Who would have thought that a sci-fi horror about a florists shop with a man eating plant and sadistic dentist would make a good musical, let alone a film? Nevertheless, Frank Oz’s 1986 take on ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ is able to capture audiences 32 years past it’s release date. Despite a rather meagre storyline, the film covers romance, drama, murder mystery, comedy, musical theatre, horror, and sci-fi, hitting dozens of birds with one stone. When you add a kicking musical soundtrack and incredible puppetry, it’s hard to see what kind of people would not be satisfied by the end credits. However, there are some major negatives that almost ruined the film for me, and they are blatantly obvious.
The original broadway play is about a geeky florist’s shop assistant (Seymour Krelborn) who comes across an alien variation of a venus flytrap which tricks him into feeding it blood. He soon becomes famous and the florist’s shop starts to boom, the plant (named Audrey II) demands more and more food. Audrey II manipulates his human master to murder his love interest’s (the original Audrey) boyfriend, a sadistic dentist. The plant grows, and it continues to eat and eat, first the shop owner, then the girlfriend. When entrepreneurs from across America come to take cuttings of the plant, Seymour realises what he has done and tries to kill Audrey II from inside, becoming the plant’s dinner. Cuttings are taken, and the plant is commercialised, becoming a world-wide sensation. Similar events occur across the globe and the alien plant takes over the world.
However, test audiences did not react positively to this plot and it had to be changed for the Hollywood film. Here is where it differs from the dramatic original: the plant does eat the dentist and shop owner, but when it takes a snap at Audrey, Seymour saves her and kills the plant with an electric shock. They move far away from the downtown flower shop and live happily ever after.
It seems such a shame to make the end so much more PC, when the original director’s cut was released in 2012 and it ends with a positively spine tingling montage of Audrey II’s humongous children destroying New York City, tearing up parks, and killing civilians across the nation. The ‘Disney-Esque’ ending in the film is so out of place that it seems as unnatural as wearing pink to a funeral. Surely the horror theme should be a continuous blanket to convey the story?
Another negative for me was the insufferable cringe that was induced by Ellen Greene’s Audrey. The actress is best known as this role in both the original play, the film and the most recent Broadway revival. However, it is her wimpy falsetto, melodramatic demeanour, and overall blandness that makes Audrey’s tragic story almost a part of the humour. Over the duration of the first act, we are introduced to her darker backstory that lead her to ‘urban skid row.’ It is a tale of poverty, sexism, and (predominantly) domestic violence. It is actually the visual suffering that leads Seymour to his first bloody act. We need to first see the suffering for the plot to make sense: the real thing, not a gimmick.
Personally, I believe that Greene’s style very simple. Simply stated, it lacks depth. It seems less to me that it is the actress’ take on a character, but heavily influenced by the actress’ own character. The way she acts is monotone, often dreary, and not as heart clenching as it really could be. One might say that this is just the director’s instruction to the actress, however, every other video clip I could find of Greene in the role were all exactly the same. Originality please? Or is this also fitting in with the odd candy coated horror genre invented by the film?
But in all this negativity, there truly is a redeeming feature of this film. For some, it’s most likely the make or break factor. And this would be the musical soundtrack. The funky grooves and energetic kicks that we get from all the songs in the film contribute to the project in ways that other theatrical techniques could never do. It does things to the characters that adds an extra layer of depth: the man eating plant becomes disco star, a sadistic dentist becomes Elvis Presley, and a florists shop becomes something of a cabaret. For instance, in the final face-off between Seymour and Audrey II, the Academy Award Winning Song, “Mean Green Mother From Outer Space,” the plant lashes out in an ordinarily terrifying sequence of violent outbursts. However, when covered by Levi Stubb’s rendition of the song, it actually becomes an element of comedy.
As a lover of all things musical, I can happily say that the musical numbers in the film all add to character development and audience entertainment (even if Ellen Greene’s singing makes me want to go and hide). It also makes the project appeal to a much broader audience, almost guaranteeing Hollywood success. And maybe it was that Oz wanted it to be that cheesey, over the top, and out of this world film as opposed to the gothic horror some envision it to be.
To put it more simply, this project is truly a Frankenstein of the filmmaking world, and it works. It is upsetting, however, that major elements of the true story were abandoned and a flimsy actress was chosen for the female lead, but one can look past this. But if given the choice, head on over to see the play, you will be far more satisfied.
Catch the Wanaka Musical Theatre Society’s “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Lake Wanaka Centre in 2019!