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10 June, 2012

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, or how a Little Plant named Audrey II took over the World!

THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960) began when director Roger Corman was given temporary access to a set left standing from shooting A BUCKET OF BLOOD the year before.  Re-fitting the sets, Roger Corman shot the principle photography of LITTLE SHOP in two days and one night from a script penned by Charles B. Griffith who had also written A BUCKET OF BLOOD.  Originally planned as a spy thriller by Corman, Griffith wanted to do another horror comedy.  It was only after a night of heavy drinking that Griffith persuaded Corman to shoot Griffith’s screenplay about a man-eating plant titled The Passionate People Eater.  The film was cast primarily from Corman’s stable of stock players.  Dick Miller, who had played the protagonist in A BUCKET OF BLOOD was offered the lead role of Seymour Krelboyne but turned it down, opting for the smaller role of the flower-eating customer Burson Fouch, so Jonathan Haze was hired to play Seymour.  Charles B. Griffith played several smaller roles, with his father appearing as a dental patient and his grandmother as Seymour’s hypochondriac mother.

Seymour Krelboyne is a nebbish who works at a skid-row florist shop run by boss Gravis Mushnick (Mel Welles).  Seymour has a crush on co-worker Audrey Fulquard (Jackie Joseph), a sweet but naive girl with no idea of Seymour’s affections.  One day, after flubbing a flower order, Mushnick fires Seymour but Seymour persuades Mushnick to give him another chance by showing him a strange and unusual plant that Seymour has named the Audrey 2, much to the original Audrey’s delight.  Audrey explains to Mushnick that placing such an unusual plant in the run-down shop’s window might draw more ... or even some ... customers into the shop, Seymour is given the task of improving the drooping plant’s health.  Later that night, Seymour finds out the plant need human blood to sustain itself and, fearing the loss of his job and the added loss of Audrey, he feeds it drops of his own blood.  The plant thrives on this diet, which of course creates a difficult situation for Seymour.  Curious customers are lured to the shop to see this wondrous plant and for the first time, Mushnick’s making money!  The now-anemic Seymour learns from the plant (voiced by writer Charles B. Griffith) that it needs to be fed human flesh and, as a confused Seymour wanders beside some train tracks, in frustration he throws a rock which accidentally kills a man.  Guilt-ridden but resourceful, Seymour takes the body back to the shop and feeds the parts to Audrey 2.  This terrible act is seem by Mushnick who intends to turn Seymour over to the police but, in his greed, procrastinates.

Seymour develops a toothache and goes to sadistic dentist Dr. Farb (John Shaner), who forcefully tries to remove several of Seymour’s teeth.  Grabbing a sharp instrument, Seymour fights back and accidentally stabs to death the dentist then feeds the body parts to Audrey 2.  Enter two homicide detectives, Sgt. Joe Fink (Wally Campo) and his assistant Frank Stoolie (Jack Warford) who questions the visibly nervous Mushnick about the recent disappearances but they decide Mushnick knows nothing and depart.  By now, Audrey 2 has grown several feet taller and is beginning to bud as does Seymour and Audrey’s romance.  One night as Mushnick is staying with the plant while Seymour and Audrey go on a date, a robber (played by Charles B. Griffith) breaks into the shop and demands money.  Mushnick tells him the money is kept in the plant and, when the robber goes to look, he falls into the plant’s mouth and is eaten.  Seymour, depressed that his plant has been the cause of so many deaths, goes for a midnight stroll and is perused by a rather relentless streetwalker, whom he kills in desperation and feeds to Audrey 2.

Still lacking clues to the mysterious disappearances, Fink and Stoolie plan to attend a special sunset celebration at the shop during which Seymour will receive a trophy from a horticulturist society and Audrey 2’s buds are expected to open.  But when they do open, each has the face of one of the victims.  Terrified, Seymour runs from the shop with Fink and Stoolie in hot pursuit.  Seymour loses them in a junkyard and later returns to the shop where he grabs a knife and, leaping into the plant’s mouth, kills it.  When Audrey, Mushnick and the cops return to the shop, they see the plant begin to wither.  It’s one final bud opens and within is Seymour’s face which pitifully declares, “I didn’t mean it” before drooping over.  The End.


LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS was released August 5, 1960 as the second half of a double-feature with Mario Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY and re-released a year later in a double-feature with THE LAST WOMAN ON EARTH.  The estimated budget listed in The Internet Data Base is $27,000 but Corman remembers it as $30,000 and other sources place it’s budget as low as $22,000 to a high of $100,000.  No box office records exist for LITTLE SHOP but in his book How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime, Roger Corman states ““It was a let-down to make back the $30,000 negative cost with just a modest profit” and he didn’t copyright the movie, which has now gone into public domain.

The film’s popularity grew during the 1960-70’s with local horror hosts featuring it on their television programs.  Interest in the movie rekindled and it 1982, it became a hit off-Broadway horror rock musical called Little Shop of Horrors.  That later became a hit movie of the same title in 1986, directed by Frank Oz and starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin, Vincent Gardenia, James Belushi, John Candy, Bill Murray, Christopher Guest with Levi Stubbs, one of the original Four Tops singing group, voicing Audrey 2.  Packed with snappy musical numbers, written by Academy Award-winning song-smith Miles Goodman, and featuring energetic chorography by Jerry Zaks and Vince Pesce, the film became a moderate hit, garnering a box office of $38 million on a budget of $25 million but became a smash hit when released on home video.

LITTLE SHOP was nominated for two Academy Awards and one Golden Globe Award.  LITTLE SHOP also became the first DVD to be recalled due to content.  In 1998, Warner Brothers released a DVD that contained the approximately 23-minute original ending but it was in black and white without sound.  This angered distributor Geffen and the DVDs were pulled from store shelves within days and replaced with a second edition.  The discs that contain the original black and white footage are considered collector’s items, selling for as much as $150.00 on EBay.  But, the saga of LITTLE SHOP does not end there!  In 1991, it became the plot of a short-lived animated television show titled LITTLE SHOP in which a nebbish junior-high student named Seymour owns a man-eating plant named Audrey Jr.


LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS which began as a little movie whose director has so little faith in its survival that he didn’t even copyright it has become big business.  It was announced in April 2009 that Declan O’Brien (“Sharktopus,” “Wrong Turn: Bloody Beginnings”) would helm yet another remake of LITTLE SHOP.  However, in an interview with Bloody Disgusting.com, Declan declared his version “won’t be a musical ... it’s will be dark.”  As of this writing, Declan’s version is still on the back burner.  On May 4, 2012, Warner-Brothers announced it’s in the planning stages of a remake of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and has hired “Glee” co-producer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (“Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark” and MGM/ Screen Gems remake of “Carrie”) to write the script.  Mark Platt (“Drive”) will co-produce.  In addition, Variety reports that THE DARK KNIGHT RISES star Joseph Gordon-Levitt is circling the lead role of nerdy Seymour Krelboyne.  With the producer of Fox’s hit TV series “Glee” helming, it’s a safe bet that this version will be a restyling of the 1986 Frank Oz musical version.  No date has been set yet for the principle shooting schedule and no actors have yet been cast.

Five decades have passed since Roger Corman decided to use some old standing sets to film a quickie movie, and what a phenomenon that quirky, dark comedy THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS has become!  Lauded by film critics ... Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 91% freshness rating ... and laughed at by millions of viewers, it’s been released with a commentary track by Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Michael J. Nelson and in 2009 was released by Rifftrax with Nelson and fellow MST3K cast members Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett.  Legend’s colorized version is also available from Amazon Video on Demand.  Apparently, there is no stopping the phenomenon that is THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.


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