Little Shop of Horrors

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

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Last week I purchased a Venus Flytrap for $10. These carnivorous plants grow plentifully in the swamps of North Carolina. A local shop sells them. You don’t have to feed these plants. They produce pheromones that attract inspects to their little “jaws.”

In the movie “Little Shop of Horrors,” nerdy Seymour Krelborn pays “a dolla’ ninety-five!” for a strange plant at an out-of-the-way Chinese floral shop. He thought he was buying a Venus Flytrap, but none of the food he fed it seemed to work and it began to grow weaker. Then, Seymour accidentally pricked his finger and discovered that Audrey II (as he named the plant after his girlfriend) preferred blood.

“Feed me, I’m hungry!” it would beg menacingly.

Next thing you know, customers at Mushnik’s Flower Shop begin to disappear.

Yes, “Little Shop of Horrors” is the comedy about a man-eating plant.

The original 1960 movie was a Roger Corman cheapie (total cost: $28,000). It starred Jonathan Haze as Seymour and Jackie Joseph as his girlfriend Audrey, with a cameo by a young Jack Nicholson as a pain-loving dental patient. The drab little black-and-white film quickly became a cult classic.

However, the 1986 remake of “Little Shop of Horrors” – now making a retro appearance at Tropic Cinema – is far glossier and more colorful. Directed by Muppet puppeteer Frank Oz, it had a much bigger budget ($25 million). This updated version stars Rick Moranis (“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”) and Ellen Greene (the original off-Broadway Audrey), with an appearance by funnyman Steve Martin (“The Jerk,” TV’s “Only Murders in the Building”) as a nitrous oxide addicted dentist.

The original screenplay by Charles B. Griffith was titled “The Passionate People Eater.”

Some claim the plot was cribbed from “Green Thoughts,” a 1932 story by John Collier. Others attribute it to Arthur C. Clark’s 1956 short story, “The Reluctant Orchid.” And many say that was based on a 1905 H.G. Wells story called “The Flowering of the Strange Orchid.”

Who knows? Seymour Krelborn (the nerdy protagonist of the movie) claimed he bought the plant from a Chinese flower shop during a solar eclipse. Maybe so. As the plant tells us, it’s a “Mean Green Mother From Outer Space.”

The movie has quite a pedigree: The original Roger Corman film gave rise to an off-Broadway musical, followed by this delightful Rick Moranis outing. Then the stage version debuted on Broadway in 2003. There was even an animated TV series.

You will find the Rick Moranis movie a hoot. Adapted from the stage musical by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, the soundtrack is bouncy, some 15 numbers in all. The story is introduced by a Greek chorus – backup singers Crystal, Ronette, and Chiffon – who warn that some horror is coming your way.

Enter Seymour’s blood-thirsty plant.

Levi Stubbs, lead singer of The Four Tops, provides the baritone voice of Audrey II.

“Feed me, Seymour /
“Feed me all night long – That’s right, boy!/
“You can do it! Feed me, Seymour /
“Feed me all night long /
“Ha ha ha ha ha! /
“Cause if you feed me, Seymour /
“I can grow up big and strong.”

In addition to Vincent Gardenia as bellicose shop owner Mr. Mushnik, you will enjoy the parade of such familiar faces as John Candy, Jim Belushi, Christopher Guest, and Bill Murray.

In the original ending, the Chorus sings “Don’t Feed the Plants.”

The message was meant to be that you should be careful what you wish for. Seymour learns there’s a terrible price to pay when you simply get what you want without earning it.
However, two endings were filmed. In one of them, Seymour and Audrey provide a delicious lunch. In the other, Seymour, Audrey (and humanity) survive.

Which one does the Tropic serve up? Go see.

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