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Synopsis: Down on Skid Row, nerdy amateur horticulturist Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis) is working in a dilapidated florist shop owned by Mr. Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia) when he discovers an unusual plant. Business suddenly booms at the previously failing shop when the plant, named Audrey II after Seymour’s tragic yet beautiful co-worker Audrey Fulquard (Ellen Greene), is placed in the window and immediately starts attracting customers with its unique and peculiar features. However, the plant soon starts to wither, and Seymour is horrified when he realizes that the only nutrient which seems to make the plant thrive is human blood. Soon Seymour’s own supply of the stuff is not enough to satiate the voracious and rapidly growing flower, and the now-talking plant begins to demand human flesh, promising Seymour fame and riches beyond his wildest dreams if he obeys. Seymour is at first horrified by the idea of committing murder – but when Audrey’s atrociously abusive dentist boyfriend (Steve Martin) starts hanging around and causing trouble, Seymour begins to ponder whether some people do deserve to die. But will one corpse be enough for the flagitious flower?
Now I realize that this may not exactly be the type of film you were expecting as the last entry in this month’s Horror theme, but it’s a horror comedy, with the word “horror” in the title (albeit pluralized), so it totally counts. Nyah. Directed by master of puppetry Frank Oz in 1986, this is the film adaptation of the stage-musical adaptation of the eponymous Roger Corman farce made in 1960. I’m not completely comfortable with reviewing a cult movie; I have been, and am currently, into some pretty cultish movies, so I know firsthand that even if one cannot logically explain one’s love for such a film, it doesn’t mean one will not fiercely defend it when it is critically attacked or even just mildly disliked. Nevertheless, I really didn’t dig this film. I am inclined to believe it’s more of a “just not my cup of tea” sort of deal, but that’s only because I feel like I am just the kind of person who should like this film. It’s weird, it’s dark, it’s got puppets. But it’s also a musical, one which feels like it’s trying really really hard to be kitschy, the combination of which just thoroughly irritated me.
Audrey II drools over Rick Moranis. (What girl doesn’t?!?)
There were actually quite a few things I liked about this movie. Rick Moranis, for one. He’s just Rick Moranis, what more could you ask for? Steve Martin also had a lot of fun in his grotesquely-delicious role, which I enjoyed watching. And the cameos were fabulous. Bill Murray as the masochistic dental patient was especially delightful, and I loved seeing him interact with Martin. Christopher Guest also showed up for a little bit, playing an anonymous shop patron in a way that definitely got a laugh out of me. But the best part of the film, hands-down, was the giant Audrey II puppet, voiced by Four Tops lead vocalist Levi Stubbs. Stubbs’ voice was the most rich and aurally-pleasing of the whole film, whether he was talking or singing. As for the actual design and implementation of the puppet? Nothing short of perfection. Frank Oz directs the film superbly when Audrey II isn’t on screen, but when he (she?) is, his skills are really and truly allowed to shine. It made me nostalgic for the days when movies were still made like this, when you could have an enormous inanimate lump of rubber and foam on the set, and once the cameras started rolling forty puppeteers would bring it to life and have it interact realistically with the human performers. It really gives the film a fantastical quality, makes you drop your jaw, gaze in awe, all that good stuff a real top-notch puppet should do. For me, it’s the puppet that made this a memorable film, and definitely something worth watching if you want to see Frank Oz and some other veterans of the Jim Henson Company at their very best.
Come, let us sing loudly at each other about our irritating love.
As for the things I didn’t like – well, there were a couple, but I disliked them so much that, combined with the forced-kitschyness, their horribleness far outweighed the likability of the good things. For instance, I really could not stand Ellen Greene in the role of Audrey. I know she was from the original stage musical, and I understand that her voice was supposed to annoy me, but – never before had I heard a voice which literally made me physically wretch. I’m sorry, I know that’s really harsh to Ms. Greene, I just didn’t like it. Furthermore, I am a fan of the original Roger Corman movie, and while I don’t think this film had any real obligation to be true to its source material, the changes made from the original film really didn’t impress me. In particular, there’s now a relationship between Audrey and the dentist, and those jokey bits about how he was physically and mentally abusing her? I understand this is supposed to be a black comedy, but that really rubbed me the wrong way, as making light of domestic violence usually does. Of course, even without those elements, this film had a strike against it in the first place, which is that it’s a musical. There are few modern musicals I can actually stomach, though given the genre and dark humor of this film, it should have been more successful than it actually was. I think it was actually the tongue-in-cheek nature of the rest of the film which made the musical numbers, many of which seemed very earnest in comparison, so unpalatable. This film was shoving its fake-kitsch down my throat the whole time, then sang at me and expected me to take it seriously? Am I supposed to care about these characters or not? The movie couldn’t seem to decide, which made me go with “not.” The music also didn’t seem to advance the plot very much, rendering it pretty superfluous in my eyes (and ears). I didn’t learn a single thing from those songs; in fact, for much of the latter half of the film I muted them entirely.
…and Steve Martin as The Fonz!
Overall this was a hard one to review, because I think a lot of my dislike of it stemmed from my own personal preferences, rather than the technical or dramatic merits of the film. Then again, I’m the one reviewing it, and this is my blog, so I really have nothing else to offer you except my own personal point of view. This is just one you’ll have to see and judge for yourself. Thus ends THE LEAST HELPFUL MOVIE REVIEW OF ALL TIME.
Little Shop of Horrors (1986) – 2.5/5 stars