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USA 1986
Directed by
Frank Oz
88 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

Little Shop of Horrors

Synopsis: Mushnik's Flower Shop is a dying business in a dead district. Mr.Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia) has had enough and decides to close up for good. But when the shop assistant, Seymour (Rick Moranis) and the sales clerk, Audrey (Ellen Greene) convince him to put a strange and unusual plant in the shop window, everything suddenly begins to look up. As it turns out, the plant has an insatiable need for human blood and that presents, to say the least, a problem.

Based on a long-running off-Broadway stage musical by Howard Ashman (lyrics and also the screenplay for the film) and Alan Menken (music) which was itself based on an execrable 1960 Roger Corman film of the same name whose only claim to fame is an early appearance by Jack Nicholson, this is a wonderful exercise in camp parody and black humour, deftly directed by Oz at the helm of a superb production and carried off with excellent performances by a first-class cast. The alien plant, a marvel of pre-CGI, live puppetry technique (Oz earned his stripes with Jim Henson's Muppets) and as voiced by Levi Stubbs, one of the original members of The Four Tops, easily deserves billing as a cast member.

From the opening number which introduces the Supremes-style trio (Tichina Arnold, Tisha Campbell and Michelle Weeks), who are to provide a musical chorus to the proceedings, Oz brings the full resources of cinematic magic to the artifice of the theatrical stage. This reaches its apogee in the Better Homes and Gardens fantasy sequence in which Audrey imagines that she could "bake like Betty Crocker and look like Donna Reed."

Ellen Greene, who played Audrey in the New York and London productions, is fabulous as the guileless, squeaky-voiced bottle blonde, and her big musical number, a duet with Rick Moranis, Suddenly Seymour, showcases a powerful singing voice. Moranis, although no singer of renown, is highly effective as the nerdy loser who dreams of winning her affections, whilst the aptly-named Vincent Gardenia plays the Jewish shopkeeper with panache.

Steve Martin gives one of his best screen performances ever as a sadistic, singing motorcycle-riding dentist and there are cameos from Bill Murray, John Candy and Christopher Guest of This is Spinal Tap fame. The number between Martin and Murray is another of the film's highlights.

Although not having as catchy a repertoire of songs as The Rocky Horror Picure Show (1975) to which it is close kin, and, with its darker humour, less of an immediate crowd-pleaser, Little Shop of Horrors is a must-see for lovers of musicals and off-beat film alike. My only wish is that John Belushi would still have been alive so that he could have been given the small role played by his unremarkable brother, James.




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