Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Little Shop of Horrors
Little Shop of Horrors is a 1960 dark comedy/horror film produced by Roger Corman, later adapted as a stage musical and then a 1986 musical film. These works were also the source for the 1991 animated television series Little Shop.
The plot is similar in all three versions. Little Shop of Horrors tells the story of a young florist's assistant named Seymour Krelbourn, an employee of Mushnik's Skid Row Florist, who one day comes across a mysterious plant. Its interests are revealed to be in serious conflict with the interests of the humans around it.
Seymour names the plant Audrey II after his secret love, Audrey, another of the shop's employees. The plant begins to grow, and attracts customers to Mushnik's. Unfortunately, the carnivorous plant has an odd quirk: it feeds on human blood.
In order to maintain the shop's popularity and win the affections of Audrey, Seymour is forced to secretly kill people and feed them to the increasingly large and cruel Audrey II.
Other characters include Mr. Mushnik, Seymore's fatherly boss and Orin, a sadistic dentist and Audrey's abusive boyfriend.
Although Corman has described his original film as humorous, it was more in the traditional horror genre than its successors. In the musical version, the storyline is lighthearted and silly, despite some gruesome scenes. The action is punctuated by several songs, most of which have a rock and roll or Motown feel.
The 1960 version also featured a young Jack Nicholson in a small role as Wilbur Force, the dentist's masochistic patient.
Another difference between the 1960's version, and the 1986 musical version is the location of the setting of Skid Row. In the original, Skid Row was set in the slums of Los Angeles, whereas the 1986 version was set in the slums of New York City.
In both the off-Broadway and film productions, Audrey II (who has been changed from a strange breed of Venus Fly Trap to a creature from outer space) comes to life through the work of puppeteers. The film version of the plant was an extremely elaborate creation, and during Audrey II's final stage of growth, had to be operated by over 40 people.
The main difference between the off-Broadway and 1986 film versions of Little Shop of Horrors is the endings. The off-Broadway version, like the 1960 film, has a sad ending in which Audrey II goes on a rampage and kills everyone, including Seymour and Audrey. This ending was originally filmed for the screen adaptation, but preview audiences found it too depressing, so a new happy ending was created in which Audrey II is killed, while Seymour, Audrey, and humanity survive.
It features Rick Moranis as Seymour, Ellen Greene as Audrey (reprising her role from the original stage version), Vincent Gardenia as Mr. Mushnik, Steve Martin as the sadistic dentist, Orin Scrivello, and Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops as the voice of Audrey II. Other notables (nearly all from The Second City, and later Saturday Night Live) include Bill Murray as Arthur Denton, John Candy as radio host Wink Wilkinson, Jim Belushi as businessman Patrick Martin, and Christopher Guest as the first person to inquire about the plant. The film also has a Greek chorus, with Tichina Arnold as Crystal, Michelle Weeks as Ronnette, and Tisha Campbell as Chiffon. The names of the three girls in the Greek chorus are all taken from actual 1960's doo-wop/motown groups.
The song "Some Fun Now" was adapted from the song from the song "Ya Never Know." Four other songs were cut from the original production score and one, "Mean Green Mother From Outer Space" was written for the film. The full version of "The Meek Shall Inherit" and the "Finale Ultimo (Don't Feed the Plants)" song were recorded, but cut from the film (although they're still included on the soundtrack album).
The music for the off-Broadway and 1986 film versions is by Alan Menken while the lyrics are by Howard Ashman. These two have collaborated elsewhere, most notably on Disney's Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin.
2003 Broadway revival
There is currently a national tour of Little Shop of Horrors, starring Anthony Rapp as Seymour and Tari Kelly as Audrey. Anthony Rapp left the national tour in December of 2004 to film the movie "Rent". The current cast of the tour includes: Jonathan Rayson as Seymore, Tari Kelly as Audrey, Michael James Leslie as the voice of Audrey II, James Moye as Orin et all., Lenny Wolpe as Mr. Mushnick, Latonya Holmes as Ronette, Amina Robinson as Crystal, Yasmeen Sulieman as Chiffon, and Michael Latini, Paul McGinnins, and Marc Petrosino as the Puppeteers for Audrey II.
Themes and motifs
Most of the characters are predators. The plant preys on humans. But this reflects the other relationships going on around the plant. The dentist preys (brutally) on his girlfriend (and others), the shopkeeper on Seymour, Seymour on anybody who can feed the plant. The story is set in a flower shop on Skid Row, a location where every human is either predator or prey.
