Home Video Hovel- The Little Shop of Horrors
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 case, much like the case of Legend Films’ release (new to Blu-ray on March 6th), 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.
There are a number of things that stood out to me upon re-watching this film for the first time since I was a child. First off, there is an almost complete lack of artistry to the construction. Shot on borrowed sets with little available time (about two days, as the story goes) and whatever equipment could be had, the framing, lighting and editing are no more than efficient and economical. The movie gets its spark from the screenplay – lovingly and hilariously crafted by Charles B. Griffith, who also voices the plant – and from its cast, which includes not only Nicholson in a tiny part but, in an only slighter bigger one, the great Dick Miller.
On the subject of the cast, I have now arrived at the other major thing that had gone unnoticed by the younger me. With names like Seymour Krelboyne and Gravis Mushnick, it should be no surprise that many of the actors are playing up the stereotypical Jewishness of their characters. Though it doesn’t come across as malevolent (I mean, there’s a character called Siddie Shiva – that’s more silly than anti-semitic), it’s difficult to discern the reasoning for the choice when watching at 50 years’ distance.
If you own Legend Films’ DVD release, I wouldn’t say the upgrade is necessary. The special features, as far as I can tell, are carried over. They are good features, however, including a commentary by Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Given the nature of the film’s production, a high-definition transfer can only do so much good. Just like the DVD release, the colorized version is included as well. If you happen to own one of the many other versions of this film, though, the Legend one is the best and worth owning.