Fathom Events Presents Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

When I was in college, I worked for the university dinner theater. It was a small university and a small dinner theater with a very small storage space. Sometime before my time, they had launched a production of Little Shop of Horrors. They still had the giant foam-rubber man-eating plant from outer space. Because there was no place to store it during normal days, we just kept it in the auditorium, but when we were putting on a show, we had to carry its large, awkward-to-handle, and very heavy bulk through a small door and into one of the classrooms. Then after our Sunday matinee, we had to move it back to the auditorium. It was always an ordeal, a huge pain in the arse made especially so because the director of the theater promised to take it out of our pay (and hide) if we damaged it during on of the many moves.

I still have nightmares about that thing (not to mention the homemade shower we built for the “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” number in South Pacific but that’s a tale for another time). All those memories came flooding back while watching the movie version of Little Shop of Horrors this afternoon on the big screen courtesy of Fathom events. Yet, I still managed to really enjoy myself.

The film is based on the off-Broadway musical, which was based on the 1960 Roger Corman non-musical movie (which itself may have been based on an Arthur C. Clarke short story, which was inspired by a H.G. Wells story, and the circle of life continues). It stars Rick Moranis as the shy, dweebish flower-shop employee Seymour Krelborn who works and lives on skid row. One day in the middle of a total solar eclipse, he buys a strange-looking plant from an old Chinese man. Putting the plant in the window of the flower shop draws lots of attention, allowing the struggling store to thrive.

He’s got a crush on his coworker Audrey (Ellen Greene, reprising her off-Broadway role) but is too shy to say so. Besides she’s dating a sadistic dentist (Steve Martin in a scene-stealing role) who regularly beats her. The plant, dubbed Audrey II (Levi Stubbs) continues to grow, but only if Seymour feeds it blood. At first, he simply pricks his fingers and lets the plant suck, but as it gets a taste for flesh it wants more and more until it demands Seymour feed it a full human. Things only get weirder (and a lot more fun) from there.

Released in 1986, Little Shop of Horrors was a medium hit in theaters but strong word-of-mouth pushed it into major sales upon its home video release. That’s where I originally caught it as a pre-teen and I loved it. I don’t think I’d seen it since high school but it holds up really well. I’d forgotten how many good songs there are, but nearly all of them immediately came back to me and I found myself singing along. I’d also forgotten all the great cameos including John Candy as a radio DJ, Bill Murray as a masochistic dental patient who enjoys all the torture Steve Martin can dish out, and Paul Dooley as a marketing exec who wants to reproduce Audrey II and sell it worldwide. Actually, I didn’t forget Doooley as he only appears in the original cut of the film. When he wasn’t available for reshoots, James Belushi stepped into the role.

It is the director’s cut cut that is being shown in theaters now. It features a completely different ending in which the plant eats both Audrey and Seymour, is reproduced by the thousands and sold all over the world, and eventually destroys all of mankind. It cost over a million dollars to make and took weeks to shoot but tested poorly and thus the more familiar theatrical cut with its happy ending was shot. The original ending went unavailable until 2012 when the footage was pulled out of the vaults, cleaned up, and finally released. Honestly, my memory of the theatrical ending is so vague that I couldn’t tell you which I liked better. I can say that by the time the plants were wreaking havoc across the globe I was quite ready to see the end credits. The movie is a lot of fun but it runs a little long and I wasn’t emotionally invested in the characters enough to care whether or not the film killed them or let them have their happy ending.

Before the screening of this Fathom Event, director Frank Oz gives a little chat about the production of the film. My favorite piece of trivia is that in order to sync Audrey II’s lips in time with the songs, they had to shoot it at a slower frame rate (as the puppeteers could not move its lips fast enough), which in turn meant Rick Moranis had to perform in slow motion when the two appeared together.

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Mat Brewster

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