Roger Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors is, in retrospect, kind of an important film in my personal development as a cinephile. As a young boy, I was more than a little taken with Frank Oz’s uneven but definitely watchable film adaptation of the musical version. This is why one day, my father brought home for me a bargain bin VHS copy of the 1960 original, which I had no idea even existed. The box exuberantly touted the appearance of a young Jack Nicholson. It was to be the first Roger Corman film that I would ever see, an important enough milestone on its own. Yet it was also a first in other, more abstract ways. It was in black and white but it wasn’t like the stately, old-seeming black and white movies I would have seen up to that point. It was loose, irreverent and fun, assembled in a charmingly slapdash but nonetheless competent manner. I realize now that it was my first exposure to the independent spirit and it has remained with me, in ways both conscious and subconscious, ever since.
For the uninitiated, the story concerns a young man named Seymour who is employed at a flower shop on Los Angeles’ Skid Row. In an attempt to impress his paramour, he develops a new breed of plant. Unfortunately, that plant turns out to be at first voraciously carnivorous and eventually even sentient. The film’s comedy and horror come from Seymour’s attempts to both keep the plant alive and keeps its grisly secrets from the rest of the world.
Other viewers my age who are most likely more familiar with the 1986 film will find Corman’s original – though telling the same general story – to be a different kind of comedy altogether. Instead of the camp, Grand Guignol grotesqueries of Oz’s version, you’ll find a lean, fleet, darkly comic farce. The stark and, frankly, ugly photography and presentation make the numerous gruesome deaths in the film both more disturbing and more ridiculous. Honestly, if people died accidentally in real life with the frequency they do in this film, we’d have a much smaller population.