Aug. 21, 2010
The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
Grade: 72/100

Director: Roger Corman
Stars: Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles

What it's about. This deeply cynical black comedy is set in a skid row flower shop owned by penny-pinching Mushnick (Mel Welles). He has two employees, pretty but stupid goody-goody Audrey (Jackie Joseph), and doltish incompetent Seymour (Jonathan Haze), each of which is secretly infatuated with the other. Frequent customers include Dick Miller, who likes to eat flowers, Leola Wendorff, whose relatives regularly die off keeping her in perpetual mourning, and two gushing schoolgirls, Toby Michaels and ill-fated Karyn Kupcinet.

To keep his job, Seymour develops a strange new plant. The plant is such a draw that Seymour's position is saved, and his romance with Audrey kicks into higher gear. But there's a problem: the plant eats humans to survive. Seymour and Mushnick combine to sort-of murder several people and feed them to the plant. These include drunk Jack Griffin, robber Charles B. Griffith, prostitute Meri Welles, and sadistic dentist John Shaner.

Future moviestar Jack Nicholson has an infamous cameo as a crazed masochist. But the real scene-stealer is Seymour's hypochondriac mother, Myrtle Vail, whose ambition is to win the KSIK radio contest for a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Vail is writer Griffith's real-life grandmother. The cast is rounded out by no-nonsense waitress Dodie Drake and two "Dragnet" just-the-facts-ma'am detective parodies, Wally Campo and Jack Warford.

This remarkably influential film was shot in a second-hand set in the two days before it was scheduled to be dismantled. The cast is littered with Roger Corman regulars, the most important among which is screenwriter Charles B. Griffith, who also provided the irate voice of the plant.

The eventual success of the movie has led to various stage and screen remakes over the years, notably a 1986 A-list Hollywood musical that is nearly as much fun as the original.

How others will see it. Some will see it out of curiosity, because of Nicholson's early manic role or the 1986 and 2011 remakes. Most will see it because they relish the combination of dark comedy and horror, a precursor to more sophisticated entries such as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Certainly, the present movie is too cynical for many, yet there is no graphic violence or language. Women actually like it slightly more than do men, if the user ratings are any indication.

How I felt about it. A comedy about a man-eating plant, filmed in two days on a borrowed set with an obscure cast. It is the ultimate B-movie, yet it is much better than most Hollywood movies with far greater budgets. The difference is that the typical movie is practically made by committee, while Griffith's script could go as far as his wicked sense of humor allowed. Corman and the cast catch the spirit of the script completely, and savor their ridiculous characters.