Monday, July 23, 2012

The Little Shop of Horrors: 1960 vs. 1986

The Little Shop of Horrors is probably one of my favorite musicals. I saw the 1986 version many times growing up and it was the only version I knew of. Recently, I discovered that Jack Nicholson was part of the original version of the movie when I stumbled across the DVD at work. With that, I felt obligated to watch it and compare.

Seymour is a young, nerdy man that works for Mr. Mushnick as a florist. The shop has been receiving low business and they struggle to figure out ways to lure customers to their shop. Despite the poor business, Seymour is not only passionate about flowers, but he is very fond of his simplistic and sweet co-worker Audrey. Secretly, Seymour has been working on a project at the home that he shares with his hypochrondriac mother Winifried and brings the new species of plant he was raising to the shop. He gives it high quality soil and food to make it grow, but is puzzled and pressed for time to make it blossom to impress Mr. Mushnick and keep his job. After a little accident, he learns that his plant is not an ordinary plant that requires water and sunlight, but it is a carnivous one. Once Seymour runs of out fingers to prick and offer blood, he is pressured to find people to feed his plant, Audrey Jr..

Between both versions of the movie, the story is pratically the same. There are some differences of course. In the 1960's version, we get to meet a few of the customers quite regularly. There are more supporting characters than background. Viewers get a chance to see Seymour's living arrangement and meet his mother, which is not presented in the remake. The original is also not a musical. The 1986 version is actually based off the stage play that is based off of the 1960's movie. Lastly, the endings are different.

So, let's begin with comparing the characters starting with our protagonist Seymour played by Jonathan Haze and Rick Moranis. Both characters are the shy, clumsy, nerdy types, but I believe that Haze's portrayal seemed more incompetent than Moranis's. They were both loveable and you can truly sympathize with these characters and what they had to go through to impress Audrey, Mushnick, and most importantly pleasing Audrey Jr. If I had to pick a favorite, I enjoyed Moranis's version. Haze's portrayal seemed too incompetent and clumsy for my liking as Moranis seemed more realistic by not cheesing it up too much.

Jackie Joseph and Elle Greene play the love interest Audrey Fulquard and the characters are quite different, but not too much of a gap. Joseph's character was sweet, simple, and everything seemed so "lovely". It fit the time period of the movie. While Greene's character was just as sweet, she had this annoying speaking voice to me, although her singing is quite great. Strangely, I prefer the simple Joseph version.

Mel Welles's portrayal of Gravis Mushnik seemed a little harsher than Vincent Gardenia. It seemed like the dentist's purpose seemed more useful in the remake than the original. Steve Martin definitely had more screen time and left more of a lasting impression than John Shaner's brief appearance. They were both untrustworthy, sadistic dentists, but Martin's character had more of a relationship and conflict with the main cast. Bill Murray and Jack Nicholson both played the masochistic patient in a slightly different way. They both enjoyed pain, but Murray seemed more comical with his character and fit the tone of the remake while Nicholson seemed almost creepy with his excitement during his dentist visitation. Then there are the plants Audrey Jr. and Audrey II. Audrey Jr. had simple dialogue and was more manipulative to get what it wanted from Seymour whether it was by guilt tripping him or putting a hypnotic spell on him. While Audrey II had more attitude and sass. It was demanding as well, but seemed like more of a threat to the main cast. Even though they weren't in both movies, I really appreciated seeing Seymour's mother and her interaction with her son. I also enjoyed Crystal, Ronette, and Chiffon who were like narrators in the remake. They made the transitions entertaining and helped the tone for each scene.

If I had to choose which version I prefer more, I guess my bias lies with the 1986 version. Putting my sentimental attachment aside, I liked the storytelling better than the original, the characters seemed more interesting, and the ending was a bit more satisfying. Now the original isn't terrible at all, it's definitely worth seeing as well. The story is a little different in places, but it's just as entertaining. The ending was less satisfying for me though. It was a bit of a downer, but not all movies can have cliffhangers or happy endings. If you haven't seen either version, I advise you to check them out and if you can, go experience the stage play. If you have seen either or both versions, tell me your thoughts on the film and even the stage play below.

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