Written by: Charles B. Griffith
Directed by: Roger Corman
Starring: Jonathan Haze, Mel Welles, Dick Miller, and Jack Nicholson
Reviewed by: Brett G.
My mind tends to divide Roger Cormanís career into two distinct parts (Iím currently choosing to forget the ďproduce every shitty movie that comes across his deskĒ phase heís been stuck in for decades). One half is dominated by quick, black and white cheapies (Bucket of Blood, Attack of the Giant Leaches, etc.), while the other is accompanied by a garish palette of colors and the sweet, velvety voice of Vincent Price. Both obviously have their place for any horror fan; Iím sure most would agree that the latter offered more polished, atmospheric thrills, but itís hard to deny the kitschy charm of the former. 1960ís The Little Shop of Horrors was one of the last stops Corman made before moving on to his legendary AIP run; legend abounds that he shot the flick in two days (why or how this happened varies depending on whoís telling the story), so itís perhaps the quintessential representative for Cormanís fast and cheap style of film-making.
Gravis Mushnickís (Mel Welles) fledgling Skid Row flower shop is in need of something to attract customers. Heís about to fire his bumbling assistant, Seymour (Jonathan Haze), for general incompetence, but the good-hearted employee begs him for one more chance. He claims to be in the possession of a rare, special plant that might capture the customersí eye. The Venus Fly Trap hybrid does prove to be not only eye catching, but also hungry--and mouthy! A series of unfortunate events leads Seymour to discover the plant feed and grows on human blood, and heís soon created a monster thatís grown beyond his control.
The setting is Skid Row, but this one hails straight out of Poverty Row; an unabashedly quick and dirty production thatís practically gagging on the tongue thatís shoved in its razory maw. Its wit isnít always that sharp, but itís successfully goofy, silly, and not very horrific. Boasting a jazzy, brassy score and a half-hearted attempt at a film noir style narration, Little Shop of Horrors revels in its B-movie status. In other words, itís exactly what youíd expect from a Roger Corman directed flick about a giant, carnivorous plant.
In fairness to flora everywhere, the human element is just as silly. Hazeís Seymour character is your typical Corman sad sack thatís been cast from the same mold as Dick Millerís character in Bucket of Blood. He means well, but is plagued by bad luck and a desire to please everyone (so naturally, he feeds his giant plant the bodies of people). In any other movie, heíd be the odd man out, but Corman really emptied the oddball barrel with this one. Seymour is surrounded by the likes of his over-bearing, hypochondriac mother, a con-artist old lady who scams the shop for free flowers, a sadistic dentist and his masochistic patient (Jack Nicholson), and a couple of oblivious gumshoes. Speaking of the aforementioned Miller, he shoes up as a guy who eats flowers, an obvious counterpart to the man-eating flower (but not really!).
For a movie that was ostensibly made because Corman was pissing around, The Little Shop of Horrors isnít bad; in fact, itís kind of charming, especially if youíre a Corman vet. He often reminds you of that one kid in class that you know could be pretty brilliant if he really tried, and he at least finally made good on that potential a few years later. In this case, he delivers the expect schlock and absurdity; though itís more of a screwball flick, thereís some bit of gruesome wizardry and neat effects, particularly when the killer plant reveals what happens to its victims. Frank Ozís 80s update of course improved this aspect, which functions well enough here. The ďgood enoughĒ mantra definitely ruled the day here--youíll likely laugh at the hysterical voice acting for the plant itself. It was supposed to be overdubbed at a later point, but Corman shrugged it off and left it as is (perhaps for the better).
How hereís the fun part: this is usually where Iíd tell you how to track the flick down. For most of you, the answer is ďcheck your shelfĒ because itís probably kicking around there on some public domain collection. And while that will no doubt serve its low budget aesthetic well, it still wonít be as good as the presentation found on the Trailers From Hell: Volume 2 collections. Presenting the film in anamorphic widescreen for the first time ever, itís an excellent restoration that still shows a requisite amount of wear and tear. Still, I imagine this is the best the film has looked since it was playing as the second half on double bills in theaters 50 years ago. The Trailers From Hell compilation comes highly recommended anyway, so The Little Shop of Horrors comes as a nice bonus (it also features a commentary track from Corman). Fans of Corman (or awesomely silly creature features in general) should definitely give it a look. Rent it!
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