The above poster is 100% correct in saying this is ‘the most outrageous musical comedy in years’ and considering we’re nearly 30 years past the film’s release that says something amazing. It’s quick, soulful, dark and sharply performed. I’d always heard of this story and snippets of the song but had never feasted my eyes on it until today and now I’m truly glad I’ve seen it.
A pathetic and moody florist (Vincent Gardenia – appropriate surname) never frequented by any customers is about to shut up shop when his clumsy and nervous employee called Seymour (Rick Moranis) brings out a ‘strange and interesting’ plant which soon brings in flocks of people to gaze at this Venus Flytrap like specimen. This plant however comes from a day of the total eclipse and only grows with the aide of blood and human pieces. Seymour doesn’t wish to help Audrey II until it says it can help him win over Audrey I (Ellen Greene – appropriate horticultural/character song surname). It’s not long until the man-eating flower is ballooning out of size and out of control.
Based off a show that was based off a 1960 movie of the same name this retelling fires on all cylinders like a musical should. Frank Oz, the puppeteer and director brings his kooky and smart know how from the Muppet and Sesame world to bring this brooding tale of trouble and death to comedic life. It looks very good and still to this day it doesn’t look overly dated, of course you can see it’s studio based and the sets are clear as day but that all adds to the undeniable charm. There’s well paced storytelling amongst the songs and as the New Yorkers shuffle along through ‘Skid Row (Downtown)’, it builds up the sense of a grimy hard of luck place to affirm the location this story will stick around in. The songs are all directed nicely too with the muse-esque singers popping up in the background of shots to narrate events.
In general that’s a neatly done thing throughout with the three school dropouts transforming into Greek chorus vocalists to help tell the plot through song. They’re extremely soulful too and now after my growing up with Disney I couldn’t help but relate them to the funky vibe of the five ladies in ‘Hercules’. The best directed and edited moment featuring these three is in the ‘Suppertime’ song with the trio stepping closer to the florist store as Audrey II which all comes together with the shots and music to build an actual rising of tension. They are constant characters who appear through a lot of the film even when not in sparkly dresses ready to belt some notes and that’s a fun thing to keep watch of.
I couldn’t help but love the design of the twisted space born plant with it’s fleshy puppetry magic making the film feel that much more real and wonderful. It’s good to see practical effects being used as you’d just know that if the film was about nowadays teams would be chomping at the bit to make Audrey II CGI, which would be hideous as I’m only too sure Frank Oz would agree with on the turn of his beloved Yoda becoming a green skinned computer toy. The more maddening evil blossoming that Seymour’s find travels along is brilliantly encapsulated by the sprawling roots and secondary heads this plant soon shows. It becomes an actor in the film, with gravelly voice work from Levi Stubbs and puppet genius from Lyle Conway and his crew combining to make you believe this thing is as real as possible.
Now, I’m not a big fan of movie musicals with a lot of songs never being done right or a majority feeling dull with title tracks or few others being the only songs to stand out but here is a different matter. They’re all injected with fun and soul thanks to the running theme of the three ladies. In fact, they’re utterly cleverly written songs and backed with not overly cringe music that you can’t help but enjoy listening to them. The songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman do the job in each case whether telling a needed cheesy poppy hit of where Seymour got the plant or taking it down a notch to the more harmonious duet between Audrey and Seymour. It’s a grand affair of music and comedy in this pulpy film and I can now see why it’s loved as the musical horror it is.
Rick Moranis as the bumbling Seymour is a fantastic casting choice and Moranis sells it completely as the lead character. You feel for his awkward phase and then buy into him when he’s becoming a little more dark in the thoughts of offing Audrey’s boyfriend. All the time though you know and like the fact he’s a nice guy and it helps that Moranis sings well enough too. Ellen Greene is squeaky and shrill as the romantic interest but that’s hilarious and even when it does grate from time to time you realise her acting is to the money as that’s her character. Steve Martin is a fantastic addition as abusive partner and unhinged dentist. He runs away with it, the Elvis Presley hair and mannerisms are flawless and he gets every one of his own teeth into the role. Levi Stubbs, lead singer of the Four Tops brings music and danger to Audrey II and really pushes oomph into the plant’s character. There’s some cracking cameos to see too from John Candy and James Belushi but the guest showstopper is Bill Murray who appears as a deranged dentistry fan rivaling the madness of Steve Martin in one brilliantly odd scene.
Retro and a funky camp ride that feels like a blast of soul to your very soul itself. Surreal, silly, spooky and stuffed with sparkling songs. ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ has some weak aspects but who cares, the fun jumps up on you as dramatically as Audrey II’s growth spurt.