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little “Shop”, big history

May 2, 2012

I’m such a fan of Little Shop of Horrors, I forget that perhaps not everyone has seen it.

 

Like the titular shop, the movie/musical came from the most modest of beginnings.  In 1960,

schlockmeister supreme Roger Corman had just finished filming  A Bucket of Blood.  It was

about a beatnik who becomes famous by killing people, covering them with clay and showing

them as sculptures.

 

Corman is a Hollywood legend, perhaps the only person to make the A-List by making “B”

movies.  He has produced more than 400 features that virtually define cheesy filmmaking.

And he’s still at it.  Last year he gave us Piranhaconda.  Attack of the 50ft Cheerleader is

in post-production.

 

But half a century ago he was working on The Brain Eaters and giving Vincent Price a mid-

career boost doing covers of Edgar Allan Poe’s works.  Bucket had been shot in five days on

a budget of $50,000.  Corman had the sets for two more days, so he shot Little Shop during

that time for $30,000.

 

It was the third film role for Jack Nicholson, who played a masochistic dental patient.  He

said he went into the shoot knowing that he had to be quirky because Corman didn’t want

him for the part, “so I just did a lot of weird shit that I thought would make it funny.”

 

Corman hired winos to play winos, and they used the dime a day they were paid to buy wine.

 

He had trouble at first finding a distributor, because some of them objected to the depiction

of two Jewish characters.  It was actually screened out of competition at Cannes.  Positive

word of mouth followed it, but Corman never bothered to copyright it.  A Variety review

noted that the acting was “pleasantly preposterous” and that “horticulturists and vegetarians

will love it.”  Rotten Tomatoes gives it a healthy rating of 91%.

 

Twenty-two years after the movie was released, composer Alan Menken and writer Howard

Ashman — realizing the rich material that any story about a giant murderous plant would

offer — opened a musical version of it off-Broadway.  It honoured the doo-wop, rock and roll

and Motown styles popular during the time of the setting.

 

When the play closed 5+ years later after 2209 shows, it was the third longest-running and

highest-grossing production in off-Broadway history.  It won many major awards, but was

not eligible for the Tonys because Ashman did not want it on Broadway proper.

 

In 1986, a film version of the musical was released.  It starred Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene

and Vincent Gardenia. Steve Martin did a hilarious turn as a sadistic dentist, and Bill Murray

reprised Nicholson’s role as his creepily grateful patient.  Levi Stubbs, from the renowned

Motown group The Four Tops, shook the house with his booming baritone as the voice of

Audrey II, the flesh-favouring flower.

 

Puppets were used to portray Audrey II.  The largest one, weighing a ton, required 60

technicians to run it.  No blue screen or CGI was used, although the plant was filmed at a

reduced frame rate during the songs.  The actors pantomimed in slow motion.

 

Differences between the stage presentation and the movie were minor until the end.

Director Frank Oz filmed an elaborate 23-minute finale in which Audrey II takes over

New York City, climbing the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.  After the

title “THE END?!?” appears, it crashes through the screen and comes at the audience

mouth wide open.

 

That ending was scrapped after it was rejected by test audiences as too scary.  Plus, it

featured the deaths of Audrey and Seymour, the two sympathetic leads.  They had also

died in the stage version, but — as Oz pointed out in an interview — they came back alive

for their curtain call.

 

He shot a much happier conclusion in which Seymour destroys Audrey II and flees to the

suburbs with Audrey.  But just before the end credits roll, we see a small Audrey II in their

otherwise perfectly-kept lawn.

 

The film underperformed at the box office, but thrives on home video.  Critics loved it.

Rotten Tomatoes rates it at 89%.  A special edition DVD was released in 1998.  It featured

the spectacular 23-minute finale, but it was in black and white and lacked some sound and

special effects.  It was pulled within days after producer David Geffen complained.

 

Late last year Oz said that a two-disc, Blu-Ray version with his original ending restored will

be released this Halloween.

 

Back on stage, the play finally made it to Broadway in 2003, closing in less than a year.  It

toured in the U.S. for 20 months after that.  It also was revived in London’s West End in 2007.

It even made it to TV in 1991 as Little Shop, a kids’ cartoon show in which Audrey II gave up

eating humans for singing hip-hop.

 

 

P.S.  I’m not sure what to make of this, but yesterday I was moving a pile of wet cardboard

and found this under it:

 

I’m particularly concerned about this one:

 

I guess it could be a coincidence.  We haven’t had any total eclipses of the sun lately.  But just

to play it safe I’ve encircled it with netting.

 

Have the happiest of days.  I gotta go.  Someone or something is banging on the front door.

And back door.  And windows.  Jeez, it’s getting dark.  Maybe it’s just an eclipse.

 

 

 

 


 

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4 Comments
  1. Gordon permalink
    May 2, 2012 1:11 pm

    Feed me, Seymore!!

    • May 3, 2012 7:46 am

      I bet Audrey II could eat 60 eggs in an hour. 60 chickens, even.

  2. Chris permalink
    May 2, 2012 11:02 pm

    Actually, all of Granite Bay is one giant fungus – just biding its time. Wear rubber boots!

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