The motion picture industry has been in decline for fifteen years, leaving movie houses owners pondering this humdinger:
“How do we get more folks through our doors?”
One way has been to aim for the pocketbook. Offer two movies for the price of one, the so-called “double feature.” Only, it hasn’t worked out so well, and the practice seems to be dying out.
The issue seems to be one of quality. What good does it do to get a second movie for free if it’s not worth the time spent to endure it? Especially now that the allure of the theater is diminished by the spread of home air conditioning and television? This is why Hollywood is now turning to true spectacles to pack the seats: Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments. the upcoming Spartacus. These are epics for which the small screen just won’t cut it. They may be what saves the industry.
This is not to say that B-movies, the second bananas in a double-bill, are history. In fact, my family and I just went to the cinema to watch what can only be described as a Double B feature: a pairing of The Last Woman on Earth and Little Shop of Horrors. I suppose that makes one of them a C-movie! Both are by Roger Corman, renowned for making low-budget schlock. He has a talent for squeezing the most out of a tiny purse, and much of what he produces has surprising merit.
It’s a simple, shocking story on the face of it. Seymour Krelbourne is a dim-witted assistant in the shop of Gravis Mushnick, a florist on Skid Row in Los Angeles. On the verge of losing his job due to his incompetence, Seymour wins his boss over with a peculiar homegrown hybrid that turns out to be a hit with the customers. Seymour names it Audrey Junior after his adorable, if dotty, co-worker, and thus wins her over, too. Happy story, no?
No. As it turns out, Audrey Junior is a sentient Venus Fly Trap with a taste for meat…human meat. It uses Seymour as a patsy to conduct a series of grisly murders and feed its insatiable appetite. Ultimately, the beast is stopped, but at a high price.
Sounds like a typical low-grade horror movie, doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled. The plot is simply a vehicle to deliver a non-stop series of character gags, physical humor, malaprop jokes, and general farce. It’s a genuinely funny film that feels like a cross between The Twilight Zone and a Borscht Belt stand-up routine. Standout characters include Mel Welles as Mushnick, sporting a convincing Turkish Jewish accent; Wally Campo and Jack Warford as a pair of police investigators doing a spot-on parody of the duo from Dragnet; John Shaner as a sadistic dentist; Jack Nicholson as a masochistic patient; and Corman-film perennial, Dick Miller, as a flosiverous (flower-eating) customer.
Little Shop of Horrors is hardly cinematic gold, but it is good-naturedly gruesome and a lot of fun. I suspect this odd little comedy may well become a cult film, remembered as one of Corman’s better pieces. Watch it while it’s still in theaters!