PG-13, which I have a feeling is re-rated from PG. It's got blood and death galore. It has a story about domestic violence that's kind of treated like a joke. There's that institutionalized racism that comes with the mystic Chinese, albeit brief. Pretty much, it's a dark comedy and that's going to have some things that are upsetting. While the tone and the goal is to make you laugh, it can't be denied that this is about murder and feeding people to a plant. It is based on a horror movie, after all. Probably a well-deserved PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Frank Oz
I almost quit the whole blogging business today. I think that overwhelming sadness and anxiety is getting to me in light of all the stuff happening in the world today. But, per usual, a good workout peeled away some of the cobwebs. I might be revamping this blog to make it more interesting to me. I might be switching websites to get past the Facebook block. I know that I'm going to be a little easier on myself. Part of what's getting me down is that this blog is starting to feel like work as opposed to habit forming. I often will be fighting homework, both grading and completing, during the school year. Also, another baby on the way may mean that I have to take a break. Part of it is that I might just focus on the schedule of watching instead of pushing myself. Watch at my own pace might be a better move. So if I don't post here and there, please understand.
Little Shop of Horrors is a weird one. The school year felt so far away in the time of Covid, but I think that it was supposed to be the school's musical this year. It's such a bizarre concept. Built out of a joined love of irony, the film of the Off-Off-Broadway musical is an adaptation of a B-movie that had Jack Nicholson cameoing in possibly his first role. Oh, and I've seen this movie. The only part that I remember is the Jack Nicholson part, but I can at least take comfort that I'm not a Johnny-Come-Lately for this movie. It was always one of those movies that I found interesting (and I'm gonna get to this) because it had such a bummer ending. Mind you, the cut of the film that we're used to is this happy ending that, while it makes me feel better, doesn't work with the message of the story whatsoever. But I'm going back to the purpose of this paragraph. Maybe because it's starring Rick Moranis and has a cast of characters, but this feels like the most amazing SCTV bit in the world. They saw this really wacky musical off-off-Broadway and they said, "Let's get all of our friends together and throw all the money at it." And guess what? It worked. It shouldn't have. Little Shop of Horrors, while probably not on that scale, does for me what Rocky Horror Picture Show does for other people. I get the cult attraction to Little Shop more than Rocky Horror. I'm not obsessed with it, but gosh darn it, I will belt out "Suddenly Seymour" given a note.
I think I'm going to focus a lot on why the ending in this movie isn't earned. The original '60s version of Little Shop of Horrors had a bleak ending and so did the stage production. The original cut had a bleak ending. The easy answer to this is that it makes the tone of the rest of the film. As a send up of horror movies, it's oddly making fun of a movie that's making fun of a genre. When I say "making fun", I realize it is done so lovingly. But it still is poking the bear a little bit. But the movie,in tone, is meant to focus on the macabre. This sweet adorable Seymour Krelborn, a name antithetical to the male protagonist of a horror movie, goes through a movie exsanguinating both himself and others for his own sense of glory. This is really a dark take, but Seymour, unfortunately, is the glorification of the school shooter. Largely ignored by those around him, he sees himself as less than worthy. He places labels on himself that others don't. Okay, Mr. Mushnik kind of sucks. But he assumes that Audrey doesn't care for him shy of work friendship. Even his verse that's part of "Skid Row" demonstrates a complete lack of self-esteem. Audrey II, while it might simply be peacocking at the beginning of the story, ultimately is a weapon. There's nothing hidden about the sense of power that Seymour gets from feeding Audrey. I can't help taking a really dark look at this, despite the fact that I find the movie charming. But really, Seymour's feeding of Audrey is really a feeding of his own bloodlust and desire for dominance over others.
