Heather does The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) [Remake Week]

“Shut up and bring on the food!”

The Scoop: 1960 NR, directed by Roger Corman and starring Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, and Mel Welles

Tagline: The flowers that kill in the Spring TRA-LA

Summary Capsule: A mama’s boy in a dead-end job becomes a killer to (literally) feed his growing success.

Heather’s Rating: It’s a Roger Corman movie that I liked enough to buy, and watch multiple times. [Insert cliche Apocalypse joke here]

Heather’s Review: Take a seat, boys and girls. Get yourself all nice and cozy and grab something refreshing to drink (if you’re a wealthy internet movie reviewer like me, a bottle of Dom Perignon and hot tub full of models will do) ’cause I’m gonna tell you about the first time I watched Roger Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors:

Ten years ago my boyfriend showed it to me on a crappy little  TV and I promptly forgot all about it.

Excitement! Intrigue! Okay, okay. Marcus Kinkaid I’m not (ham-fisted gaming reference!), but honestly there isn’t much to tell about the very first time I watched the movie, except that I remember being all “Boy, Jack Nicholson sure is young here!”  Admittedly I didn’t think this whole storytelling thing through. How about a review, then? Fabulous!

I’m fairly sure that the vast majority of you know Little Shop of Horrors as a musical starring Rick Moranis and Steve Martin, with a cameo by Bill Murray. Probably not as many know that said version is an adaptation of an Off-Broadway show that was, itself, an adaptation of a 1960 Roger Corman film. For those of you who don’t know who Roger Corman is, he’s infamous as a director who produced an incredible amount of B-grade, mostly terrible movies whose titles just beg to be reviewed on a site like this. Any Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan worth their salt is at least passingly familiar with him, as he was one of the most-featured directors on the show. Corman had some more notable works,  including a few films based on Edgar Allen Poe’s stories starring Vincent Price which, if you’re me, is a combination as irresistible as taking an addictive substance off the backside of those models in my hot tub that I mentioned earlier (which totally exist and I in no way made up).

The point I’m trying to make here is that Corman’s films (especially his early ones) are something most people don’t watch without the express purpose of mocking them, but TLSOH is a rare Corman film that can be watched without laughing oneself into a stupor. The acting, story, and dialogue were so well done that I didn’t even have to fight an urge to side kick the television whenever someone spoke!

We go through a lot of TVs in my house.

Here’s the part where I tell you about the movie, rather than brag about all of the things I totally can afford on the salary I’m absolutely paid and not just pretending to have. For those of you unfortunate enough to not have seen the 1986 remake (and skipped over my Summary Capsule, like a bad person), TLSOH is about a guy named Seymour Krelboyne (Jonathan Haze) who works at a failing flower shop on Skid Row. He spends his days mooning over his object of obsession (coworker Audrey, played by Jackie Joseph) and trying to please his gruff boss Mr. Mushnik (Mel Welles). After a long day at the Little Shop of Melancholy he trudges home to be greeted by his hypochondriac, alcoholic mother. He’s one lucky son of a gun, our Seymour.

Seymour seemingly gets his big break when a plant he has cross-bred suddenly starts getting attention at the flower shop, bringing in a few more customers and eventually attracting a lucrative business deal providing flowers for a parade. The downside is that the plant, named Audrey Jr., has started speaking in order to demand blood. At first Seymour obliges, because it’s just a few drops from his fingers, but as the plant grows so does its unorthodox appetite. How far will Seymour go to keep the plant, and his success, alive?

Pretty freakin’ far, it turns out. Seymour sinks lower and lower into amoral oblivion until eventually his deeds catch up with him and the audience is left with the all important lesson to not commit heinous crimes in order to sell more flowers.

How does the movie fare for lovers of cult? Very, very well. As I stated before many people, especially fans of MST3K, may be hesitant to give this one a try and rightly so; but this is actually a decently done film, given the budget and the director’s reputation. The dialogue is well-written enough, even to the point of getting a sincere laugh or two out of me. Most of those laughs tended to come from Mr. Mushnik, who spouts broken English catchphrases and blunt truths. Welles was easily my favorite character here among a competent if not mostly lackluster cast, but even Welles is overshadowed by Jack Nicholson. Nicholson’s short scene earned him top billing on basically every DVD copy of TLSOH in existence after he became famous, and showed that he could be a seriously creepy guy long before Kubrik ever got to him. That being said, this movie’s main strength is the unique, unforgettable characters: Seymour himself, his foreign stereotype of a boss, the flower shop customer who eats, rather than displays, his purchases and the sadistic dentist that all of us fear we’ll run across some day. All of these characters may be over-the-top, but they’ll stay with you not only because of their craziness, but because we’ve all known people who reflect those special brands of crazy in our own lives.

