But the surprisingly durable quickie eventually became a staple of repertory houses, and then the basis for a hit off-Broadway musical. Now, it's back onscreen in an adaptation of the musical by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken.
As directed by Frank Oz (best known for his work with the Muppets) and written by Ashman, the story of a nerd and his man-eating plant has a wonderful, skewed charm. Though the ending was reshot to make it happy rather than horrific, the film on the whole seems refreshingly free of studio interference--consistently giddy and stylized, it has the look of a project made by people who knew exactly what they wanted to do, whether it proved to be commercial or not.
Rick Moranis, the talent comic actor from “SCTV” and “Ghostbusters,” plays Seymour, a little schnook who works in a Skid Row flower shop. He is hopelessly in love with his co-worker, Audrey (Ellen Greene), a lovably dim blonde. Unbeknownst to Seymour, Audrey loves him too, and imagines their married life together in a perfect '60s (the musical retains the original movie's time period) suburban cottage. But, thinking herself not good enough for sweet Seymour, Audrey instead goes out with the floridly-named Orin Scrivello (Steve Martin), a motorcycle-riding dentist who talks like Elvis Presley and loves to inflict pain.
Everything changes when Seymour comes into possession of a strange, bulbous plant that he dubs “Audrey II.” The horticultural oddity becomes a sensation, sending Seymour's boss, Mr. Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia), into avaricious ecstasy. Unfortunately, to grow and thrive, Audrey II requires unconventional plant food--human flesh and blood. Desperate to remain famous and win Audrey's love, Seymour gives Audrey II what it demands (Audrey II's voice is robustly provided by Levi Stubbs), doing away with Mr. Mushnik and the loathsome Scrivello in the process.
A plot outline alone doesn't do justice to the delights of the musical numbers, put over in fine doo-wop style by the principals and a girl-group trio that pops up to make recurring melodic comment on the action.
From the set design to the costumes to the cameos (including John Candy, Bill Murray and Christopher Guest), “Little Shop” is delicious black fun.