The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
If the title Little Shop of Horrors only brings forth images of Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, and Ellen Greene, it's time to expand your cinematic experience a little. Roger Corman's 1960 The Little Shop of Horrors is a gem, a fun film shot in a measly two days. Excellent characters and performances build upon a solid script, allowing the film to shine beyond its technical shortcomings. Little Shop of Horrors is not a polished masterpiece, but there are few better ways I can think of to spend seventy minutes.
Little Shop of Horrors plays like an episode of "The Twilight Zone". Seymour Krelboin (Jonathan Haze), a scrawny misfit who works in a floral shop, accidentally nurtures a plant that requires human blood to grow. Wackiness ensues. A simple plot, but well-executed, and with its aforementioned short running time, further complications would merely clutter the film.
Interestingly, Little Shop of Horrors isn't a horror film. It is a black comedy, which is ultimately what saves it from its technical downfalls. While the film isn't truly horror, the black comedy builds off a solid horror core. If we stripped out the humor, we would be left with a monster movie: an evil mind-controlling, man-eating plant seeks to devour the world. However, it's as if Corman knew the special effects for the giant plant (named Audrey Junior, after Seymour's love interest) were too hokey to be scary. The script is peppered with jokes and comedic bits, from the opening credits' "Dragnet"-spoofing expositional voice-over to Seymour's singing of Christmas carols as he feeds Audrey Junior severed body parts. The humor is pitch perfect, slightly campy and entirely hilarious.
Enhancing this humor are the characters and the actors performing them. While Jonathan Haze, Mel Welles, and Jackie Joseph all do excellent work in their leading roles, it is the smaller, quirkier roles that stand out. Wally Campo's detective, Joe Fink, is a spot-on pastiche of Jack Webb's iconic Joe Friday ("Dragnet"), delivering some of the best jokes in a serious monotone that only makes them funnier. Jack Nicholson's famous cameo as the masochistic dental patient Wilbur Force is brief, but it's packed with enough laughs to make it one of the more memorable parts of the movie. Finally, we have Dick Miller's role as Burson Fouch. A hipster with a bizarre habit so ridiculous and funny, that it's best seen rather than described (though you'll never think of the term 'flower child' in the same light again). This eccentricity is precisely what helps Miller stand out as a great performer, in a movie slathered with great performances.
However, one must temper all this praise with some problems, as well. At seventy minutes, the film merely ends, with a serious dramatic build up to a finale that feels rather anticlimactic. The effects are shoddy, even by early 1960s standards, and Audrey Junior becomes laughable in unintentional ways due to this shortcoming. Audrey Junior is obviously made of paper mache, and when it opens its maw to speak, there is a visible difference between its mouth movements and the spoken lines. When the plant sprouts its horrific flowers late in the film, the details of their faces are painfully cheap looking. Most of these problems we can forgive, if not fully ignore, if we take into account the short shooting schedule and minuscule budget. Besides, the problems are far outweighed by the excellence elsewhere.
Corman's Little Shop of Horrors is a comedic classic. Chock full of highly entertaining performances on top of a clever script, it's a fun way to spend a little over an hour. Just pop it in your DVD player, switch off any sort of technical snobbery, and enjoy.
This review is part of Roger Corman Week, the first of four celebrations of master horror directors done for our Shocktober 2007 event.