The Little Shop of Horrors

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

On Los Angeles’ skid row, penny-pinching Gravis Mushnick (Mel Welles) owns a florist shop which is staffed by him and his two employees, the sweet but simple Audrey Fulquard (Jackie Joseph) and clumsy Seymour Krelboyne (Jonathan Haze). Although the rundown shop gets little business, there are some repeat customers; for instance, Mrs. Siddie Shiva (Leola Wendorff) shops almost daily for flower arrangements for her many relatives’ funerals. Another regular customer is Burson Fouch (Dick Miller), who eats the plants he buys for lunch. When Seymour fouls up the arrangement of Dr. Farb (John Shaner), a sadistic dentist, 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. Bashfully, Seymour admits that he named the plant “Audrey Jr.”, a revelation that delights the real Audrey.

From the apartment he shares with his hypochondriac mother, Winifred (Myrtle Vail), Seymour fetches his odd-looking, potted plant, but Mushnick is unimpressed by its sickly, drooping look. However, when Fouch suggests that Audrey Jr.’s uniqueness might attract people from all over the world to see it, Mushnick gives Seymour one week to revive it. Seymour has already discovered that the usual kinds of plant food do not nourish his strange hybrid and that every night at sunset the plant’s leaves open up. When Seymour accidentally pricks his finger on another thorny plant, Audrey Jr. opens wider, eventually causing Seymour to discover that the plant craves blood. After that, each night Seymour nurses his creation with blood from his fingers. Although he feels increasingly listless, Audrey Jr. begins to grow and the shop’s revenues increase due to the curious customers who are lured in to see the plant.

The plant (voiced by writer Charles B. Griffith) develops the ability to speak and demands that Seymour feed him. Now anemic and not knowing what to feed the plant, Seymour takes a walk along a railroad track. When he carelessly throws a rock to vent his frustration, he inadvertently knocks out a man who falls on the track and is run over by a train. Miserably guilt-ridden but resourceful, Seymour collects the body parts and feeds them to Audrey Jr. Meanwhile at a restaurant, Mushnick discovers he has no money with him, and when he returns to the shop to get some cash, he secretly observes Seymour feeding the plant. Although Mushnick intends to tell the police, he procrastinates by the next day when he sees the line of people waiting to spend money at his shop.

When Seymour later arrives that morning suffering a toothache, Mushnick sends Seymour to Dr. Farb, who tries to remove several of his teeth without anesthetic to get even with Seymour for ruining Farb’s flowers. Grabbing a sharp tool, Seymour fights back and accidentally stabs and kills Farb. Seymour is horrified that he has now murdered twice and after posing as a dentist to avoid the suspicion of Farb’s masochistic patient Wilbur Force (Jack Nicholson), Seymour feeds Farb’s body to Audrey Jr. The unexplained disappearance of the two men attract the attention of the police and Mushnick finds himself questioned by Det. Joe Fink (Wally Campo) and his assistant Sgt. Frank Stoolie (Jack Warford) (take-offs of Dragnet characters Joe Friday and Frank Smith,). Although Mushnick acts suspiciously nervous, Fink and Stoolie conclude that he knows nothing. Audrey Jr., which has grown several feet tall, is beginning to bud, as is the relationship between Seymour and Audrey (whom Seymour invites on a date).

When a representative of the Society of Silent Flower Observers of Southern California comes to the shop to check out the plant, she announces that Seymour will soon receive a trophy from them and that she will return when the plant’s buds open. While Seymour is on a date with Audrey, Mushnick stays at the shop to see that Audrey Jr. eats no one else. After trading barbs with the plant when Audrey awakens and requests to be fed, Mushnick find himself at the mercy of a robber (Charles B. Griffith) who believes that the huge crowd he had observed attending the shop indicated the presence of a large amount of money. To save his own life, Mushnick tricks the robber into thinking that the money is at the bottom of the plant who then eats him. Not only does the monstrous plant’s growth increase with this latest meal, but its intelligence and abilities do as well. It intimidates Mr. Mushnick, who is now more terrified than ever, but not so much that he will pass up on the money the plant is bringing in as an attraction. After he is forced to damage his relationship with Audrey to keep her from discovering the plant’s nature, an angry Seymour confronts the plant asserting he will no longer do its bidding just because it orders him. The plant then employs hypnosis on the feckless lad and commands him to bring it more food. He wanders the night streets aimlessly until pursued by a rather aggressively persistent high-end call girl Leonora Clyde (Meri Welles) intent on making a score. Believing him harmless, she flirts with him to no avail until he inadvertently knocks her out with a rock and carries her back to feed Audrey Jr.

