CORMANIA!!! Two Cents Film Club Gets a Taste for Blood at THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960)

We close out our retrospective of Roger Corman with the black horror-comedy that may best illustrate his plucky innovativeness.

Two Cents is a Cinapse original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team curates the series and contribute their “two cents” using a maximum of 200-400 words. Guest contributors and comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future picks. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion. Would you like to be a guest contributor or programmer for an upcoming Two Cents entry? Simply watch along with us and/or send your pitches or 200-400 word reviews to [email protected].

James Cameron, Francis Coppola, Gale Anne Hurd, Sylvester Stallone, Jack Nicholson, James Horner, and Martin Scorsese all have something common: they all got their start working with Roger. And that’s FAR from a comprehensive list. Amazingly, it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that Roger Corman may be the single most influential filmmaker of the last century. As a director, he pioneered the art of crafting movies with low budgets and high returns. As a producer, he perfected it. His productions have lent a start to scores of actors and filmmakers, including many of the biggest names in Hollywood.

This month on Two Cents we look back on the legacy of a legend and say THANK YOU, in our own way, to the late, great Roger Corman.

To close out Cormania, we take a look at a textbook example of Corman’s ingenuity and thriftiness. Made on the same sets made for his earlier film Buckets of Blood, legend has it Corman and his crew had only two days to shoot all the interiors for The Little Shop of Horrors. The film also has one of the earliest performances by a young Jack Nicholson, which began a long and productive collaboration between him and Corman. Programmed as the first half of a double feature, the film went on to attain a cult following before being adapted into the Broadway sensation by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. All from a scrappy little production about a very hungry plant.

Ed Travis

 It’s been really great for me to intentionally seek out some Roger Corman classics in honor of his passing this month. My esteem for Corman has most definitely heightened and deepened thanks to the programming of my Cinapse peers who happened to select 4 titles I had never seen before. Honestly there’s little I love more than going down an intentional cinematic rabbit hole, especially one that specifically illuminates a blind spot I’d had.

A thing I’ve truly come to appreciate about Corman is his thrift. In an era of endless IP and interconnected universes and studios unwilling to make projects with less than $100+ million budgets, these Corman films have been a breath of fresh air. From what I’ve learned about Little Shop of Horrors specifically, this was one of those pictures shot in only a few days, on repurposed sets, and with a play-like quality that allows for the ensemble cast to crank out a ton of dialog in long static takes. I very much appreciate that this thrifty, shot on a dime film spawned a musical adaptation that has become transcendent and gets performed at high schools across the nation ad nauseam. It’s incredible, frankly.

I just wish I had more fun watching the actual movie. I felt the low budget and the play-like elements, and definitely appreciated the wacky shenanigans more than I was actually engaged by them. I’m thrilled that this film birthed a phenomenon and that Corman will probably forever be associated with something that will seemingly live forever. But I’ll take The Intruder or Piranha over this any day.  

(@Ed_Travis on Xitter)

Austin Vashaw

Shot on the repurposed sets of A Bucket of Blood and featuring some of the same cast members, Little Shop of Horrors is the film I think of first as the quintessential Roger Corman-directed picture. It’s cheap and quirky, features some familiar faces, and is ultimately a lot more than the sum of its parts, now known primarily as the source material for the hugely successful musical adaptation which followed – that version of which begat yet another film adaptation in 1986.

It’s not exactly a great film but I think this is my third viewing, so there’s clearly something here worth revisiting. It is a film that makes me smile, as does knowing that supporting actors Dick Miller and Jackie Joseph, who appear in this film together, would be paired up many years later as the Futtermans in the Gremlins movies.

Even though I’ve seen this before, I forgot how darkly humorous and outright bizarre it is: a hand-drawn intro, the shop’s sole regular customer (Dick Miller) buying flowers only to eat them, Seymour’s insane mother and her “cooking”, Jack Nicholson’s kooky masochist dental patient, and of course the goofy vocalizations of Audrey Jr (which sound surprising to my ears because it’s so different from the voice of Levi Stubbs in the 1986 film). For a film that was kind of slapped together quickly out of nothing, it’s got a lot of wacky charm.

@VforVashaw on Xitter

Justin Harlan

As a devotee of the 1986 musical, it’s a bit weird I’ve never watched the OG Little Shop. Sadly, it’s a one-and-done for me, I think. I didn’t hate it and I see how some of the ideas and flourishes here were used and/or retooled to create the 80s film I love. However, it feels like it’s missing something and I don’t think those missing components are solely the music that I missed dearly.

To me, this felt like a lesser version of Corman’s 1959 Bucket of Blood in many ways. There was a similar tone and some similar setups, but the 1959 Dick Miller vehicle connect with me much more. To be clear, I’m not even a huge fan of Bucket, I just think its the better of these two comparable Corman films. Maybe it’s just that this film needed more Dick Miller.

Speaking of Miller, he just exudes cool in his role here, albeit limited. His look and vibe hearken to James Dean levels of cool in this one, but maybe that’s just me.

It’s also really fun to see a young Jack Nicholson as the masochist dental patient that Bill Murray portrays in the 86 film. I enjoyed him and Miller most.

All in all, I feel like it was important to fix this particular cinematic blindspot for me, but I don’t expect to return to it any time soon.

(@thepaintedman on Xitter)

Jay Tyler

Ed and Austin already alluded to the incredible backstory of this film, but it is worth repeating that this film was, by all accounts, shot mostly over a period of two days due to the sets being set to be demolished. It helps explain the manic, desperate energy of the comedy. A rapid-fire collection of Vaudevillian gags and unhinged slapstick, the movie’s engine is constantly running like it’s about to be out of gas, and that energy allows its absurdist sensibilities to flourish. Some of my favorite gags include a regular customer always on their way to a funeral named Mrs. Shiva, and the extended Who’s On First routine between Seymour and a sex worker talking past each other.

Jonathan Haze’s performance as Seymour is especially impressive, as he somehow slumps his way through the film, deadpanning through the revelation that he has grown a monstrous carnivorous plant. Each time he finds himself shrugging and dragging a new body back to the plant shop, the comedic rhythm of the film just puts a smile on my face. It’s almost stupid, but gleefully and apologetically so.

The film is also undeniably shaggy, with random vestigial bits hanging off of it in odd formations. The fact the framing of the film remains a Dragnet parody that never quite gels is just one example. But it’s easy to see why Frank Oz of all people directed the eventual filmed version of the Broadway musical: the “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” philosophy of this movie will be very familiar and welcoming to fans of the Muppets. And while it might not hit all the time, it’s hard to not get caught up in its go for broke whirlwind. As our final stop in our memorial to Corman, it illustrates perfectly what made his work so special: a gleefulness to the pure joy of the movies.  

(@jaythecakethief on Xitter)


    Every week in July, we’ll be headed to the beach. Sometimes it’ll be fun, other times it’ll be a difficult journey, and yet other weeks it may end up deadly! Join us this month by reaching out to any of the team or emailing [email protected]!

    July 1st – Back to the Beach

    July 8th – Cast Away

    July 15th – A Perfect Getaway

    July 22nd – Evil Under the Sun

    July 29th – Club Dread

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