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Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Little Shop of Horrors is a 1986 American musical comedy directed by Frank Oz. It is a film adaptation of the off-Broadway musical comedy of the same name by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman about a nerdy florist shop worker who raises a vicious, raunchy plant that feeds on human blood. Menken and Ashman's Off-Broadway musical was based on the low-budget 1960 film The Little Shop of Horrors, directed by Roger Corman. The film stars Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin and the voice of Levi Stubbs as Audrey II. Little Shop of Horrors was filmed on the Albert R. Broccoli 007 Stage at the Pinewood Studios in England, where a "downtown" set, complete with overhead train track, was constructed. The film was produced on a budget of $25 million, in contrast to the original 1960 film, which, according to Corman, only cost $30,000. The film's original 23-minute finale, based on the musical's ending, was rewritten and reshot after receiving a strong negative reception from test audiences and has never been seen since besides black-and-white workprint footage.
The movie is a solid adaptation; beyond some alterations at the end after test audiences complained (they should have complained even more), the movie is very similar to the play. Most of the songs remain intact, and the cast is full of energy and zest. The special effects fill an important niche. So why does so much of Little Shop of Horrors feel distant and wearisome?
Filmed entirely on Western Europe's largest soundstage at Pinewood Studios in London, Little Shop of Horrors tells the corny, sick-joke story of a diminutive man's impetuous rise from poverty and loneliness to fame, riches, and companionship. Rick Moranis (Ghostbusters) plays Seymour, the poor fellow who works at a plant shop owned by the greedy Mr. Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia). Business is not exactly blooming at the shop, however, and his secret romantic interest, Audrey (Ellen Greene) is dating a sadistic dentist (Steve Martin).
One day, however, things start to look up for Seymour. He brings a very 'strange and interesting' plant, called Audrey II, to his shop. Suddenly, business explodes. The plant grows to monstrous proportions when Seymore discovers its appetite calls for human flesh and blood. Then Audrey II begins to demand full bodies, and the copses start piling up. Seymour must decide whether he wants to continue his life of fame and fortune and impressing Audrey, or destroy the plant altogether.
Rick Moranis delivers a meek and timid but empathetic performance, perfect for his gentle, submissive character. Vincent Gardenia gives a conniving, greedy character color and persuasive personality. While Ellen Greene's charm does shine through some of her characters nuisances, I cannot praise her overall performances because of the annoying, squeaky voice and the stereotypical bimbo traits. She's one of the most royally annoying actresses on this side of Skid Row.
The supporting cast stands out above the rest, and that's probably because most of the main characters are so extraordinarily ordinary and bland. The impressive guest appearances include delicious, hilarious, scene-stealing performances by Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Christopher Guest, James Belushi, and John Candy.
I even enjoyed some of the movie's special effects. The filmmakers constructed several models of Audrey II, with the largest weighing a ton and requiring about sixty operating technicians. In addition, to capture more fluid movement, the scenes featuring the largest plant were shot at sixteen frames per second, meaning the actors had to sing, dance, and act at a slower pace. These guys do these scenes with stunning versatility; they make it look all too easy.
As I write these words, various scenes from the movie flash through my mind, but only a few -- and not one that features the man-eating plant from outer space. There is some excellent material in Little Shop of Horrors. Some of the sequences will stick with me, as will a few of the lively, lyrical song numbers. I only feel this way about portions of the movie, though. As a whole, the story is uninteresting, most of the characters contrived, and the vast majority of the 94 minutes is almost instantly forgettable, especially the man-eating plant from outer space. Some of the movie is worth watching, so get the DVD version and skip right to the good scenes and songs. Unfortunately, you'll have to skip past a lot.