Along with William Castle, Roger Corman was one of the most prolific horror directors of the 50s and 60s and introduced what would become some of the most popular actors in the horror business over the decades. So, with yet another movie adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors recently announced, I thought I’d go back and check out Corman’s original along with some of his other films that I’ve not yet covered on Boys, Bears & Scares.
THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960)
I first watched Corman’s original, non-musical film decades ago when I worked at the video store, so viewing it again now that I’ve seen the 1986 musical so many times, I thought I’d just note some of the alterations made to the story. It was fun watching the colorized version on my DVD because it’s one of the better colorizing jobs I’ve seen. If you weren’t around in the 80s when the practice first began, you have no idea how horrendous it used to look—like someone under the age of 10 took a water color paint brush to the film negatives.
Anyway, here are the glaring differences between the 1960 version and the 1986 musical:
-The dentist is one of the first characters we meet, and not surprisingly his sadism isn’t as “pronounced” as Steve Martin’s take, nor is he linked to Audrey.
-The plant isn’t an alien…Seymour creates it by cross-pollinating two different plants.
-Seymour, played by Jonathan Haze, who is quite funny in a Jerry Lewis way, lives with his mother.
-Audrey is a brunette and not a helpless ditz.
-Seymour doesn’t kill the dentist first. He accidentally kills a man on the train tracks.
-Seymour kills the dentist in his office. Jack Nicholson is the masochistic patient, and he comes in after the murder, so Seymour has to pretend to be the dentist.
-The plant is no Levi Stubbs. It speaks in an obnoxious, higher voice.
-There’s a narrator who turns out to be a detective on the case.
-Risqué for the time, Seymour unwittingly makes moves on a whore he wants to feed to the plant.
-The best part, which was left out of the musical…the heads of victims become buds on the plant! Awesome.
-Since the play ending was changed for the musical movie adaptation, Seymour feeds himself to the plant at the end of the original movie, as in the play.
A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959)
A Bucket of Blood is virtually the template for the plot of The Little Shop of Horrors, has a hint of House of Wax thrown in, and has been re-imagined numerous times, even in an episode of Freddy’s Nightmares in which a photographer becomes famous after using dead bodies as her subjects.
Horror icon Dick Miller, who has a small role in Little Shop, is the star here. He’s a lowly busboy who wishes to be an artist like the sexy, bearded poet that performs at the restaurant where he works (horrified guy in the center below).
When Miller accidentally kills his landlady’s cat, he covers it in clay, presents it as art, and becomes a sensation.
Soon he needs more sculptures to keep up the momentum of his newfound success, so he goes on a killing spree, beginning with a young Bert Convy of the classic game show Win, Lose, or Draw.
Even the denouement is the same as Little Shop, with the truth being revealed in front of a group of people, the main guy running off, and finally committing suicide.
THE WASP WOMAN (1959)
Described as Corman’s answer to The Fly from 1958, The Wasp Woman might eventually have a woman with a wasp head and hands (53 minutes in if you watch the extended cut on the Blu-ray), but it strikes me as a definite inspiration for films like the 1988 film Rejuvenator.
A powerful woman running a cosmetic company is losing her looks…until a beekeeper comes to her with a serum he uses to reverse aging in animals. There’s even a cat that may very well have been the inspiration for Church in Pet Sematary.
The woman chooses to become the first human subject. At first things go fine and our leading lady is looking good, but of course other forces want to steal her serum, which lands the beekeeper in the hospital.
Without the serum, our woman goes wasp! She kind of bites people in the neck like a vampire. There aren’t many victims, but considering the kills are packed into the last 20 minutes of the film, the body count/minute count ratio is pretty good.
Note that IMDb has several pieces of trivia about the fact that parts of this film feature 1960s cars, probably due to extra footage being filmed and added for television airings.
THE TERROR (1963)
The only film of these four that was originally in color, The Terror comes from Corman’s Poe adaptation period and it shows…right down to reused sets and Boris Karloff in a castle. I was so not a fan of Corman’s period pieces that took place in castles…
The movie is sloppy and not very scary, even though it does have that classic horror movie charm–thunder, lightning, a melodramatic horror music score, trips to a cemetery, secret passages in the castle, a witchy woman, and a ghost.
When Jack Nicholson sees a young woman disappear into the surf by the shore, he manages to track her location to Karloff’s castle, only to discover the woman has been dead for twenty years.
Jack refuses to accept that truth and spends most of the movie running around the castle chasing her shadow. Corman regulars are back, including Dick Miller in a minor role and Jonathan Haze as a man who tries to help Nicholson escape the witchy spell he is under. The most tragic news of all here is that this is the longest of these four films.