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Saturday, 30 April 2011

Comparing: The Little Shop Of Horrors; Original and Remake.

In this months' Directors Chair over at the LAMB is Frank Oz, who is mostly known for his voice work as Miss Piggy, Yoda and many others. His career as a director wasn't particularly extensive (14 films) and is primarily made up of Comedies (Dirty Rotten Scoundrel's, Bowfinger etc), and as that particular genre is not one of my favourites, especially when it comes to Hollywood Comedies, I am completely unfamiliar with his work a a director.
I thought this event would be a good chance to see at least one of his films and I decided upon his remake of The Little Shop Of Horrors, mainly because I thought it would be interesting to watch the original (by Roger Corman) and his remake back to back and then compare them. So that is what I'll be contributing to this month's directors chair.

The Little Shop of Horrors - 1960 directed by Roger Corman
Right up until I sat down to watch this I had no idea is was directed by the infamous Roger Corman, this might actually be the first film I've seen of his extensive body of work.

This film was shot in 2 days for about 27 000 dollars, pretty much every aspect of the film, from the performances to the directing and especially the lighting, is very poor. However, the version I viewed was the original Black and White one, I've heard there has been a colour release with much better visuals.
But surprisingly, while countless other similar B movies have been forgotten over the years, this one instead developed into a Cult Classic. In fact it even became a sort of figurehead for the Cult Classic type of film, it has gathered a certain reputation over the years and has become a much loved "so bad it's good" film.
It was successful enough to be adapted into a Broadway musical and eventually remade by Frank Oz 26 years later.
So why is this film so successful, what is it about it that made it standout so much that it is still remembered today (albeit by only a few people) ? The answer to that is pretty simple, its script. A cleverly written and very original story with lots of morbid humour, touches of slapstick and a handful of really standout scenes.
It is primarily a comedy, there are many slapstick gags and lines meant to be funny, I can't say these amused me much though. Clearly the best aspect of the humour was the morbid side to it. For after all the film is about someone murdering innocent people just to feed his plant. All the scenes involving the plant and the various "foraging expeditions" the main character undertakes, for the plant only eats human flesh.
This may seem pretty gruesome but it does lead to some great black comedy and provides the film with some of it's best scenes that are just as morally questionable as they are funny. But the humour falls flat in the remaining scenes. Except in a few instances, the first being the scene involving a very young Jack Nicholson as a masochist visiting the dentist, the second were the few scenes with the pair of detectives, they were funny parodies of classic Film Noir detectives. Apart from this the humour was pretty flat, basically every seen without the plant, excluding those few I mentioned, was pretty dull and as a whole it really isn't a good film but it's worth watching as it truly is so bad it's good.
It's short run time (70 minutes) makes it easily bearable and even though there is scarcely anything about it that could be called "good" it is still a very amusing watch.

On a side not, I find it amusing that this film is mainly marketed using Jack Nicholson's name, as he's obviously the biggest star involved, while he only has one scene in the film, anyone watching this to see him will be sorely disappointed.

And now I'll watch the remake to see how it holds up to this Cult Classic

The Little Shop of Horrors - 1986 directed by Frank Oz
Well, how can one compare a 27 000 Dollar film with a 25 million dollar one ?
This remake is superior in almost every way, mainly due to the larger budget. But it does have it's downfall's, some of which the original managed to avoid. for example, the Romance in this film is given much more attention, it was hardly overlooked in the original but it was bearable, here it became the central point of the film and the plant was sidelined at times, which I didn't like. Also the happy ending to this film just didn't fit with the whole morbid atmosphere of the original, not that this film didn't have a morbid atmosphere it actually achieved that quite well in my opinion despite what others may say.
The scenes involving the dentist, played in a delightfully sadistic fashion by Steve Martin, who was probably the best thing about the film, were sufficiently morbid and gruesome, even more so than the original film in fact.
 Anyway, back to the elements I didn't like so much, Ellen Greene's performance is certainly one, her character was extremely annoying, the original Audrey was to some degree as well, but here she was almost unbearable. Possibly because she has a far more prominent role. And while I'm on the subject, the whole fantasy sequence involving Audrey and Seymour was terrible, some kind of romanticised American Dream, exactly the kind of thing I dislike in films.
Also, the fact that the whole film is a Musical doesn't help! I'm not the biggest hater of musicals, I enjoy some but generally they are not cheesy 80's ones. Some of the songs were alright, none were amazing, quite a few were terrible.
That said, there are many positive aspects about the film that make it infinitely more enjoyable than the original, for even if Roger Corman and his team were certainly very inventive with their small budget it still undeniably constrained their creativeness and ultimately doomed the film to become a film liked because of it's poor technical quality and "so bad it's good" style. Whereas this film had a budget many times larger and puts it to good use, the sets are excellent, the whole film was shot in London on what was then the largest film set in the world and the results are pretty impressive. The design is all pretty fantastical but it works in the context, for after all this is hardly the most serious of films.
Now I come to one of the best aspects of the film, the puppetry, specifically the design and management of the killer plant, Audrey. It is really great work, and even though Frank Oz didn't design or operate it himself, one still gets the sense that he is in his own when directing such things. It is infinitely better done than the original.

The performances were slightly less hammy, but far from good. With the exception of Steve Martin and Bill Murray, who fills the role previously played by Jack Nicholson.
The script actually contains less jokes than the original, that might be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you view it. Instead it focuses more on the Romance and takes a more serious approach to the threat of the plant, which I didn't think worked so well.

This was the first Franck Oz film I've ever watched, I'm not particularly impressed, it was good and improved on the original in many ways but at the end of day he's hardly one of the greatest directors and I'm not going to be rushing out to find some of his other work any time soon.

That concludes my post comparing these two films, I found it quite amusing to do and might consider doing something like this again in the future. The films were far from great but were interesting and I'm glad I watched them, for I probably never would have if not for the event at the LAMB.

All comments are welcome as always!

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