11/25/07

RVOD005 Little Shop of Horrors

(1960, Horror/Comedy, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson

Looks like the "I didn't mean to kill them, chop them up, and feed them to my plant" defense has failed.

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

A flower shop worker raises a man-eating plant.

Summary:

Audrey Junior is a man, baby!Bumbling doofus Seymour Krelboin (Corman regular Jonathan Haze) works in a flower shop on skid row, but he’s really, really bad at it. So bad, that his growly boss Mushnik tries to fire him at the beginning of the movie, over the objections his sweet-tempered and brain-damaged fellow flower worker Audrey. A random, flower-eating customer stops by to graze and offer advice; an unusual or exotic plant would really bring in the customers, he opines. Desperate to keep his job, Seymour declares that he has just such a plant at home. Mushnik lets him go home and get it.

At home we meet Seymour’s domineering hypochondriac alcoholic mother, and Seymour’s football-jawed plant. He leaves the former at home while he takes the latter to the shop. Mushnik agrees that the plant is unusual, but remains doubtful about its anemic appearance. He gives Seymour one week to get it into shape.

Seymour stays at the shop that night to avoid his mother...er, nurse the plant back to health. No matter what he tries, the plant won’t eat or perk up until he accidentally pricks his finger over the jaws. The plant slurps down blood as Seymour pricks all his fingers to keep it happy. This makes it lush and green for a while, until it suddenly wilts again the next day. Mushnik flies into a growly rage. Seymour promises to make it better.

Seymour sits up the next night as well, but he’s run out of fingers to prick. “Feed me!” the plant cries. Seymour grows despondent at the constant demands of his talking, bloodthirsty plant, and stumbles out into the night. He pauses at the rail yard to throw rocks at a bottle. A bum pokes his head up just in time to get hit with the rock and fall across the tracks. Of course a train is coming. Rather than do something sensible, like, say, call the police or just walk away, Seymour gathers the dismembered pieces of tramp into a handy sack and takes them back to the shop. The plant begins to demand food again. It only takes a couple of minutes for Seymour to realize that he has a handy sack of food with him...

Meanwhile, Mushnik and Audrey are out to dinner when Mushnik realizes he’s forgotten his wallet. He leaves Audrey at the, er, “diner” (actually someone’s house with checkered cloths thrown over a couple of tables) and returns to the shop just in time to see Seymour feeding bits of hobo to the plant. He determines to get drunk and call the police in that order, but the next morning, the plant has grown to enormous size, attracting huge crowds of admirers and flower-buyers. He obliquely asks Seymour if it’s going to need to eat anymore. Seymour doesn’t think so. Mushnik decides to leave it be.

Suddenly, Seymour is standing beside you...But the plant does want to eat more. The next day, Seymour accidentally kills a sadistic dentist with his own drill during a violent tooth extraction. As he’s cleaning up the body, a masochistic patient (a young Jack Nicholson) shows up to demand a painful check-up. Seymour obliges him, and then drags the body back to the store that night to feed the plant. The next night, Mushnik himself stays up with the plant while Seymour and Audrey go on a date at hypochondriac mom’s house. A robber bursts into the shop to steal the day’s receipts. Mushnik tells him that they’re in the plant. The credulous crook climbs right in, and you know the rest...

By now, business has grown tremendously thanks to the enormous man-eating plant’s appeal to teenage groupies and skid row carnivorous plant fanciers. (Who knew there were so many?) Even the Society of Silent Flower Observers of Southern California has noticed. They want to give Seymour a medal as soon as the blossoms open. Seymour determines that this will be tomorrow night. He stays overnight again, this time to woo the lovely Audrey, but the plant’s constant demands offend her and she leaves. He refuses to feed the plant any more people, but the plant hypnotizes him into going out to look for likely subjects anyway. In this entranced state, he happens upon Leonora, a remarkably persistent hooker determined to get his business. An unlikely set of circumstances leads Seymour to accidentally bonk her on the head with a large rock. He carries her body back to the shop.

By now, so many people have gone missing that a pair of deadpan cops has gotten involved; they happen to be present the next evening for the medal ceremony when the blossoms open. They open all right, displaying the face of everyone the plant has ever eaten. The cops close in on Seymour. He shrieks, “I didn’t mean it!” and runs into the night. After a long chase across a field of tires and a large pile of toilets, he arrives back at the shop and curses his man-eating plant. He takes a knife and climbs inside, hoping, I guess, to stab it to death as it eats him. It doesn’t work; when the cops catch up, the plant has a new blossom with his face. “I didn’t mean it!” the blossom cries.

Thoughts:

Neither of whom are depicted here.This is the second film I’ve reviewed for Rifftrax in which a police detective pauses to thoughtfully stroke his chin with the muzzle of a loaded gun. Plan 9 from Outer Space was the first.

The film’s director, Roger Corman, wrote a book called, “How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime.” (Actually, if you just allow the ones that he directed, there are only fifty-five.) It sounds like an impressive achievement, until you realize that every last one of them sucks, and sucks badly. This makes perfect sense if you take into account that quality was never the aim of these productions; staying under budget was. As a result, most of his films feature only a handful of characters, sparse and stilted dialog, and lots and lots of scenes that features the actors slowly moving from one place to the other. For this reason, most of his films end up so tedious, they can’t even be considered camp.

Little Shop of Horrors breaks this mold in that it is actually interesting to watch, in a train wreck sort of way, mostly because he allows the characters to be, well, characters. Broad, goofy, completely unbelievable characters, but you can’t ask too much of a movie that was shot in two days on a shoestring budget. Most of the antics depicted aren’t funny, just really, really strange and occasionally disturbing; I cringed in particular when a deadpan cop spoke nonchalantly about how his toddler burned himself to death the night before. Oh, well. At least it’s not boring.

Mike manages to punch up this bizarre freak show enough to supply things that were supposed to be jokes with actual punchlines. After Mushnik has growled his way through what must be his second or third irascible soliloquy, Mike wants to know, “Did he take acting lessons from a bear?” After another large helping of Mushnik’s bizarre pseudo-Russian syntax, as Mike muses, “He and Yoda would have interesting conversations.” Later, during Seymour and Audrey’s ill-fated date, hypochondriac mom sprinkles the tea with medicine powder, which Mike calls, “Spinach and angel dust soup.” The movie’s very odd but never tedious, and Mike adds comedy to it as well.