Golden Oldies On the Big Screen Golden Oldies On the Big Screen




For, Friday, July 10, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: I was a big fan of the 1960 poverty-row, no-budget horror-comedy ‘The Little Shop of Horrors,’ which Roger Corman notoriously filmed in just two days on standing sets from another film. It’s hilarious and I recommend it (you can see it for free on YouTube and many other sites, as it has fallen into the public domain). So I was not completely unprepared for the stage-musical remake when the movie version finally came around, and I was not disappointed; it’s thoroughly engaging and hilarious, albeit more than a little weird. And it’s back on the big screen, playing at the District, the Megaplex complex in South Jordan. My review was published in the Deseret News on Dec. 19, 1986.

A bizarre combination of “Grease” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” with heavy emphasis on black humor, “Little Shop of Horrors” is like no musical-comedy you’ve ever seen before.

Unless you have seen “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

But even that doesn’t quite prepare you for the story of a man-eating plant from outer space that promises to make a celebrity tycoon of the nerd who nurtures him.

Take it from the guy who liked “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” you haven’t seen weird until you’ve seen this one. But you also haven’t seen anything funnier.

The story, based on Roger Corman’s old B-movie from 1960 (and the stage musical that followed 20 years later), focuses on an employee in a Skid Row flower shop, Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis, doing a more sympathetic version of his “Ghostbusters” wimp).

Seymour buys a strange little plant from a Chinese florist during a total eclipse of the sun and names it “Audrey II,” after a co-worker he loves from afar.


Rick Moranis, left, Vincent Gardenia, Ellen Greene, 'Little Shop of Horrors' (1986)

Soon, however, he discovers the plant feeds on human blood. When his fingers run dry the plant pleads with him to provide human food (yes, it talks, and sings with a tremendous voice provided by Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops). Needless to say, Seymour isn’t quite up to it.

But when he sees Audrey, the woman he loves, abused by her nasty boyfriend, Seymour begins to think some people might be better off as plant food.

OK, so it isn’t in the best taste. And it’s definitely not your usual musical-comedy subject matter. Furthermore, the entire production, directed by Muppeteer Frank Oz in a style that almost treats the human actors as Muppets, is little more than a zany live-action cartoon.

So let’s face it – the only saving grace for a picture like this is if it delivers enough laughs to redeem itself. Suffice it to say “Little Shop of Horrors” delivers enough and then some.

There are several show-stopping numbers here, but the best — and most hilarious — are Steve Martin’s introductory song as a sadistic dentist, and Bill Murray’s cameo as Martin’s pain-loving patient. (Trivia buffs will note that Murray’s role in the original film was handled by a very young Jack Nicholson.)

There are also funny bits by John Candy as a wacked-out disc jockey, James Belushi as an opportunistic promoter and Christopher Guest as the first customer to notice “Audrey II” in the shop window.


Steve Martin, left, Bill Murray, 'Little Shop of Horrors' (1986)

There’s also a marvelous “Greek Chorus,” a Supremes spoof that is dead-on; a hysterical satire on the “Father Knows Best” view of happy home life; and a number of little visual touches from Oz and crew.

The leads are very nicely handled by Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene (she played Audrey for two years on stage in New York, Los Angeles and London) and the aforementioned Levi Stubbs. (It should also be mentioned that the amazing “Audrey II” was created by Lyle Conway, who has worked with Oz and Jim Henson on earlier Muppet creations. But “Audrey II” is truly an amazingly expressive electronic puppet, definitely worthy of Oscar consideration.)

The songs are funny and bright, Oz’s direction offers just the right amount of camp without overdoing it and everyone in the cast seems to be having a great time, which quickly infects the audience.

Toward the end the film almost wears out its welcome, but the filmmakers had enough sense to know when to quit and the length seems just right.

“Little Shop of Horrors,” rated PG-13 for violence, profanity and sexual innuendo, and there’s not a lot — most of it is very discreet — is the surprise delight of the Christmas season and should enjoy a long run into the new year.