The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

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*. Better than the amateur production it looks like, this is a movie with a real “little theater” feel to it, which is where I think a lot of people first encountered it.
*. And it’s cheap. Famously shot in only two days, this is a typical Corman quickie that nevertheless punches above its weight. I think the secret to really effective low-budget filmmaking is to know your limits. Don’t try to do more than you know you can get away with.
*. The chase through the tire yard is a good example. It’s a great found location that they were able to have some fun with. It makes a standard chase scene more interesting and (I assume) didn’t cost them a cent. Production value!
*. It’s interesting that this movie was originally released on a double bill with Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (or Mask of the Demon, or whatever name it happened to be going by at the time). Bava being an absolute master at milking the last bit of value out of a microbudget.

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*. Poor Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, and Mel Welles. On every home video release I’ve seen of this movie it’s sold as “featuring” or “starring” Jack Nicholson, who only has a brief cameo, and not a very impressive one at that. Indeed, I think he’s one of the weakest links in the film. But this is definitely a minority opinion.
*. I’m not sure Roger Corman knew what to do with Nicholson. He’s miscast in a comic role here, and is even more miscast as the French cavalry officer in The Terror. This was all before he became “Jack.”
*. There’s something not funny at all, indeed rather disturbing and grotesque, about the faces appearing in the flowers at the end. Faces that don’t look remotely like the characters they’re meant to represent. One has the sense of a joke that just didn’t come off.
*. In addition to being a whiny loser, Seymour is such a codependent enabler: nursing Audrey Jr. in much the same way as he cares for his health-obsessed hypochondriac mother. Neither of whom really needs a lot of help (though they both know how to whine). Failing health is a leitmotif throughout the movie, from the wailing woman whose family members are always dying to the sadistic dentist.
*. The movie made right after A Bucket of Blood, and they share the same basic premise: the poor picked-on schmuck who hits on a kind of creative success and celebrity that is dependent on his becoming a murderer. Bucket was a more focused satire, aimed at a particular milieu. This movie goes for broader laughs.

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*. If you get a chance, it’s worth looking at the very nice colorization job done by Legend. Of course it’s still preferable to watch it in the original. Colorized colour always looks at least a bit fake.
*. Something is wrong throughout with Corman’s camera work. The top 20% of many of the shots appear to be wasted space. This started to bother me after a while. The framing was way off. My guess is that this was the result of the way the movie was filmed, with two cameras rolling at once shooting everything in wide single takes.
*. Most “Jewish humour” doesn’t work for me. It usually strikes me as overplayed and clichéd. But I thought Welles’s Gravis Mushnick was pretty funny most of the time, and he doesn’t get on my nerves. Dick Miller, however, is the one player who manages to steal every scene he’s in. Even once he’s done with his flower-eating routine (and he really only has this one scene where he actually does anything), he’s still off to one side keeping busy, and keeping time with the others perfectly. Just watch his face or the way he holds his flower when he’s in the background. He was actually offered the role of Seymour but turned it down. Perhaps he thought it was too much a reprise of his character in A Bucket of Blood.
*. A bit of inspiration and competence can’t account for a movie like this. But if you make a lot of movies you’re bound to have at least one happy accident. So much of what works when it comes to art, especially working in as complex a medium of film, is a happy accident. Danny Peary: “Fortunately, everything on this film clicked, due to a combination of good writing and energetic direction and performances, and, while it is no masterpiece, Little Shop is a low-budget gem.”

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