Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Mr. Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia) owns a flower shop on Skid Row and manages two employees, Seymour (Rick Moranis) and Audrey (Ellen Greene). Business is not doing so well so the owner is considering to close permanently. Audrey has an idea: they can promote unique-looking plants by the window to lure potential customers. Incidentally, Seymour, particularly interested in strange plants, has just purchased a flower from a Chinese vendor during a solar eclipse a week prior. Seconds after it is placed by the window, customers begin to enter the shop with very enthusiastic questions about its origins and buying whatever is on sale. But success does not come without a price.
“Little Shop of Horrors,” based on the screenplay by Charles B. Griffith and Howard Ashman’s musical, benefits greatly from well-cast actors. Although a bit one-dimensional, even for a musical, I was interested in how fortuitous circumstances will allow Seymour and Audrey to end up together.
We learn about their backgrounds as well as what kind of future might be in store for them through very energetic and well-written songs. Moranis balances vulnerability and geek-chic without coming off as cloyingly goofy. Greene, on the other hand, has to play an abused woman who sports a black eye and an arm cast at work while at the same time being in control of exuding a certain level of charm and wit to prevent us from perceiving her character as weak. Moranis and Greene function on the same wavelength so their romance is believable and one that is enjoyable to cheer for.
The supporting characters shine brightly. One who stands out most is Orin Scrivello (Steve Martin), Audrey’s boyfriend, a dentist who enjoys inflicting pain on his patients–stemming from his sadism toward animals as a child–and is addicted to nitrous oxide. He is a villain because he abuses his girlfriend physically, derives pleasure from it, and never feels guilty about his actions. And yet he, too, is fun to watch on screen with that maniacal laugh brought on by the gas he so joyously inhales and the hilarious Elvis Presley impersonations.
One of the best scenes involves the dentist and Arthur Denton (Bill Murray), a patient who actually enjoys being in pain. As Seymour sits in the waiting room for Orin, he hears screams from the operating room–screams that sounds like two men are engaging in a sexual act. But the scene never comes off homophobic. Seymour is very innocent, very clean-cut and so much of the humor is rooted from his response.
Risks are taken in the way many scenes are executed. With regards to the strange plant, named Audrey II, it can survive only by drinking blood. Seymour, desperate to keep the flower shop open out of loyalty to Mr. Mushnik as well as remaining in close proximity to his crush, feeds it droplets of blood from his fingers. Eventually, though, it has grown so big that it requires to eat entire humans, preferably chopped, to flourish. People do get eaten, but it is more comedic than horrific.
Furthermore, the plant learns how to speak (voiced by Levi Stubbed), commanding “Feed me!” to its caretaker. As the plant grows stronger, the romantic becomes weaker. There is a reason the carnivorous plant is named Audrey II. There comes a point in which Seymour will have to choose between a life of success with Audrey II or a life of simplicity with the original Audrey.
“Little Shop of Horrors,” directed by Frank Oz, is aware of what it has to offer, from fun and colorful characters to bounce-worthy song and dance. These are executed with zestful freshness that when the film switches between light zaniness and dark humor, it feels exactly right.