Thursday, February 12, 2015

Vamp or Not? The Little Shop of Horrors

I am sure that most readers will be au fait with the stage musical, and film thereof, the Little Shop of Horrors. Perhaps you are not as familiar with its original incarnation as the Roger Corman directed 1960 film, which I viewed in a colourised version for this article. However I wouldn’t blame you for asking why I would look at it as a “Vamp or Not?” given that it is a film about a killer plant.

We have looked at alleged vampiric plants before. The Thing from Another World was a plant creature that was vampiric and the Andy Milligan directed Blood features a vampiric plant. We also previously looked at blood drinking plants in the film Man-Eater of Hydra though the “Vamp or Not?” was decided as a “not” as a result of a reader’s poll.

the little shop itself
As daft as it sounds, the idea of a vampire plant is not without some level of folklore to back it up. Folklorist T. P. Vukavonic reported that the Lesani Gypsies of Serbia had a folk belief in vampire pumpkins. However Theresa Bane, in the Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology, warns us that “Much speculation has always existed around Vukavonic’s telling of the Lesani’s belief in a vampiric pumpkin, and in truth they may have been teasing the author and made up the story on the spot.” So what about Little Shop of Horrors?

Audrey and Seymour
The little shop in question is Mushnick’s Florist, a skid row flower shop owned and run by Gravis Mushnick (Mel Welles) who employs Audrey (Jackie Joseph, Gremlins 2 – the New Batch) and Seymour Krelboyne (Jonathan Haze , Track of the Vampire). Seymour is, shall we say, efficiency challenged and when he manages to mess up trimming a pair of gladioli he is threatened with the sack. He tells Mushnick that he has been growing a unique plant and the flower consuming customer Burson Fouch (Dick Miller, Not of this Earth (1957) & Trapped Ashes) suggests a rare plant would be a draw for customers.

Audrey Jr
Unfortunately, when Seymour brings the plant – said to be a hybrid of a butterwort and a Venus flytrap – it is looking worse for wear. After admitting, to the delight of Audrey, that he named the plant Audrey Jr (Charles B. Griffith, also Not of this Earth and She Beast), Mushnick is persuaded to give Seymour a chance to nurse it to health. The first night Seymour pricks his finger on a thorn and discovers that Audrey Jr craves blood – we notice that the plant feeds at night. Eventually – having pricked every finger – Seymour can give no more but the plant talks to him demanding to be fed.

feeding body parts
Seymour, distraught, goes for a walk and accidentally throws a rock that hits a man, who is subsequently run over by a train. Seymour may feel guilty but he gathers up and removes the body parts, which he fails to dump on the way home. He reaches the shop and feeds the parts to Audrey Jr. This is observed by Mushnick. For the “Vamp or Not?” there are a few other facts to take into account. The plant is clearly sentient and, eventually, when it buds it carries the faces of its victims in its flowers. The plant is also able to hypnotise Seymour to send him out for food (and Seymour refers to Audrey Jr as master when in a trance).

Mel Welles as Mushnick
It is interesting that Seymour actually says to Audrey Jr, “take it easy Dracula”, especially as the movie was written by Charles B Griffiths who – just before writing this – had pitched a screenplay to Corman called Cardula, which was a Dracula themed film featuring a vampire music critic. It is arguable, therefore, that Griffiths (who also wrote Not of this Earth (1957) and the genre interest flick the Beast from Haunted Cave) had vampires in mind when he write the script. Just as an aside, this originally played in a double bill with Black Sunday - a strange pairing, to be sure. I should also mention the cameo by a very young Jack Nicholson.

when Audrey Jr was still small
Recognising that Audrey Jr. eats human flesh, I think it safe to say that it is more the blood that is important (when feeding from Seymour only blood is taken). Nothing is wasted – though, for comedy purposes Audrey Jr does spit a gun out when eating a burglar (also Charles B Griffiths). Audrey is sentient and capable of communication, more so Audrey can hypnotise others into doing her bidding. To me the Dracula crack really does clinch this – indicating that one way or another vampires were on the writer’s mind. Vamp. The imdb page is here.

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