Give this one a watch, but keep in mind the budget and director. If you go into this expecting something similar to the 1986 musical, you’re doing yourself, and the film, a great disservice.

Is great, Seymour, but maybe you should be trying to grow facial hair rather than plant things, yes? My beard is giving lessons every day after closing time.

Intermission!

  • If you even remotely think you’re interested, you can check it out for free in certain well-known video-watching corners of the internet. I don’t recommend doing that, though, as they’re generally terrible quality. I went ahead and bought a copy on Amazon.com from Legend Films, which is the company that puts out Rifftrax’s offerings. For less than ten bucks I got the original B&W copy of the film and the colorized version, both of which were beautifully restored. The latter even comes with a commentary (a riff, really) by Mike Nelson of MST3K fame!
  • The voice of the plant was done by the Charles B. Griffith, who wrote the script and also played the patient who runs screaming out of the dentist’s office, and the burglar.
  • The detectives who are investigating the murders are named Fink and Stoolie. Har de har.
  • The film was shot in two days, on a standing set for a production that was about to wrap.
  • Check out the signs in broken English in the flower shop window. Lots Plants Cheap!

Groovy Quotes

Wilbur Force: No novocaine. It dulls the senses.

Burson Fouch: I remember in one flower shop there was a whole wall covered with poison ivy. People came from miles around to look at that wall and they stayed to buy.
Gravis Mushnik: And the owner got rich?
Burson Fouch: No, he scratched himself to death in an insane asylum.

Seymour Krelboin: I’m getting pretty tired of you.
Audrey Jr.: I need food!
Seymour Krelboin: I don’t care what you need. Look what you’ve done, you not only made a butcher out of me but you drove my girl away.
Audrey Jr.: Shut up and bring on the food!

Seymour Krelboin: I didn’t mean it.
Gravis Mushnik: You didn’t mean it. You never mean it. You didn’t mean the time when you put up the bouquet with the ‘get well’ card in the funeral parlor, and sent the black lilies to that old lady in the hospital. You’re fired and this time, I, Gravis Mushnik, mean it!

[Seymour walks into the shop holding a bag with Dr. Farb’s body in it]
Audrey Jr.: Give me food!
Seymour Krelboin: Aw, take it easy, Dracula. What do you think I’m carrying here, my dirty laundry?

Seymour Krelboin: You mean I’m fired?
Gravis Mushnik: No, I’m electing you President from the United States!… YES, you are fired!

Burson Fouch: I’m just crazy about Kosher flowers!

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9 Comments

  1. I’m sure there are those who will disagree with me, but I definitely prefer this version to the musical. Nothing wrong with the musical, but this just feels like the real deal – it’s so freaking WEIRD that it stands apart from the usual plasticized Hollywood product. There’s a real ‘right from the screenwriter’s skull to the screen’ vibe to it that is very rare these days.

    • I agree and disagree. There is a raw uniqueness to it that gives the film a lot of charm, and a lot of credibility to all those “lesser” directors out there trying to make it big. It’s a shining example of what can be done without the advantage of loads of Hollywood cash being thrown at your project. Everything came together for this film so well, and it’s a shame that Corman wasn’t able to pull it off more often.

      As for the musical, I absolutely love it (partially because of that amazing score). I guess I technically prefer it, but it really depends on what I’m in the mood for. I see them as such different things that I don’t have an urge to compare them. If it’s the ending of the musical that irks you, check out the newly released Blu-Ray (I guess you could rent it or find someone willing to lend it to you), as it contains the Director’s Cut with the much darker, truer-to-the-source-material ending that Oz had originally shot. It is completely restored for this version, so it looks just as it would have had it been released in theaters that way.

      • Nah, it’s not the ending; I don’t really have a problem with that. (Which is a good thing, because Blu-Rays annoy me.) I suppose it might simply be the fact that I saw the original first, which cemented a preference, and just generally defined Little Shop for me as ‘weird little, quirky little, cheap little thing’. And I LIKED ‘weird little, quirky little, cheap little thing’ – so when I saw the musical, which was big and brassy and shiny and Rick Moranis-y, it just seemed to me like they’d missed the point. Sure, I still LIKED it; it’s still good, it just doesn’t quite click for me the way the original does.

  2. I loved the original because it was so offbeat and unexpected and it really did have some great humor. But I kept wondering, why didn’t he just feed the plant insects, or mice, or raw meat? Of course, then it wouldn’t be a shop of horrors, but the question still bothered me.

    • Well, A: Seymour was not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, so such alternatives might not have occurred to him, B: he had grown up in a WEIRD atmosphere, food-wise (remember, his mom never served any meals without some kind of medicine embedded in it), so he may not have been best-equipped to make judgements on such things, and C: the plant specifically responded to HUMAN blood, so one can assume that that’s more or less its natural diet.

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