The fauna have been well represented in the nature-strikes-back genre of disaster movies. There's Godzilla, both rubber-suited and CGI running around reducing apartment complexes to rubble, Prehistoric Dinosaurs trashing an expensive theme park, King Kong obliterating life and property on a voilent heartache pang, Anacondas trying to fit thier jaws around J.lo's derriere and so on all the way from a B-grade robotronic Gargantua to Anil Kapoor dressed up in a fat suit. But my recollection of flora getting some 'payback time' seems to be 'The day of the triffids'(1963). Sure Evil Dead and others had vines and branches closing in screaming girls but thats preternatural and doesn't count. What counts is the 'mean green mother from outer space', the bloodsucking Audrey II the center piece of Frank Oz's delightfuly twsited muscial 'Little Shop of Horrors. By the green alien plant's own admission, he's 'Baad'.
The first time I ever heard about 'Little Shop of Horrors' was when Tarantino mentioned it as one of his more admired films of 50s B-grade shlock master Roger Corman. And so when i happened to chance upon its remake on HBO on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I decided to take a curious peek to see what the hell it was all about.
From the very first scene, Frank Oz makes it all his own. A Greek-Motown chorus of sorts welcomes us into the 'Little Shop of Horrors' a downtown flower shop, derelict, down on its luck and on the verge of closing. Attendant Seymour (Rick Moranis), a lovable loser straight out of 'Revenge of the Nerds' lives below in the store basement and suffers his owners Mr. Mushnik's whims and pines for flower arranger Audrey (Ellen Greene) who lives right across the street and is in an abusive relationship with sadist dentist-biker (Steve Martin). Hope for the store comes in the form of an exotic plant that Seymour picked up from a Chinese horticulturist during a solar eclipse. The rare plant launches Seymour and the flower shop into instant stardom. Money starts pouring in, Seymour gets to host a gardening show, appears on the cover of Life and things seem to go real smooth but for one glitch. The plant feeds on blood. Fresh human blood that Seymor is expected to provide if he is to keep his new found prosperity. And as it sprouts into a massive monstrosity even entire human beings do not seem to suffice.
The movie flaunts its B-grade origins proudly. Oz realizes that what he has on his hand is not a cautionary tale of greed or a green house version of Fautus. He knows for sure that he's got a campy, crazy sci-fi and the best thing he can do with that material is go all out and have fun. And it's a good thing that Oz's idea of fun is pure delirium. Catch Steve Martin doing his 'Dentist' song- "I am your dentist and I enjoy the career that I picked,I'm your dentist, and I get off on the pain I exert" or sadistic Martin's face-off with deadpan psychotic masochist Bill Murray on the dentist's chair. The Musical numbers while they're not Chicago or Sound of Music, are rousing, enjoyable, funny and foot-tapping. And who of course but the lead gets to deliver the best of the tunes. Audrey II, voiced by Motown group Four Tops' Levi Stubbs, turns on 'Feed Me' and 'Suppertime' and you don't know whether to give in to creeping sense of tension or get on your feet and snap those fingers.
While Oz seems to enjoy the delicious grotesqueries, he keeps the romance sweet and positively cute. Both Moranis and Greene give affecting lovelorn performances and probably seems to be the reason of why a darker ending was rejected by the test audience (thereby wasting 2 million dollars worth of effects) in favor of a happier one. I'm not exactly sure of how the darker ending would seem like but it's suffice to say that the happy ending with a wonderful faux, almost-satirical suburbia set, works.
Technically the movie is solid. For an '86 creature effect, Audrey II, a giant venus fly trap is pure genius. Though shot in stop motion where the actors had to complement the plant by acting and singing in slow motion while in its presence, not a single visible glitch mars any of the scenes.
The movie is pure joy to behold. Funny, irreverent, imaginative, bizzare, wicked and sweet. Roald Dahl would surely approve