Seymour demonstrates a gradual slide into evil. At the beginning of the story he is innocent and interested in the plant because it is unique. When Audrey II demands food, Seymour first feeds her his own blood. It's only a prick, and it's a good cause. His escalation to feeding other humans to Audrey II happens one step at a time. The first victim is already dead. Seymour rationalizes that he was a bad man, so there is nothing wrong with using his death to the plant's good. With the second victim, Seymour knows he is tricking his mentor to his death. The third death is justified not to help the plant, but to help Seymour's fortunes. Seymour accepts evil one step at a time. In this slide into evil, Audrey II is a tempter. Finally, Seymour unsuccessfully attempts to correct his actions. Seymour is an example of an anti-hero (a character type that was not known to traditional morality plays).
Looking at the story from a different literary light, the plant is a more literal Devil. Little Shop of Horrors is essentially the plot of Faust, reworked into modern times in a flowershop. Seymour seals his deal with the plant in blood. He hopes to gain from the plant the Devil's traditional payments to Faust: fame, fortune, and romance. In the end, Seymour is completely destroyed by the plant.
In Faust, Faust initiates his deal with the Devil in full knowledge of what he is doing. Seymour, in contrast, does not understand what is happening until he is deep into a relationship with the plant. Like Faust, Seymour comes to recognize how he has become evil, attempts to correct his sins, but fails to do so and is claimed by his devil.
Both Little Shop of Horrors and Faust have been reworked by different authors into different versions, presented in different media. In both, in some versions the protagonist is lost, while in other versions he is saved.
As in some versions of Faust, the love interest is caught up in the destruction, but remains innocent.
Seymour's story (ignoring the "happy ending" version) is also a tragedy in the ancient Greek sense. Seymour starts out intending good, but comes to a bad end due to his own character flaws. Once the action is set into motion by the discovery of the plant, it moves unstoppably towards the protagonist's destruction.
The work makes fun of violence, sadism, masochism, and humans as plant food. In all but the second movie version, the plant succeeds in the end, spreading across the world as a successful predator on humans. This ending is characteristic of black comedy: it is the logical outcome of the events that in more traditional art would be unsettling, but in this work is the source of humor.
Little Shop of Horrors uses the vocabulary of the horror genre, but in self-referencing and mocking ways. The plant is a monster that feeds on humans, but enlists Seymour's aid in obtaining victims. Seymour describes his debt to his mentor, but pairs each example with an example of how the florist also abuses him.
Corman (also in many of his other works) used the horror genre to make a work that consciously sets itself apart from that genre. This is made more explicit in the musical version. A chorus in the musical functions much as a classic Greek chorus, offering meta-commentary about the story. Many of these comments specifically poke fun at the horror themes.
Musical numbers (play)
- "Prologue/Little Shop of Horrors" (Chiffon, Crystal, Ronnette)
- "Skid Row" (Company)
- "Da-Doo" (Seymour, Chiffon, Crystal, Ronnette)
- "Grow for Me" (Seymour)
- "Ya Never Know" (Chiffon, Crystal, Ronnette)
- "Somewhere That's Green" (Audrey)
- "Closed for Renovation" (Seymour, Audrey)
- "Dentist!" (Orin)
- "Mushnik & Son" (Mushnik, Seymour)
- "Feed Me (Git It)" (Audrey II, Seymour)
- "Now (It's Just the Gas)" (Orin, Seymour)
- "Act I Finale"
- "Call Back in the Morning" (Seymour, Audrey)
- "Suddenly, Seymour" (Seymour, Audrey)
- "Suppertime" (Audrey II)
- "The Meek Shall Inherit" (Chiffon, Crystal, Ronnette)
- "Sominex/Suppertime II" (Audrey, Audrey II)
- "Somewhere That's Green" (reprise) (Audrey)
- "Bigger Than Hula-Hoops"
- "Finale Ultimo (Don't Feed the Plants)" (Company)
The DVD fiasco
When the 1986 version of Little Shop of Horrors was released on DVD it included the 23-minute original ending to the film. David Geffen, the film's producer, wanted to re-release the film to theaters with the ending it was intended to have. He became angry at its inclusion on the DVD (although the clip on the DVD was in black and white, was missing sound, visual, and special effects, and was generally unfinished). The DVD was recalled and replaced with another version without the ending. Little Shop of Horrors was the first DVD to be recalled for content.
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