Little Shop of Horrors
Comedy, Horror | 72 mins | Released: 1960
Director: Roger Corman
Starring: Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles, Wally Campo, Dick Miller, Myrtle Hall, Jack Nicholson
Our Rating: 7
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.
The Little Shop of Horrors is a 1960 American comedy horror film directed by Roger Corman. Written by Charles B. Griffith, the film is a farce about an inadequate florist’s assistant who cultivates a plant that feeds on human flesh and blood. The film’s concept is thought to be based on a 1932 story called “Green Thoughts”, by John Collier, about a man-eating plant. However, Dennis McDougal in Jack Nicholson’s biography suggests that Charles B. Griffith may have been influenced by Arthur C. Clarke’s sci-fi short story, “The Reluctant Orchid. The film stars Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles and Dick Miller, all of whom had worked for Corman on previous films. Produced under the title The Passionate People Eater, the film employs an original style of humor, combining black comedy with farce and incorporating Jewish humor and elements of spoof. The Little Shop of Horrors was shot on a budget of $30,000 in two days utilizing sets that had been left standing from A Bucket of Blood.
The film slowly gained a cult following through word of mouth when it was distributed as the B movie in a double feature with Mario Bava’s Black Sunday and eventually with The Last Woman on Earth. The film’s popularity increased with local television broadcasts, in addition to the presence of a young Jack Nicholson, whose small role in the film has been prominently promoted on home video releases of the film. The movie was the basis for an Off Broadway musical, Little Shop of Horrors, which was made into a 1986 feature film and enjoyed a Broadway revival, all of which have attracted attention to the 1960 film.
The film was partially cast with stock actors that Corman had used in previous films. Writer Charles B. Griffith portrays several small roles. Griffith’s father appeared as a dental patient, and his grandmother, Myrtle Vail appeared as Seymour’s hypochondriac mother. Dick Miller, who had starred as the protagonist of A Bucket of Blood was offered the role of Seymour but turned it down, instead taking the smaller role of Burson Fouch. The cast rehearsed for three weeks before filming began. Principal photography of The Little Shop of Horrors was shot in two days and one night.
It had been rumored that the film’s shooting schedule was based on a bet that Corman could not complete a film within that time. However, this claim has been denied by Mel Welles. According to Joseph, Corman shot the film quickly in order to beat changing industry rules that would have prevented producers from “buying out” an actor’s performance in perpetuity. On January 1, 1960, new rules were to go into effect requiring producers to pay all actors residuals for all future releases of their work. This meant that Corman’s B-movie business model would be permanently changed and he would not be able to produce low-budget movies in the same way. Before these rules went into effect, Corman decided to shoot one last film and scheduled it to happen the last week in December 1959.
The film’s critical reception was largely favorable, with modern review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes giving the film a “Tomatometer” score of 91%. Variety wrote, “The acting is pleasantly preposterous. […] Horticulturalists and vegetarians will love it.”
Jack Nicholson, recounting the reaction to a screening of the film, states that the audience “laughed so hard I could barely hear the dialog. I didn’t quite register it right. It was as if I had forgotten it was a comedy since the shoot. I got all embarrassed because I’d never really had such a positive response before.”
The film’s popularity slowly grew with local television broadcasts throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Interest in the film was rekindled when a stage musical called Little Shop of Horrors was produced in 1982. It was based on the original film and was itself adapted to cinema as Little Shop of Horrors, in 1986. An animated television series inspired by the musical film, Little Shop, premiered in 1991.
It was announced on April 15, 2009 that Declan O’Brien would helm a studio remake of the film. “It won’t be a musical,” he told Bloody Disgusting in reference to the Frank Oz film from 1986. “I don’t want to reveal too much, but it’s me. It’ll be dark.” When speaking with Shock ‘Till You Drop, he revealed “I have a take on it you’re not going to expect. I’m taking it in a different direction, let’s put it that way.”
Audrey Jr.: “Feed me!”