It’s impossible to know how much I would have liked The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) had I never seen its musical counterpart from 26 years later, Little Shop of Horrors (1986.) While it’s surprising that I watched the former for the first time only recently, I couldn’t keep myself from hearing the songs from the latter playing in my head as I did. Therefore, I was probably going to like the original regardless of its quality. The funny thing is, though, I think I liked it anyway.
As I wrote when discussing Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961), I’m a tough audience for horror comedies. Nevertheless, I found The Little Shop of Horrors to be really funny. I laughed out loud several times instead of groaning (or sitting silent with clenched jaws.) Still, I may not have found it quite as hysterical as Phil Hardy did. He wrote in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies…
Undoubtedly the best movie ever made in two days, The Little Shop of Horrors is possibly also the funniest Science Fiction/horror film ever.
That’s a bold claim, considering Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) preceded it by a baker's dozen years. I prefer not to place qualifiers on it; let’s just admit that it’s funny. His next statement is a little more realistic...
Unlike many of the really bad Science Fiction films (much as the infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space, 1956) that have become cult classics in recent years because their ineptitude and total lack of imagination invite laughter, The Little Shop of Horrors invites us to laugh with it…
For me, The Little Shop of Horrors goes above and beyond what is expected of it. It may have been enough for Seymour Krelborn (Jonathan Haze) to create a plant that vocally demands to be fed blood, then to bumble his way into various situations that allow him to obtain it. It’s nearly genius, though, to incorporate a sadistic dentist (that can later be played by Steve Martin) as a deserving victim.
The movie then further adds humorous details such as a man named Fouch (Dick Miller) who orders flowers from Mushnick’s Florist because he eats them. The most clever thing I’ve seen Charles B. Griffith write is the introduction of Fouch’s peculiar taste. When asked if he wants his carnations wrapped to take home, he replies, “No. I’ll eat them here.” It doesn’t have anything to do with the plot, but it’s surprising and funny.
The Little Shop of Horrors has energy, or “verve,” as Hardy calls it. Another surprise comes from Seymour’s mother, Winifred Krelborn (Myrtle Vail.) Instead of henpecking her son as might be typical, she’s also a self-obsessed hypochondriac. He character is exaggerated and pushed almost too far, but Griffith has the courage to stick with the joke, bringing it back time and time again in ways that advance the plot.
Hardy calls The Little Shop of Horrors:
An amazing film.
My first instinct is to say he’s exaggerating a little too much. The more I think about it, though, I tend to agree. There’s a reason it was mined for gold on Broadway and then in a Warner Bros. major motion picture. It's definitely my favorite from Roger Corman during this period of his career; that is, unless Last Woman on Earth ends up surprising me as much as this one did.
Written by Charles B. Griffith
Directed by Roger Corman
Starring Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles, Dick Miller, Myrtle Vail, Jack Nicholson
RT 72 min.
Released Aug. 5, 1960
Home Video Public Domain
Phil Hardy, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies
1986, Minneapolis, MN. Woodbury Press