LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
Going from screen to stage and back to screen again, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS ($25) is one of the greatest triumphs of tenacity. Who would have thought that anyone could make a great musical comedy out a grade "Z" Roger Corman horror movie? Not only did Howard Ashman and Alan Menken succeed at that daunting task, but they also managed to readapt their shining off-Broadway stage show into an absolutely terrific motion picture. It took director Roger Corman two days to film the original movie on a single set. By contrast, it took director Frank Oz six months to shoot the musical remake, plus he utilized England’s largest soundstage at Pinewood Studios (where the James Bond movies are filmed) to create skid row setting and the flower shop where most of the action takes place.
The plot of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS concerns a nebbish florist named Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis), whose skid row existence takes a turn for the better when he discovers a strange and unusual plant, right after a total eclipse of the sun. Seymour names the plant after Audrey (Ellen Greene), a girl in the flower shop whom he secretly loves. Placing the strange looking Audrey II in the flower shop window attracts the attention of the people on the street, which stirs up the floral business to the delight of Seymour’s dour boss Mr. Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia). However, not everything is coming up roses for Seymour. It seems that Audrey II has a strange dietary need that involves human blood, plus Seymour’s sudden horticultural success hasn’t gotten him any closer to Audrey, due to the fact that she is dating a masochistic dentist. However, things begin to spin out of control when Audrey II begins talking that the plant makes Seymour a deal will solve both of his problems. Sure, the story line of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS sound utterly ridiculous, but the movie is warm, winning and totally entertaining.
Rick Moranis is an absolute delight as Seymour. Seymour is probably the best role of his career; Moranis displays his usual wonderful comic timing, which is perfectly complemented by a surprisingly good singing voice. Ellen Greene originated the role of Audrey on the stage and played it for a number of years, so Greene really owned this role. Therefore having a record of Greene’s marvelous performance on film makes LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS a genuine treasure. Steve Martin steals whole sections of the movie as Orin Scrivello, Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend. Martin’s musical number is one of the film’s many highlights, as is his scene with Bill Murray, who is unbelievably hilarious as masochistic dental patient Arthur Denton.
The cast of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS also includes Tichina Arnold, Michelle Weeks, Tisha Campbell, James Belushi, John Candy and Christopher Guest. Director Frank Oz brings a slightly askew visual style to LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, which is perfectly suited to the material. Only after viewing LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS several times did I become aware of the film’s brilliant compositions and superb camera work, which is so fluid that it is virtually invisible. Finally, I have to mention the film biggest star/special effect- namely Audrey II (devilishly voiced by Levi Stubbs). All of the various sized Audrey II puppets in the film really look alive; especially the largest puppet, which required upward of fifty operators to fully animate it.
This is the second time that Warner Home Video released LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS on DVD. The first time around, the DVD included black and white work print footage of the film’s original ending, which had to be scrapped because test audiences hated it. Unfortunately, producer David Geffen did not approve of the original ending being made available on DVD and forced the DVD to be withdrawn from the market. Those of you who have a copy of that particular DVD should treasure it, because it is indeed a collector’s item. Warner’s reissue of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is pretty much identical to the original release, except for the removal of the original ending. LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is framed fairly close to the 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio and the DVD features the anamorphic enhancement for playback on 16:9 displays. The transfer itself is quite nice, providing a sharp and well-detailed image. Mid-eighties film stocks weren’t quite as good as they are today, so film grain is somewhat noticeable during the presentation. Colors are strong, but never appear overblown, nor do they allow for any instances of chroma noise or bleeding. Reds are especially well rendered throughout the film and flesh tones have a very natural appearance. Blacks are solid, as is the level of shadow detail in the image. Digital compression artifacts are kept in check by the use of dual layering.
As with the first release, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS features an upgraded Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The music really sounds smooth and full on this release; never harsh or tinny, like some badly remastered Dolby Digital soundtracks. Additionally, all of the vocals sound warm and appealing. Music is spread around the forward soundstage and allowed to wrap around the viewer into the rear channels. Sound effects are primarily placed in the front channels, but there is an occasional and effective use of the surrounds. Dialogue is always clean, intelligible and precisely focused. The bass channel enhances the music, while also serving to reinforce the sound effects. A French Dolby Surround and Spanish monaural soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
The interactive menus have an amusing design that takes advantage of animation and sound. Through the menus, one can access the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a nice complement of supplements. Director Frank Oz provides a running commentary that is informative, entertaining and occasionally sounds like Fozzie Bear. This commentary is chock full of good stuff that fans will want to hear. There is a "making-of" featurette that runs about 23 minutes, plus a gag reel comprised mainly of outtakes. Also included is an isolated music track (in 2.0 stereo surround) that allows one to enjoy all of the film’s delightful songs by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, without any pesky dialogue getting in the way. Filling out the supplements are theatrical trailers, TV spots, production notes and cast biographies/filmographies.
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is a joyous little movie that proves that there is still room in the world for movie musicals. Warner Home Video has done a great job with the DVD; so don’t hesitate in picking this one up. Recommended
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