The Movie: Little Shop of Horrors
Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max
The Pitch: Meek flower shop assistant Seymour (Rick Moranis) has a passion for weird plants and his co-worker Audrey (Ellen Greene), the former of which gets him in trouble when he discovers an unusual plant during a total eclipse. Naming it Audrey II, the strange plant attracts business for their struggling plant store and earns him Audrey’s affection, until Seymour realizes that the plant craves human blood and eventually, flesh.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: I’d only heard ever heard of Little Shop of Horrors as the odd prologue to future Disney Legends Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s careers as beloved composers and lyricists for films like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. It was always a little funny to me that Menken and Ashman got their start in this offbeat Off-Broadway musical based on a 1960s B-movie about a man-eating plant. It was slightly funnier to me that the 1986 Frank Oz movie adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors was stocked full of recognizable comedy actors and led by Rick Moranis, whom I’d never thought of as someone with real Broadway-level pipes. But I decided to finally check it out and was pleasantly surprised by not only Moranis’ pipes, but by how sweet and weirdly wholesome this campy musical about a carnivorous plant is.
What a funny mixture of ingredients Little Shop of Horrors is. Primarily starring comedians, created by future Disney legends, based on a 1960s B-movie and cult classic horror-comedy, and directed by The Muppets maestro Frank Oz, Little Shop of Horrors probably shouldn’t work as well as it does.
At the risk of sounding unoriginal, Little Shop of Horrors is one of those “couldn’t be made today” movies. There’s a roughness and weirdness to it that feels almost miraculous, not to mention incredible puppetry that would have been bypassed by current filmmakers in favor of cost-cutting CGI. Even with a reshot ending that was changed after test audiences balked at the shockingly dark conclusion of the stage musical, Little Shop of Horrors has a twisted edge to it that is only tempered by its disarmingly sincere emotional core — and the catchy tunes that are the embodiment of that sweetness.
Knowing where Menken and Ashman go after they got their start with this musical, it is fascinating to see the glimmers of that Disney magic hidden in earworms like the doo-wop inspired number “Little Shop of Horrors” and the romantic ballad “Suddenly Seymour.” If you actually listened to the soundtrack separately from the rest of the movie, Little Shop of Horrors is downright cheesy, with a few sprinkles of color and wit sprinkled in there. It’s when you bring it all together — with Moranis’ perfectly nebbish performance as Seymour, Ellen Green’s baby-voiced turn as the waifish Audrey, Steve Martin’s frighteningly sadistic dentist boyfriend, the absurd amount of SNL alum cameos, and Frank Oz’s amazing Audrey II puppet — that it all just clicks into this whimsical, morbidly camp delight.
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