January 22, 2014

Lerman's 14 For '14 Day Twelve: I Love Everything About LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT, Except For The Fact That It's A Musical

"I'm sure I need a long, slow root canal."
When I started watching the director's cut of Little Shop Of Horrors, Jamie was astounded that I had never seen it before.  In fact, she posted the following on Facebook:
"Not only has Daley never seen Little Shop of Horrors, but he's actively underwhelmed by the prospect of watching it. He just turned it on, and he's already sighing exasperatedly. I had no idea his hatred of musicals extended even to Steve Martin and Rick Moranis."
In truth, it's not entirely accurate to say that I've never seen Little Shop.  Lerman and I met in high school, where we were each members of the A/V Crew.  (Shocking, I know.)  Since it was a day and boarding school, the A/V usually showed movies on the weekends and I frequently volunteered to serve as the projectionist.  I definitely remember showing Little Shop one night and, being the guy in the booth, I watched the first few minutes to make sure there were no issues with the picture or sound.  But my fiery hatred of all things musical theater kicked in after about five minutes.  "Fuck this noise," I thought, and I retreated into the A/V office to play Skittles or South Park Snood.*

If I had stuck around a bit longer I would have discovered that the film is directed by the one and only Frank Oz (!!) and largely populated by a collection of my favorite 80's comedians.  I'll admit that it took me a while to realize the full brilliance that is Rick Moranis.  Honey, I Shrunk The Kids was a movie that I used to watch on endless repeat as a child, so I only ever thought of Moranis as a nerdy family man until I eventually began to appreciate his amazing work as Louis Tulley in Ghostbusters, a role he snagged when John Candy was unavailable.  Speaking of which, Candy has a short but memorable turn here as a wacky radio DJ that was just silly enough to leave me wanting more, while Christopher Guest makes another one of his infamous chameleon-like appearance as the first businessman to notice the Audrey II in the window.  And then there's Steve Martin, whose leather jacket-wearing, motorcycle-driving abusive dentist Orin Scrivello is rightfully the stuff of legend.  The guy is a nitrous-fueled nightmare, twisting the heads off of little girls' dolls and punching his own nurse in the face.  By the time Oz sticks the camera inside the mouth of one of Scrivello's victims/patients, complete with a giant tongue wagging in Martin's face, I was ecstatic.

And then Bill Murray showed up and OH MY GOD WHY DIDN'T ANYONE TELL ME ABOUT THIS?

Martin and Murray are pretty much my comedy idols, so having them share the screen is nothing short of heaven realized.  I'd have been happy just to watch them stand around reading people's text messages a la those Sprint commercials with James Earl Jones and Malcolm McDowell, but Oz knows a fucking golden opportunity when he sees one, pairing Martin's dental sadist with Murray as a masochistic patient who's literally jumping up and down in his seat with excitement at the prospect of having his teeth drilled.  ("Candy bar!!")  It's four and a half minutes of pure, uncut amazing.

And then there's the blood-sucking, man-eating, singing plant from outer space.  I'm a well known sucker for practical effects, so it's pretty much impossible for me not to love everything about Audrey II.  Along with providing the voice for Yoda, Grover, Cookie Monster, Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear, Frank Oz was Jim Henson's original partner in crime and puppetry before he went on to direct films like Little Shop, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and What About Bob?  It's therefore no surprise that the execution of Audrey II is, quite simply, some of the greatest practical effects and puppet work I have ever seen, from her humble beginnings in an old coffee can to her gargantuan rampage upon the citizens of New York City. (Pictured above.)

Some of you may be scratching your head in bewilderment, thinking to yourself, "Attack on New York?  I don't remember that part."  That's because the film's theatrical ending, the only one that audiences have had access to for the past 26 years, has what Wayne and Garth would refer to as "the mega-happy ending."  Audrey II brings down the roof of Mushnik's flower shop, but Seymour emerges from the rubble, grabs a severed power cable and electrocutes the plant until it suddenly explodes.  Seymour saves Audrey (the human one) and the two get married and live happily ever after.  But that's not how it was initially intended to play out.  The film's original ending saw all the characters eaten and killed while a horde of giant Audrey II's laid waste to the Big Apple.  Apparently this version did not sit well with test audiences, so reshoots were called for.  Ironically, this happier ending was largely scorned by fans of the darker Off-Broadway musical, itself based on a 1960 film.  The original ending was restored** and released on Blu-ray and DVD in 2012 and it's absolutely glorious in the darkest, most nihilistic way imaginable.

Now if only they could have done away with the damn musical numbers.

What's The Connection? Anthropomorphism!  Babe features talking animals and Little Shop has a talking plant.  Boom.

Up Next: The Happiness Of The Katakuris

*Historical note: Snood was a very big game when I was in high school, and there was a variation of the game in which all the pieces were replaced with the faces of the boys from South Park, a show that was just coming into its own at the time.  We used to get in trouble for playing it because in that version, the Danger bar had been relabeled to simply read "Oh Fuck!"

**The scene with Jim Belushi as the guy who first suggests the idea of selling millions of little Audrey II's in shopping malls was actually part of the reshoots when the original actor Paul Dooley (a.k.a. the dad from Sixteen Candles) was unavailable.  Dooley's scene is restored in the Director's Cut.

Title: Little Shop Of Horrors: The Director's Cut
Director: Frank Oz
Starring: Rick Moranis, Levi Stubbs, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin, Vincent Gardenia, Bill Murray, John Candy, Christopher Guest, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Paul Dooley/Jim Belushi
Year Of Release: 1986
Viewing Method: DVD

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