A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 422 – Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

The Little Shop of Horrors – April 26th, 2011

Today I had an unpleasant experience. I won’t say it was bad, because it went fairly well, but it was a root canal. And let’s face it, even the smoothest root canal in the world is still a root canal and involves getting shot full of anesthetic and having the nerves in one of your teeth drilled out. That’s unpleasant. Sure, I had a really great endontist and all, but yeah. No fun. So we decided to watch the only movie out of our collection that features a dentist. Sadly, we don’t own the musical version of this story, but we do have the classic, directed by none other than Roger Corman.

I went to check on various versions of this story after we finished watching it and was amused at how many of them prominently showcase Jack Nicholson’s involvement in the movie. He’s only in one scene and while he steals it quite handily it’s still just one scene. Still, out of everyone else in the movie he’s the biggest name now. Makes sense. But it’s still amusing. And it really is a great scene. Nicholson plays Wilbur Force, a young man who just loves going to the dentist and prefers to have his fillings and extractions done without novocaine. “It dulls the senses” after all. He positively delights in the promise of the pain of dental procedures. I’m sure he’d have loved a root canal. And his scene is what I thought of when I decided we should watch this today.

To be honest, I know the musical better. When I was in high school I was involved in a rather large production of it, involving the huge rented plant props and all. I was in the production crew and had to squeeze myself behind the plant with another crew member to hold the arms near the end. It was a fun production to work on and I’ve had a fondness for the show ever since. I only saw this version after I’d seen the musical and it immediately struck me as such a strange movie for someone to make a musical of, but at the same time it’s perfect. It was already a dark comedy that poked fun at itself and that brand of humor really translated well to the stage.

The movie definitely has a low budget 1960s feel to it. There’s an intangible quality to certain films made at that time that’s simply instantly recognizable. But this is a movie that doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It’s not truly a horror movie. It’s a comedy parody of a horror movie. It’s a movie about a young man who raises a carnivorous plant to impress his boss at the flower shop and ends up having to feed it human corpses to keep it growing. Sure, you could play that seriously and given what else I’ve seen from Roger Corman, he might well have. But this was certainly played for laughs. How else do you explain a character named Siddie Shiva who has a new dead relative every time you see her? Or Nicholson’s gleeful dental patient? Seymour’s hypochondriac mother who makes cod liver oil soup? Detectives named Fink and Stoolie? A flower shop customer who eats what he buys right off the stems (salting them first, of course)? No, this is parody, plain and simple.

So, to the story. Seymour Krelboin is a young man who works in a flower shop. His boss is the grumpy Gravis Mushnick and his coworker is the sweet Audry Fulquard. Seymour’s in danger f losing his job if he can’t impress Mr. Mushnick, so he brings in a plant he’s been cultivating at home. It’s a fly trap of some sort, raised from mysterious seeds. He’s named it the Audry Jr. and it turns out it’ll only grow if fed blood. So the movie continues with the reluctant Seymour bringing dead bodies to Audry Jr. and the plant growing larger and more impressive as the day go by. It attracts new customers, gains attention from a horticultural society and seems to be the ticket to Seymour’s life getting immensely better. Aside from all the killing he has to do in order to keep the plant fed and happy. Because yes, it talks to him, demanding food.

Put that plot together with the humor of the whole thing and you’ve got a truly bizarre movie that just seems to somehow work. It’s self-aware enough to parody itself, which is a difficult thing and I honestly couldn’t say if it was intentionally written in ahead of time or if it just worked out that way thanks to direction and acting. After all, this was shot over a very short period of time and at least one of the writers reports that they were drunk while they were writing it. But two of the customers are a couple of teenage girls sent to find a florist to provide flowers for a parade float. They latch onto Audry Jr. as the centerpiece of the float and are thoroughly thrilled by it even when it blooms to reveal the faces of the people it’s eaten. In fact, that makes them all the happier. There’s just this odd and perfect vibe going on through the whole thing and while I think some of it was simply the lucky convergence of actors, script and plot, some of it shows that with the right tools you can get a classically great film on a small budget in a short time. And it helps if you have Jack Nicholson.

April 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

April 26, 2011

Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

I’ve never seen this movie before today. I’ve seen the musical that was based on it many times – both the film version and the stage version, but I’ve never seen the original movie. I have to say I was somewhat surprised.

What I was expecting, given the movie’s pedigree, was cheesy Roger Corman horror. I feel I’m familiar with his particular brand of film from this era. Things like The Wasp Woman or the Viking Women vs. the Sea Serpent. But this movie is instead a cheesy Roger Corman comedy, and although some of his films have comedic elements this is the first I can recall seeing that was played almost entirely for laughs. I knew, of course that the plot of the movie had great comedic potential, because that is what is played up in the musical, but it was kind of strange to realize that although this movie had the word “horrors” in the title it was not a horror film.

The plot here is largely the same as in the musical that was spawned from this film. Bumbling young stock boy Seymore Krelboin is working for Mr. Mushnick in his struggling flower shop on skid row. He has a crush on his co-worker Audrey and he is raising a mysterious plant of his own design that he doesn’t really understand. Eventually he discovers that his strange plant, which he has dubbed the Audrey Jr., thrives on human blood. Over the course of the movie he reluctantly feeds the plant as it grows to enormous proportions. Mr. Mushnick’s little shop wins all sorts of acclaim from the Audrey Jr, but it is all doomed and ultimately Seymore’s complicity in the crimes necessary to satiate the plant catch up with him.

It sounds like the plot of a serious horror film, and that’s what I was expecting. I was expecting the majority of the humor in the movie to come from its laughably low budget and cheesy production values. What I was not expecting was that virtually the entire movie was going to be played for laughs. My first hint was when a visitor to the flowershop declared that it was his intention to eat the flowers he had just purchased. “That’s odd” thought I, but that was onlt the very beginning of the strangeness.

Mel Wellis as Mr. Mushnick is all about the crazy accent and the rediculous foreign character he is playing. Jonathan Haze as Seymore is all bumbling pratfalls. Excised from the musical version is Seymore’s hypochondriac mother, who cooks all of her meals with various homeopathic remedies in them. There’s a pair of high-school girls who are constructing a rose parade float and offer to buy the necessary flowers from Mushnick because they are impressed by the Audrey Jr. There’s the hard boiled pair of cops who communicate in clipped cliches.

Of course there’s also the sadistic dentist (though in this movie he’s only tangentially related to the overall plot) and his masochistic patient – famously played by a very young and manic Jack Nicholson. Of course I knew that this movie gave Jack his big break (in the same way that Tarantula did for Clint Eastwood) and it was indeed a pleasure to watch him hamming it up with the rest of the cast.

I had fun watching this tonight. It wasn’t anything like what I was expecting, but it was fun. I’m not saying it’s flawless. Much of the humor is rather strained (particularly the pratfalls, which never struck me as particularly funny) and the ending is a big “so what” that feels like it needs to be accompanied by a “wah-wah” trombone effect. The entire production is do broad and over-the-top that it doesn’t actually feel all that funny. It is a unique film, though, and somewhat of an iconic one. I very much wish, however, that I now had the movie musical to follow it up with.

April 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment