Movie Review: Little Shop of Horrors: Director’s Cut (1986)

little shop of horrors
Seen: On blu-ray on our projector set-up, from my personal collection.

So this is the first time I’m re-visiting a film that I’ve already written about on this blog, but this is an important one to re-write I think. Little Shop of Horrors is one of the first movies I ever wrote about, way back in 2008 (if you don’t remember that is expected, if you do I am freaked out that you’ve been aware of my internet presence for that long?). It’s a movie I’ve found myself watching more and more often in the intervening years, and while I’ve always liked it, it’s grown on me even more. Then for Christmas I got the new blu-ray release, which features the original ending, wherein huge alien plant monsters terrorize urban spaces, and goddamn if that isn’t the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in a good long while. You see, the stage version is one of my favorite-ever musicals, and I was always disappointed by the cutesy (mostly) happy ending Frank Oz was forced to tack on because test audiences didn’t like the actual true-to-the-play destructive ending. So the director’s cut is kind of like a completely different movie, and now a good thing can become great.

Little Shop of Horrors follows an adorable schlub with no self-esteem named Seymour Krelbourn (Rick Moranis) as he unexpectedly rises to fame and fortune all thanks to his discovery of a strange and interesting new plant. This little guy is named Audrey II, and it grows after Seymour starts feeding it blood, eventually becoming sentient and sweet-talking the put-upon florist to feed it human bodies. Out of his love for his sexy coworker Audrey (Ellen Greene), Seymour finds a perfect victim in her sadistic, abusive boyfriend (Steve Martin), but soon the killing escalates and our hero realizes he’s in way over his head. Maybe he should sing out his problems, I don’t know.

This musical features a lot of my favorite things, which is why it’s remained a favorite since I first saw it in middle school. I mean, it’s got aliens and murder and world domination and songs about dentistry and horticulture and stellar 60s costumes and a nerdy hero. AND THE MUSIC IS AMAZING (by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, so it’s no surprise). I have listened to the Broadway revival soundtrack (starring Hunter Foster, hello) maybe more than any other musical soundtrack I own? Which is saying a LOT, believe you me. I used to put too much stock in the stage version and focused on the shortcomings of the movie adaptation, since it’s missing some of the best songs and I felt the cast wasn’t really strong enough. BOY WAS I WRONG. Honestly Seymour could not be more perfectly cast, since Rick Moranis completely embodies this sweet, doofy nerd who makes the stupidest decisions but I can’t help but love. Plus he wears a sweater vest all the time (SWOON). Ellen Greene has excellent comedic timing and her breathy voice is spot-on, plus I know we can all appreciate her truly impressive cleavage. Her singing voice is strong and it’s kind of at odds with her speaking voice, but that happens to a lot of people who play these funny-voice roles. Steve Martin is, obviously, a super hunk as the studly-but-sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello, DDS, and his one musical number is an exquisitely-paced/choreographed sequence that I want to act out again and again. And his scene with Bill Murray is fraught with sexual tension in the best way.

The musical numbers are done pretty fucking well considering the lead isn’t that strong of a singer and the director had more experience directing dancing Muppets than people. Oz captures the emotional crescendo of “Skid Row (Downtown)”, the wistfulness of “Somewhere That’s Green”, the vicious humor of “Feed Me (Git it)”, the tender romance of “Suddenly Seymour”, and now, the grand scale of “Final Ultimo (Don’t Feed the Plants)”. The three Greek chorus-type figures, played by Tichina Arnold, Michelle Weeks, and Tisha Campbell-Martin, are fantastic, rockin’ some fabulous outfits and generally having a fun time as they dance around the protagonists and revel in their highs and lows. And of course as the voice of Audrey II, Levi Stubbs is gleefully malicious and well-suited to the tunes.

The ending, my GOD the ending. It’s this grandiose spectacle of massive mobile plants tearing shit up for like 20 minutes, and it’s amazing. I was literally agape, AGAPE I TELL YOU! One of the coolest things about Little Shop in any of its iterations is always the puppetry involved for Audrey II, and Oz really takes advantage of the film medium for his version. There are a wealth of urban sets/miniatures just destroyed by these maniacally laughing plant monsters, as they’re shown breaking through buildings, devouring streetcars, and wreaking havoc in the streets while extras run around wildly. The final shot of Audrey II climbing on top of the Statue of Liberty is just fantastic, and the bursting-through-the-screen gag is a nice touch.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Oh jeez, I kind of always just want to watch it again after viewing… and in the past I’ve done just that. But if you’re not into that idea, I don’t know, maybe more Rick Moranis? Spaceballs? Or oooooh, My Blue Heaven for another Moranis/Martin team-up!

PS So I made one of the most important discoveries of my young life while doing an image search for this post. The two songs I’ve always been bummed weren’t fully in the movie are “Ya Never Know” and “The Meek Shall Inherit”, which both are included in shortened versions but not to my satisfaction. THEN I found out that a full(er) version of “The Meek Shall Inherit” was filmed but not included on any of the releases, and it’s a dream sequence that explicitly references Singin’ in the Rain, aka my favorite movie of all time. AND SO ALL WAS PERFECT FOR BUT A FEW MOMENTS. Check it out, dudes.

PPS This is just my self-promotional reminder that I made a poster for this movie that I’m really proud of and it’s for sale.

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