Viking Night: Little Shop of Horrors
By Bruce Hall
June 14, 2011
A funny thing happened on the way to Viking Night this week. I got it in my head that I wanted to write about Steve Martin. Problem is, I don’t own any of his movies. They didn’t have The Jerk in stock at Best Buy and Netflix wasn’t going to get here in time. The best Steve Martin movie available for streaming was Little Shop of Horrors - and he’s not even the star. But I fired it up and made it to the third song because as all seven of my loyal readers know, I can’t stand musicals. And then I noticed the original version of Little Shop was available for immediate viewing, and you can’t even imagine my glee. I hadn’t seen it since I was at a house party in 1993 and even more critical than that, there was no singing in it. Roger Corman to the rescue. For those who don’t know, think of Corman as you would David Lynch only less afflicted, funnier and more prolific. And more successful. Possibly even a better dresser.
What’s definitely true is that he’s actually one of the more prolific film makers in history and I have to admit, he holds a special place in my heart. This is because in addition to his many considerable achievements, Corman was the first man to make a film about street racers on the run from the law called The Fast and the Furious (look it up). Less significantly but far more useful to me on a day when I needed something to write about, he is the part creator of The Little Shop of Horrors. But if you’re expecting to see Steve Martin riding a plastic Harley, singing about pulling teeth, think again. The original Little Shop seamlessly combines horror and humor into something that’s more enjoyable than you’d expect. It doesn’t have Steve Martin, but it doesn’t have Steve Martin singing, either. I call that a win.
It does have Jonathan Haze, who is to Roger Corman as Harvey Keitel is to Quentin Tarantino, or Leonardo DiCaprio is to Martin Scorsese these days. Haze lights the torch he will one day hand to Rick Moranis, originating the role of Seymour Krelboyne. Seymour is a bumbling, nebbishy flower shop assistant who adores plants, but has no talent whatsoever for their care. He spends long, dull days at Mushnik’s Flowers, kept company by the store’s overbearing namesake (Mel Welles) and their ditsy secretary, Audrey (Jackie Joseph). At night, Seymour goes home to a half insane, hypochondriac mother who feeds him things like cod liver oil and Epsom salts for dinner. His only true friend in the world is an unusual, pod shaped plant he purchased from a mysterious Japanese trader. All in all it’s not a bad life. Unless you consider all of that bad.
On top of this, Mushnik has grown tired of not selling flowers. The store’s only patrons are running gags. There’s an amusing little old lady who stops by every day to buy flowers for yet another dead relative, and a weirdo in a leisure suit who drops by to pick up a bouquet of carnations, which he then eats. He even carries around a salt shaker. Trust me, it’s funny; you have to be there. And sadly, despite his zeal, Seymour’s incompetence tends to drive customers away. Mushkin warns the lad that if he doesn’t come up with a way to sell more flowers in 24 hours, both he and Audrey (for whom Seymour has a secret crush) will be fired. Dark times are upon him, and though he may be an idiot, Seymour is a very resourceful idiot. It doesn’t take him long to devise a plan. He will bring the strange plant from home, and its exotic nature will draw in customers, saving the store and his job.