Little Shop of Horrors/Review

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

< Little Shop of Horrors

1960 saw the releases of big budget epics such as Kubrick's Spartacus and John Sturges' reworking of Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai into The Magnificent Seven. It was the year when Hitchcock scared women into not taking showers with Psycho, Billy Wilder explored the angst of an average American employee in the satiric The Apartment, it was also the year of Godard's Breathless, Antonioni's L'Avventura and Fellini's La Dolce Vita.

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It was also the year of a little-known B&W movie that combined elements of comedy, camp horror and satire, which has since become a cult favorite. It was adapted for a Broadway stage play, which led to a musical remake in 1986. It featured a very young Jack Nicholson in a small role, which has now become something of movie folklore. It was B-movie-making at its best, incorporating all the elements: cheesy effects, equally cheesy voiceovers, a whole cast of not-so-known actors. The movie I am referring to is the 1960 version of The Little Shop of Horrors. One of the earliest movies to achieve cult status, this movie by now is something every cult fan swears by. Forget about the ratings on IMDB, forget about what the critics say on Rotten Tomatoes, this is in every sense, a true cult movie.

A small florist shop on Los Angeles' skid row is owned by a miserly Jewish owner, Gravis Mushnik (Mel Welles), and it’s a run down place, not doing too great, except for one regular customer, Ms. Siddie Shiva (Leola Wendorff), who always seems to be attending some funeral and keeps ordering flowers daily. The only 2 employees in the shop are a sweet, buxom, airhead named Audrey Fulquard (Jackie Joseph) and a goofball called Seymour Krelboin (Jonathan Haze). Seymour keeps driving Gravis nutty with his idiotic ways and his propensity to screw things up. When he messes up a delivery to the dentist, he is fired.

Desperately seeking to hold on to his job, he tells Mushnick about a special plant he has bred, a cross between a Venus fly trap and a butterwort. He names it as “Audrey 2″, after the female employee for whom he has the hots. Seymour is the typical loser, goofy, bumbling and add to it, has to deal with an ailing hypochondriac mother, Winifred. Mushnick is not impressed with the plant, but Audrey is thrilled to know that the plant is named after her, it's “the biggest honor done to me” she says.

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Seymour begins to take care of the plant, watering it and talking to it. During an incident, when he cuts his finger, he comes to know that the plant loves blood, and then he begins to feed it daily drops of his own blood. The plant keeps growing, on the steady diet of blood it receives from Seymour, who on the other hand, becomes increasingly anemic. In a bizarre twist, Audrey 2 becomes an attraction, Mushnick now begins to treat Seymour like a son, all the while Seymour is becoming more and more anemic.

Seymour, is facing a loss of blood as he tells the plant “I need some blood for myself”. He takes a walk along the railway tracks, and when a freak incident causes a man to be run over by a train, he takes the body to be fed to the plant. As he feeds Audrey the pieces, Mushnick shows up at the shop to get some money and observes him stuffing the body parts into the plant. Thus begins a never ending nightmare as the plant begins to increase in size and appetite, turning into a monster.

The Little Shop of Horrors was shot on a shoestring budget of just $30,000. And the tackiness shows up in every frame, right from the dull B&W print to the rather stagey looking settings, to the B -actors, to the hokey looking plant thats far from scary, it looks more campy. Although its quite in effect a black comedy with quite a dark ending, the movie is camp for most of the time. It is cheesy, over the top, tongue in cheek, not to be taken too seriously. And yet for a movie that in effect is B grade, camp horror, it sparkles with some really witty humor and excellent writing.

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The theme does echo Frankenstein, in which a person’s creation turns on him, and finally ends up destroying him. The Frankenstein here is Audrey 2, which morphs into an out of the control monster, devouring everything that comes into it’s way. The more you feed it, the more it wants. Was this some kind of veiled attack on American style consumerism, the more you have something, the more you want it? If taken in a metaphorical way, I feel Audrey 2, the carnivorous plant, does satirize the American consumer, as it wants to grow and grow, it becomes larger, it becomes hungrier. In another scene, Mushnick, begins to dream about owning a florist store in Beverly Hills, where he could sell the plants at over priced rates. While in one way, the story does pay tribute to the typical American innovativeness and ingenuity, in the same sense, it pokes fun at the American “success at all costs” capitalism, as well as the typical consumerist mentality.

Seymour starts out as loser, begins to win, when his plant attracts customers, he finds his life being destroyed slowly by the same plant. As he says in one scene: "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."

Mushnick is scared of the plant, concerned about its capacity for destruction, but does not want to destroy it, as the plant brings in the business for him. Underneath the satire, it’s dark comedy, The Little Shop of Horrors does carry a moralistic fable about Greed ultimately destroying it’s creator.

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I'm not sure if all this hidden sub text would be something that fits in with director Roger Corman. One of the most popular B Movie makers of his time. His earlier work prior to this were such classics like Attack of The Crab Monsters, The Wasp Woman and A Bucket of Blood. He was the director behind the biker classic The Wild Angels, that starred Peter Fonda, Diane Ladd which was one of the defining movies of the 60s counter culture movement. He is also noted for his series of movies that starred Vincent Price that were based on Edgar Allan Poe's works, The Raven, The Pit and the Pendulum, The House of Usher and Masque of Ligeria. Major leading filmmakers and actors of the 70′s cut their teeth on Corman's movies such as Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Nicholson and Martin Scorsese (Corman produced Boxcar Bertha one of his earlier directorial efforts).

To all cult movie lovers, I would suggest you watch the 1960 B&W version of the movie. It is movie making at it’s most passionate. Overcoming constraints of budget, cast & actors, Roger Corman manages to give us a movie that is cheeky, campy, fun, and has an underlying sub text.

Reviewed by Scorpius Maximus Indicus

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