Today's Pick: Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
I don't know why there aren't more popular musicals based in the horror genre. For all of its trappings, the genre is capable of loads of fun. In recent years, the Evil Dead musical has proven this, but the progenitor of this kind of raucous and giddy attitude has got to be Little Shop of Horrors. Just the idea of adapting a Roger Corman cheapie into a goofy bit of Faustian absurdity seems like a fool's errand, but it's that exact sense of silliness that makes the filmed version of the off-Broadway musical an absolute blast.
The story is about a meek little nobody named Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis in a career-best role) who stumbles upon a bloodthirsty plant from outer space. Once it begins bringing him fame and fortune, he finds that the plant (named Audrey II, after his co-worker and crush played by Ellen Greene) craves larger and meatier meals. It also turns out that the plant can talk and sing, thanks to the excellent voice of The Four Tops' Levi Stubbs. We also get manically memorable turns by Steve Martin as a sadistic dentist and Bill Murray as his masochistic patient. In fact, all the performances and cameos in this are thoroughly entertaining.
Little Shop of Horrors was directed by Frank Oz, who came up with Jim Henson and his Muppets (Oz was most notable for portraying Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear) and went on to be the performer for Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. He puts his knowledge of puppetry and animatronics to incredible use in this film. Audrey II's different stages of growth are all masterful pieces of practical effects work, and the finale is one of the best pieces of monster mayhem to come out of American cinema in the 1980's.
Now, for a little bit of history. This has to do with the ending of the film, so if you consider that information a spoiler, stop reading now. The original ending of the film and stage version goes full Shakespeare and has everyone die, and Audrey II and its carnivorous spawn consume the entire Earth. This ending didn't test well with audiences back then, so they shot a newer and happier ending. I actually like both endings for different reasons and can't really settle on a preferred one, so I recommend seeking out both versions if you can, or looking up the alternate ending on the Internet. The recent Blu-ray release has the original and darker ending, but I don't know if it contains the theatrical ending as well.
Regardless of which version you see, you can be guaranteed to have a toe-tapping good time with Little Shop of Horrors. It's silly, sweet and brimming with devilish humor. This is another great way to get your kids into the horror genre without them even realizing it. I used to catch this film on TV all the time when I was a tiny one, and I'll always stop what I'm doing and watch it until the end if I manage to come across it. I hope more horror-comedy musicals get movie adaptations (Evil Dead and Re-Animator are the two I desire the most, especially since I haven't seen either of them on stage), because Little Shop of Horrors proves they can be the best things to come out of Broadway.
Hey, speaking of Evil Dead... See you tomorrow!
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