I like that Seymour also takes baby steps, reflecting that no one is really born evil. Because Seymour is the protagonist of the film, there's always a justification for his bad actions. (Keep all of this in mind when I talk about why the ending of this movie isn't earned.) Seymour comes from a place of disadvantage. Born on Skid Row, I think they say that he doesn't have parents. Everything about Seymour is about survival. He has needs for love, but they always take a backseat to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It's not a coincidence that his hobby is directly tied to his place of employment. It's when he discovers Audrey II / a gun, he starts treating the things in his life as "Well, where's my share of joy?" This is where Seymour becomes a sympathetic anti-hero. Again, I use the term "sympathetic" very tepidly, simply because I don't want to make the school shooter sympathetic. But at the beginning of the story, he genuinely admires Audrey. He sees this bad guy hitting her and he develops the toxic "good guy" persona. It's not bad that he feels that as long as he doesn't act on it. But the first victim, shy of his own fingers, is the Dentist. (Yeah, another toxic masculine archetype. BUT IT IS NECESSARY FOR THE STORY!) Again, I love this movie, so please understand that I would kill to play the Dentist or Bill Murray's part. I do believe that Audrey II is real, but Audrey II also kind of is a metaphor for white male fragility. On a surface level, Audrey II's need to feed seems like an opportunity to save Audrey, building on Seymour's completely skewed hero complex. But it is also the first time that Seymour treats Audrey as something to be obtained. That initial drive is to stop a domestic abuser, but the following elements flow out of that into "Audrey will be mine."
The movie also makes Mr. Mushnik a no-goodnik. (I feel uncomfortable with what I just wrote and I kind of want to google if its problematic.) Because the Dentist is so over-the-top evil, we understand and take the journey with Seymour into darkness. Mr. Mushnik also sucks, but he is definitely less evil than the Dentist. (I'm capitalizing "Dentist", just because it's the character's name, kind of?) But it would be a leap to have mild-mannered Seymour bumping people off that have no moral flaw. For a while, Mushnik actually comes across as quite heroic. He's turning in someone who he has cared for because he has evidence of a murder. It's only when Mushnik decides to capitalize on that moment that the audience takes the next step with Seymour, allowing Mushnik's death to play some part in a greater good that objectively doesn't exist. Mushnik's deal with Seymour is slimy, but it is also is somewhat merciful. Mushnik profits from Seymour's disappearance, but Seymour is also in need of justice for killing the Dentist. Honestly, if Seymour took that punishement, it would have been probably the best moral ending we could have gotten. We could have seen Mushnik's rise to power, only for Seymour to have a redemption arc in trying to stop the evil that he had created. But again, that's not the message of the original story.
And that's where the ending falls apart. I get it. I think this movie feels like it needs a happy ending. But Seymour wants the movie to end with him having his cake and eating it too. When Audrey II attacks Audrey, Seymour gets the punishment for abusing power. After all, Audrey II, his violence-as-power metaphor, lived up to the bargain. He was famous. He got everything he wanted. But Seymour wanted to go back on his deal. He wanted the girl and the clear conscience without ever confessing to any crimes. It's not like Seymour was going to turn himself into the police. He doesn't have that crisis of conscience that makes him confess. This isn't "The Tell-Tale Heart". Nope. He needed justice. That's why the original ending, with the death of both Seymour and Audrey, actually works way better. The movie presents this binary problem: his soul or power. He chooses power and still wants to keep his soul. By dying, it shows the folly of choosing violence and coercion to get what he wanted.
Keep going with that. I'm not letting myself off the hook that easily.
And the greater message is: Seymour Krelborn is an avatar for the audience, the disenfranchised. Let's be honest: the target audience of this movie is nerds. It's an adaptation of a B-horror movie. Think about the friends of yours who swear by this movie. Theater nerds? Film nerds? Horror nerds? We're all Seymour Krelborn, outside a system that accepts us. We do anything we can to peacock, but where does our soul fit into that. The most pure version of Seymour is before he is given any power. He's sad and depressed a lot, but he's genuine. But the version at the end of the film is artificial. The news stories and the radio interviews present something that isn't him. The dream of "Somewhere That's Green" isn't bad in sentiment, but it's because they choose to imagine this perfect place that can't possibly exist. Seymour and Audrey could be happy on Skid Row. I'm not trying to downplay the reality of poverty. But the only thing keeping them apart was honesty. By peacocking with Audrey II, Seymour skips the vulnerability of showing his true self to give something that was never truly him.
But it's a cool movie. I hate to go all "school shooter-y", considering the era this movie was made in. However, there's some really interesting stuff to take away in 21st century storytelling. It's a weird dynamic, liking an ending that doesn't make a lick of sense. But musicals in this subgenre, traditionally, are feel-goodery. It's a musical comedy. We tend to stay away from bummer endings in musical comedies. So yeah, I get why a test audience might say, "Wait? Everyone dies?" But it also is the only ending that the movie really deserves.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.