Little Shop of Horrors - 1986
Director(s): Frank Oz
Writer(s): Howard Ashman (screenplay) / Howard Ashman (musical) / Charles B. Griffith (1960’s original screenplay)
Cinematography by: Robert Paynter
Editor(s): John Jympson
Cast: Rick Moranis, Levi Stubbs, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin, John Candy, Christopher Guest and Bill Murray.
Synopsis: A nerdy florist finds his chance for success and romance with the help of a giant man-eating plant who demands to be fed (IMDB).
Come with me, back to 1986. Tom Cruise was flying high in Top Gun, puppets were cool, laser tag was the craze, Rick Moranis hadn’t retired, John Candy was alive, and I hadn’t been born yet. What a time, man. In this year, a little movie grabbed three of these things and created one of the most fun musicals ever brought to the screen.
One of the aspects I truly enjoy, outside of the music, is how naturally the story progresses. We are introduced to Seymour, lowly florist working in a flower shop that is close to going out of business. He finds a mysterious plant, later named Audrey II, that starts to draw in the customers until business is booming. We see the growth of the plan through the deterioration of Seymour, and when the plant finally reveals his plan we are already invested in Seymour enough that we want to see him win. The interactions between Seymour and Audrey II are hilarious and they somehow have more chemistry between them than many co-stars working today. That’s a testament to Moranis’ acting ability and the great puppet work by Oz and his team.
Frank Oz, prior to 1986, was mainly known as a puppeteer. He rose to fame with his work in Jim Henson’s The Muppet Show / Movies and as Yoda in Star Wars (Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi). He would venture into the director’s seat as a co-director of Henson’s The Dark Crystal and The Muppets Take Manhattan. Little Shop of Horrors would be his first solo project and the first one to feature mainly on-screen performers. He demonstrated a great understanding of framing and editing for the jokes. Many of the punchlines are driven home by how the edited shot lands on a Moranis reaction. The framing is exhibited perfectly with almost all of Steve Martin’s scenes. The pace is quick and the music is used to the advantage of the story, rather than it being a random song at a random moment. Great to look back at his roots and notice the talent he would later evolve in movies like What about Bob? and Bowfinger.
Let’s talk about the music. Look, if you aren’t a musical loving moviegoer, one, you are missing out, and two, this won’t be the movie for you. There are a lot of musical numbers and most of them are very well recorded and acted, since they mainly fall on the three recurring singers walking around town. My favorites include Skid Row, Feed Me, Grow for Me and Suddenly, Seymour. But if I had to pick a musical number it would be Dentist! performed by Orin Scrivello - D.D.S., a black-hairded Steve Martin. They slowly roll out the fact that he is singing about being a badass dentist who loves to inflict pain on his patients, and the juxtaposition of what we have come to know and expect of a dentist and how Martin acts is comedy gold. The way the bike acts around him is all the funny I need.
I miss Rick Moranis. He was everywhere in 1980’s comedies from Ghostbusters I/II to Spaceballs to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Moranis developed a comedic style that is often imitated but rarely duplicated. He typically plays the lovable, trusting smart-fool that gets in over his head and somehow comes out on top (Spaceballs being a great exception). Moranis has an ability to come across genuine and human in any and every ridiculous situation that he has faced, like a talking man-eating plant. Steve Martin is fantastic as the sadistic, too cool for a helmet, black-haired, leather-jacket-wearing dentist. Along with the best song, he has the best scene, which he shares with a pain-loving client played by Bill Murray. This cameo is often forgotten due to Murray’s huge resume, but watching two comedy legends interact on screen is and always be a treat. There are also a few more cameos by comedy legends like the over-the-top radio DJ played by the late great John Candy and the overly enthused first client that buys roses, played by Christopher Guest.
Little Shop of Horrors is a collage of genres that magically work. A live action puppet musical horror comedy that somehow has a perfect balance between them all. Frank Oz is incredibly underrated as a comedic director and this movie should be his calling card to prove his talent. Great music, funny premise and an incredible cast, this movie always proves to be a great re-watch. Rick Moranis is why I love movies.
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