plan to keep this all straight?  As Cairns observes, the actors filming these scenes must have felt as if they were caught in a neverending Time Loop.

Corman never missed a chance to re-purpose existing film footage for re-sale in a new form. He recycled The Terror in the same way he re-cut his Yugoslavian production Blood Bath to make new hybrid features. Corman associate Peter Bogdanovich was given the nod to ‘brainstorm something creative’ with Terror, an effort that turned into the excellent feature release Targets.



Film Masters’ Blu-ray combo of The Terror + The Little Shop of Horrors is a good bargain, and in the case of Little Shop, the best-quality disc release I’ve yet seen. The B&W 1960 picture shows up on Turner Classic Movies every so often, but in a flat transfer. The aspect ratio is also flat on the not-bad ‘Legend’ DVD from 2006, which also contains an unnecessary but curious colorized encoding. A good B&W encoding is included as an extra on Trailers from Hell volume Two, a trailer compilation DVD from 2011.

This new Little Shop of Horrors plays very well in a 1:85 scan which eliminates empty head and foot- room, concentrating our attention on the inspired ensemble comedy in Mushnik’s flower shop. Film Masters is careful not to claim ‘original film elements.’  We have no idea what what with Corman’s original Filmgroup negatives, as much-desired titles like Last Woman on Earth are still AWOL in a decent transfer. But Little Shop is from a 35 print in excellent condition. Sharpness and contrast are good. The viewing experience reminds me of the prime 35mm print that Harriet Diamond sprung on us at a Westwood midnight show way back in 1972. For quality, this disc is at present the one to grab.

The best extra for Little Shop is Justin Humphreys’ audio commentary, a relaxed but informative talk that he shares with star Jonathan Haze, who is happily still with us (so is Jackie Joseph!). Justin taps the actor for his memories of various folk on the picture; they have a lot to say about the eccentric Charles B. Griffith. We learn that Jack Warford got the role of ‘Detective Frank Stoolie’ because he was Griffith’s pal. Also included is the second half of The Filmgroup Story, finishing off what was begun on the earlier disc of Ski Troop Attack. It’s mostly a compilation of good film clips and mini-reviews of selected Filmgroup titles.

Also present are ‘re-cut trailers’ for both films, which I assume overlay better video onto the soundtracks of the old trailers … in the case of Terror it’s hard to tell.

And I keep forgetting to mention that Film Masters discs have a feature I really like — subtitle tracks for their audio commentaries. CineSavant has plenty of hearing-impaired readers that will appreciate the inclusiveness of the extra subs.


I’m not familiar with all of the previous Blu-ray editions of The Terror. We did a fairly close comparison of this new disc with that of HD Cinema Classics’ 2011 Blu-ray release. Both are new HD restorations, presumably from excellent release prints. The original negative for the show is presently held by MGM (now part of Amazon), which used to show its pristine transfer on the now discontinued MGMHD cable channel. It looked sensational, but was never put out on disc. On these PD Blu-ray editions, the image is a tad softer and the colors less defined. We found that the older HD Cinema Classics disc has a slight edge on detail and color — face tones look more natural. The audio on both discs is very good.

The HD image makes some details very clear, such as a zipper in the back of the siren Helene’s dress. We also notice that Nicholson’s pistol fires a manufactured bullet cartridge, quite an anachronism if the show is indeed meant to take place in Napoleonic times. The flooding in the tomb causes building stones to crumble, some of which float like Styrofoam as the crypt fills with water.

The commentary on Terror is a shared effort between C. Courtney Joyner and Steve Haberman, who keep each other on topic as they explain Roger Corman’s strategies to transform his 15 or 20 minutes of Boris Karloff footage into a full feature. A longform (45 minutes!) artistic analysis / video essay is on board as well: Ghosts in the Machine: Art and Artifice in Roger Corman’s Celluloid Castle. Written by Kevin Marr and Howard S. Berger, it treats The Terror as high cinematic poetry.

This time around Film Masters’ insert booklet is a keeper. C. Courtney Joyner lays on a quick history of Boris Karloff in horror. Then we hear from filmmaker, author and A.I.P. authority Mark McGee, who efficiently sums up the kooky legacy of Little Shop of Horrors and its steeplechase filming process.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The Terror + The Little Shop of Horrors
Blu-ray rates:
Movies: Shop Excellent, Terror Very Good
Video: Shop Very Good, Terror Good
Sound: both Good
The Terror audio commentary by C. Courtney Joyner and Dr. Steve Haberman
Little Shop audio commentary by Justin Humphreys and Special Guest
Ballyhoo documentary Hollywood Intruders: The Filmgroup Story: Part Two
Visual essay Ghosts in the Machine: Art and Artifice in Roger Corman’s Celluloid Castle by Kevin Marr and Howard S. Berger
Color insert booklet (22 pg) with essays by C. Courtney Joyner and Mark McGee.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: Two Blu-rays in Keep case
November 29, 2023

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Here’s Joe Dante on The Terror and The Little Shop of Horrors:

About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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[…] silly animated dragon in the main titles, did they think, “Oh boy, another laugh riot like Little Shop of Horrors”, or did they resent the bait & switch ‘serious’ ad […]


[…] But most of the movie does not look like a multi-camera shoot. (A film that does is Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors).  To get the closer shots in many scenes, the close-up camera would be visible in the wider shot. […]

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