Director: Roger Corman
Starring: Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles and Jack Nicholson
Before the musical in 1986, The Little Shop of Horrors was a low budget comedy-horror b-movie released in 1960 and directed by the now legendary director Roger Croman, a pioneer of independent cinema. The Little Shop of Horrors was one of four films that Corman directed in 1960 alone.
The first thing you’ll notice about The Little Shop of Horrors is that you can feel the low-budget. The picture looks dated, even for 1960 (4 years after The Blob another low-budget b-movie) and the sound is crackly at points, even with recent remasters. None of that really matters, because the second thing you’ll notice is that the film is great. From the first scene it’s funny, with lively characters and humour that still stands up today.
Gravis Mushnick, played by Mel Welles (The She Beast, Panic Button) is a florist shop owner, the latest in a long line of floral experts, the only difference being that unlike his ancestors Gravis doesn’t like flowers. One of his employees, Seymour, may not be very good at the job, but he possess a new and exciting plant. After a customer (who only shops there to eat the flowers) tells Mushnick that people will travel to see a unique and different plant, Seymour is given once last change to keep his job. He must make the plant, which he has named after his co-worker Audrey, thrive. While staying up nurturing Audrey Jr, Seymour discovers that there is only one thing that will sustain it.
This film is filled with great characters. Every single one that appears is unique and feels fleshed out with a unique personality and trait. From the man who eats plants, to Seymour’s mum who eats almost exclusively medicine, to a patient at the dentist who loves pain. That patient is also a very early screen appearance of Jack Nicholson, in one of the most memorable and funny scenes in the whole film. Almost every joke lands and are delivered perfectly, especially Welles’ performance as Gravis Mushnick.
At 72 minutes The Little Shop of Horrors flies past without a dull moment. It’s easy to get over the obvious budget constraints with the humour, originally and personality that’s presented throughout. That’s without even mentioning the final act of the film, which does ramp up the suspense with the unsettling conclusion to the story.
The musical may be more widely known, but it’s the original film that started it all. The Little Shop of Horrors is a cult classic, and deserves that title. It’s still funny, still feels fresh and really should be spoken about more and not just because Nicholson appears in it.