Still lacking clues about the mysterious disappearances of the two men, Fink and Stoolie attend a special sunset celebration at the shop during which Seymour is to be presented with the trophy and Audrey Jr.’s buds are expected to open. As the attendees look on, four buds open and inside each flower is the face of one of the plant’s victims. As the crowd breaks out in shock and fright, Fink and Stoolie realize Seymour is their culprit who flees from the shop with the police and Mushnick in hot pursuit. Managing to lose them in a junk yard filled with sinks and toilets, Seymour eventually makes his way back to Mushnick’s shop where Audrey Jr. is screaming to be fed. Blaming the plant for ruining his life, Seymour grabs a knife and climbs into Audrey Jr.’s mouth in an ill thought out attempt to kill it.

Some time later; Audrey, Winifred, Mushnick, Fink, and Stoolie return to the shop where Audrey Jr. has begun to wither and die. As Winifred laments over how her son used to be such a good boy, the final bud opens to reveal the face of Seymour who pitifully moans “I didn’t mean it!” before drooping over.

REVIEW:

First things first, The Little Shop of Horrors is not the more popular, musical version from 1986 starring Rick Moranis, Little Shop of Horrors. With that in mind, the story, and some of the characters are pretty much the same, but the way things play out are not. Now, I will try not to compare and contrast the two, but since I saw the musical version first, that will be a tough task, much as it was with the Hairspray films.

What is this about?

Down-on-his-luck plant-shop employee Seymour (Jonathan Haze) thinks he’s got it made when he develops a new Venus flytrap hybrid. Not so fast, Seymour: Turns out, the plant has not only a voice but also a voracious appetite … for human flesh!

What did I like?

Noir. With the music that plays throughout the film, the narration, and the black and white film, this has a pseudo-film noir feel to it that I really appreciated and enjoyed. For some unknown reason, it fit the tone and limited scope of this picture, as well as keep the audience interested in what was happening.

Story. If you’re familiar with the musical, then you know the plot of this film. Say what you will about either version, you can’t deny that this is something interesting, to say the least. A bloodthirsty Venus flytrap manipulating a meek flower shop boy to bring him blood. Man, that is some dark stuff, and yet it is somehow entertaining and the reason this film got a much lighter musical version.

Jack. Arguably one of the best characters in this film is Wilbur Force, played by a very, very young Jack Nicholson (this was one of his very first movie roles). I don’t believe I’ve ever seen Nicholson play a nerd, especially an over the top one. Most of the time, he’s calm, cool, and collected, or just insane. This nerdy guy though should go down as one of his best, alongside the Joker, and his character from The Shining. Couple his performance with the chemistry he has with Seymour, played by Jonathan Haze, and you have the best scene in the movie (rumor has it they ad libbed the whole thing).

What didn’t I like?

Scary. I hear all the tales of how freaky and scary this film, and yet I didn’t get any of these vibes when I was watching. This is a comedy, with some horror elements, and even then those horror elements are taken with a grain of salt. Did I want this to be scary? Not necessarily, but I was expecting some more along those lines.

Junior. I hate to say this, but Audrey II just is more likable than Audrey Junior. Why is that, you ask? Well, for starters, he’s an alien and his buds don’t have creepy faces on them, not to mention he has a personality besides just saying “feed me” all the time. There is also the aesthetic aspect. Audrey II looks better than Junior, but 26 years of technology will do that. I can guarantee if they were to make a version of this film here in 2014, regardless of how good or bad the film is, the Audrey in the film would look better. That point aside, Junior just didn’t cut it for me.

Dragnet. Just about the time the murders and missing people are becoming noticeable to everyone we are introduced to two policemen who are obviously a parody of the cops from Dragnet, which was a popular TV show at the time. That isn’t what bothers me. As a matter of fact, I actually liked it, but the fact that they introduced the gag and left it hanging and/or didn’t keep it going, leaving it as a dead gag, as they went on and tried to make this a more serious film.

Please don’t mistake my issues with The Little Shop of Horrors as some sort of vitriol towards the film. I enjoyed it well enough, just not enough to love it, unlike some people. Give the choice between the two, I think personally, my preference would be the ’86 musical version. That being said, do I recommend it? I suppose, just not a very high recommendation.

3 out of 5 stars

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