HCF REWIND NO.111. THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS 
AVAILABLE ON DVD AND BLU RAY
RUNNING TIME: 68 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
On Los Angeles’ skid row, penny-pinching Gravis Mushnick owns a florist shop and employs sweet but simple Audrey Fulquard and clumsy, downtrodden Seymour Krelboyn. The rundown shop gets little business, and when Seymour fouls up dentist Dr. Farb’s flower arrangement, Mushnick fires him. Hoping Mushnick will change his mind, Seymour tells him about a special plant that he crossbred from a butterwort and a Venus Flytrap, a plant that he calls Audrey Jr. Musnick is unimpressed by its sickly, drooping look but gives Seymour one week to revive it. When Seymour accidentally pricks his finger on another thorny plant, Audrey Jr. opens wider, eventually causing Seymour to discover that the plant craves blood…..
The Little Shop Of Horrors is famous in cult movie circles as the film that was shot in two days. It’s a film that I hadn’t caught up until now, though I’m quite a fan of the musical remake from 1986, which was actually based on a stage production from 1982. I never cease to admire producer and director Roger Corman for his ability to achieve so much with so little, but surely a film shot in two days couldn’t be much good? One would probably expect a movie of Ed Wood quality, but to my surprise The Little Shop Of Horrors is really a very decent film, and certainly a pretty mad one, a bonkers comedy mixing dark humour, farce and just a bit of horror. It is a micro-budgeted production, so things like cardboard sets and papier-mache props are easily obvious, but because the film never takes itself seriously, and also has acting that is far better than anyone would have a right to expect, such things don’t really matter. What matters is that Corman and his crew created a film from almost nothing which is thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end.
The project was conceived after Corman decided to make a film using the sets from his previous production, also a comedy, called A Bucket Of Blood which can almost be seen as Corman’s version of House Of Wax. It has been said that the film’s shooting schedule was based on a bet that Corman could not complete a film within that time, but others had said that the film’s tiny production time was because Corman wanted to get one more film in before new rules were to go into effect requiring producers to pay all actors residuals for all future releases of their work. The cast, nearly all Corman regulars, rehearsed for three weeks prior to production, and some brief exterior bits and pieces were shot by writer Charles B. Griffith and star Mel Welles. The film had trouble finding distribution because of its two Jewish characters who were deemed by many to be insulting. It was finally released by Corman’s own production company, The Filmgroup Inc., nine months after it had been completed. It was released double-billed with Black Sunday, but because Corman did not believe that it had much financial prospect after its initial theatrical run, he did not bother to copyright it, resulting in the film falling into the public domain and therefore becoming widely available in copies of varying quality.
You know you’re watching something a little off-the-wall when it opens with mock-Dragnet narration over rough sketches of the film’s locale. This narration is by a guy who doesn’t actually show up in person until half way through. Anyway, we soon enter the film’s main location, a flower shop which has hurriedly-written signs like LOTS PLANTS HERE, and meet its main characters. Wet and weedy Seymour, ditzy bimbo Audrey [who should have been blonde and was in the remake] and their mean and supposedly Jewish [but sounding more Russian] boss are fun and all quite well played with just the right level of humour, but it’s the other odd folk who really bring in the laughs. There’s the hysterical lady customer who constantly buys flowers because someone she knows has died. There’s Seymour’s hypochondriac mother who takes cough medicine that is 96% alcohol and cooks soup which consists of cod liver oil and sulphur powder. There’s the two idiot cops, one of whom is so ’hard’ that even the death of his son is met with a shrug. There’s the various characters who only show up for one scene, in a film where every single person seems to be interesting, and who include amongst them Jack Nicholson as a man who likes pain and enjoys having his teeth being pulled out. Jack is really odd in this scene, very camp and almost girly, and I’d be lying if I said you’d be hard put to think he would become the great star he went on to become from his performance.
Best of all though are, first of all, the customer played by the wonderful Dick Miller, who to me is one of the great unsung character actors of all time [you’ll first recall him from every Joe Dante picture, then remember all these other great films he’s been in, often in scene-stealing walk-on parts]. He walks around eating flowers, often sprinkling salt on them first. And second, of course, is Audrey 2 herself. The carnivorous plant looks like something you or I could have knocked up in a couple of hours, but it’s still a unique monster whose cries of “feed me, feed me” are unforgettable. The film is actually pretty grisly, with [unconvincing, but does it really matter?] limbs being visibly fed to or spat out by the plant, and the ridiculous but actually rather disturbing image of the faces of people who have been eaten appearing on Audrey 2’s blossoms.
This is a much funnier film than the musical, with Charles B. Griffith’s script coming across like the screenplay to some long lost 40’s screwball comedy made by the Monty Python crew, though the crazy and even random nature of much of it isn’t for all tastes. There’s a lengthy sequence near the end where Seymour is hypnotised by the plant to go get a human victim, and he’s running all over a red light district falling over and accosted by hookers who he isn’t interested sexually but just want them as possible dinners for Audrey 2. I thought it was hilarious, brilliantly staged with fantastic timing, and really makes me wonder why Corman didn’t do more outright comedy [though much of his work has humour in it], but if you don’t appreciate humour of the zany kind you may just sit through the whole scene stone-faced. Oddly though, despite being funnier than the musical version, it’s also darker. The 1986 Seymour never actually killed any of the luckless folk who end up inside Audrey 2, but the 1960 Seymour certainly does, even if they are mostly accidental deaths. In one bit he throws a rock at a bottle on a wall out of frustration, accidently hits a poor guy’s head with it, almost knocking him out, after which the guy gets up, staggers onto a train track, to be ran over by a train!
The Little Shop Of Horrors is full of invention and really makes the most out of most of its scenes with the budget that it had, such as its final chase which takes place partly in and on tires in a junkyard, and also includes Seymour hiding in a toilet [!] and for some reason a bunch of kids running out of an underground train station. Who cares if, for instance, a restaurant is obviously somebody’s kitchen? The film’s interiors were shot with three cameras in wide, lingering master shots in single takes, meaning that in terms of cinema technique it’s often very basic, but I was so engrossed in the madness taking place in front of me I didn’t even notice until near the end. Original, daring [the Freudian aspects of the tale are immediately obvious] and as fresh today as it must have seemed back in 1960, this is a classic of low-budget filmmaking.