With a song in my heart, it’s Burl, here to review a movie musical! Here’s another one I saw in the movie theater, and when I think of this movie I think of my friend Jamie, whom I saw it with, and who is now deceased! So there’s always an element of melancholy connected with this picture, Little Shop of Horrors, but there’s delight too as I recall the strange adventures Jamie and I had the night we saw it! Ha ha, we witnessed a pair of toddlers speeding down the street at the wheel of a car, with nary an adult in sight! We saw a piece of garbage paper blown by the wind: it circled twice in the air then dove out of sight below a curb, emerging a second later as a living, flying bird! A cigarette butt blown along by that same wind struck Jamie in the chest and exploded in a starburst like a Tie fighter hitting the Death Star! Ha ha!
So all of these strange events, which are preserved not just in my memory but in the lyrics of a song Jamie and I wrote for our high school rock band, come to mind when I consider Little Shop of Horrors! Of course I was already a fan of the old non-musical Roger Corman version, because of course that one featured Dick Miller in a supporting role as the flower-eater Burson Fouch! I was slightly chagrined to see that the Fouch character had not been carried over from the original movie to the musical stage adaptation or the big-budget movie currently under discussion here; but thinking about it, I realized that the adaptors must have known they simply couldn’t find anyone as good as Miller to fill the role if they had maintained it! Of course they could have hired Miller himself, who was around and active when this movie was made, but I guess they didn’t think of that!
Still, the cast they ended up with is a pretty remarkable bunch of comedy superstars! Rick Moranis from Strange Brew and Streets of Fire plays Seymour Krelborn, the slightly-renamed nebbish working in the flower store and being constantly yelled at by his boss Mr. Mushnik, played by the aptly-named Vincent Gardenia from Death Wish II! Also working in the shop is the daffy spin case Audrey, played with great gusto by Ellen Greene from Wagons East!; and, as in the Corman original, one wonders how a Skid Row flower shop entirely bereft of custom can afford so many employees! Ha ha!
Further down the cast list comes a true galaxy of starpower! Steve Martin from L.A. Story and All of Me plays Audrey’s truly despicable boyfriend, a biker-dentist named Orin Scrivello! John Candy from The Great Outdoors does a marvelous job as a wacky radio host; Bill Murray from Meatballs shows up in the Jack Nicholson role of the masochistic patient; Christopher Guest from The Princess Bride does an excellent turn as a flower store customer – the closest analogue to the Dick Miller character, in fact; and Jim Belushi from The Fury appears without making much of an impact!
Of course the real star is Audrey II, the voracious monster plant Seymour discovers and begins feeding blood and bodies to! The trick effects used to bring the big flytrap to life are truly impressive, from the big reaching tentacles to the expressive lips; and the voicing, from Four Tops singer Levi Stubbs, is ideal! Almost as impressive are the three ladies who act as the story’s Greek chorus – ha ha, I thought they were terrific! And on balance I thought Frank Oz managed some fine staging on his Sesame Street sets, though a little more pep and dynamism wouldn’t have gone amiss!
But Frank shouldn’t have listened to those outraged preview audiences who detested the original apocalyptic ending of the story, in which the plant devours Seymour and Audrey, spawns equally hungry offspring, grows to immense size and goes on a Godzilla-like rampage! Ha ha, they must have been pretty angry audiences to convince a studio to dump a huge multi-million dollar sequence and replace it with a gormless happy ending involving a playhouse! It does a real injury to the movie, I think! I didn’t realize they’d monkeyed with it, not until I read an article in Cinefantastique magazine anyway, but I could still tell there was something missing! It’s never been restored, though you can watch it on the internet! And considering all this, I’m forced to give Little Shop of Horrors two and a half bandaged fingers!