Continuing on with a similar theme from Monday is a Little Shop of Horrors double bill, first with the 1960 low-budget original, directed by a hesitant Roger Corman, followed by the 1986 film adaptation of the Alan Menken and Howard Ashman penned Off-Broadway musical. Both are funny, neither is particularly horrific, and while one has a very young Jack Nicholson, the other has Bill Murray—so it’s a bit of a toss-up as to which is the better killer plant movie.
By the late 50s Roger Corman had already hit his monster movie stride, churning out an unbelievable number of B-movies for paltry sums of money. Corman concentrated on producing horror flicks, chiefly because they’re easy to produce and hard to muck up. After all, Corman’s core audience comprised mostly of 10 year-old boys--as long as there was some cleavage to gawk at and some blood tossed around, Corman stood a pretty good chance at turning a profit. So, according to Corman biographer Beverly Grey, when screenwriter Charles B. Griffith (whom Quentin Tarantino reportedly called “the father of redneck cinema") approached him to produce a series of horror-comedies, Corman balked at the idea saying: “We don’t do comedy or drama, because you have to be good. We don’t have the time or money to be good.” Eventually, Griffith won out and Corman produced a string of the writer's horror-comedies, which included The Little Shop of Horrors, a film that Corman shot in two and a half days for about $30,000.
The most surprising thing about the above anecdote isn’t so much that Corman managed to somehow shoot a feature-length movie over the course of a weekend, but rather that he put out a genuinely funny movie that’s marked with moments of dumb wit and loony sight gags. It seems a shame that its musical adaptation, as catchy and fun as it is, has basically eclipsed the original, which has slipped out of the public eye. Corman’s Little Shop certainly wears its low budget and hasty production on its sleeve, but it has funny quirks that are absent from the bombastic musical, like Dick Miller’s turn as a man on an all-flower diet, and Audrey’s tendency to use flowery words incorrectly.
But a little production like The Little Shop of Horrors couldn’t stand a chance against a frenzied, multi-million dollar pop-culture behemoth like Frank Oz’s 1986 adaptation of Menken and Ashman’s musical. It’s littered with some of the biggest comic actors of the day (Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, John Candy, Bill Murray and, well, does Jim Belushi count?) all laying the ham on thick, it has ridiculously catchy songs, and the drastically made-over Audrey II puppet’s emotive detail is impressive even today.
Even though Oz ultimately cut the film’s original mordant ending, where Audrey II eats Seymour and goes on a Godzilla-like rampage through New York City, Little Shop of Horrors still maintains a pretty dark tone throughout. Next to Moranis, whose Seymour is better fleshed out and more sympathetic than Jonathan Haze’s dopey original, Steve Martin’s turn as Orin Scrivello, DDS is easily the best performance in the movie. After his stand-up days, Martin settled into a kind of calm persona that constantly towed the line of sanity; but with Scrivello, Martin cuts the brake-line and his Elvis sneer and drugged out giggles are amazing:
Tomorrow: Enough of this song and dance routine, I want to feel ashamed of myself. I Spit on Your Grave (1978) is up next.
Photo Credits: "The Little Shop of Horrors" is public domain because Roger Corman didn't bother to copyright it in 1960. "Little Shop of Horrors" image: The Geffen Company, 1986