The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

3 out of 5

Directed by: Roger Corman

How do you rate a B-movie? When you’re watching it knowing it’s a B-movie, are you evaluating it on how “B” it is? But what if you sincerely think it might be a good film…? Does that cancel out its B-movie aesthetic, and how that factors in to the rating? And what about self-awareness? If the movie is aiming to hit at that B-tier, what might that change?

All of these questioned through my 70 or so minutes watching Roger Corman’s 1960 flick, The Little Shop of Horrors. It’s clearly a B-movie – stiff, poor acting; a needle-thin plot; minimal sets and effects – and it’s also clearly aware of that, with Corman and writer Charles B. Griffith buffering their man-eating plant plot with about 60 minutes of characters riffing on each other in little bits. But somewhere after its opening, stumbling half hour or so – establishing miserly flower shop owner Gravis Mushnick (Mel Welles); his nincompoop associate, Seymour Krelboined (Jonathan Haze), and Seymour’s love interest and fellow shop worker, Audrey Fulquard (Jackie Joseph, and yes, this movie does have great names) – the movie stops feeling like rejected vaudeville bits and topples into the pleasingly ridiculous, in which every bit of over-acting and forced punchlining stacks on the next, such that every subsequent scene is competing for being stupider and sillier. It finds its “rhythm,” likely due to having a bit of plot momentum, thanks to Seymour’s uniquely bred Venus flytrap-looking plant, Audrey Jr., which Seymour accidentally discovers will only grow when fed blood. Some whoopsy-doopsy murders later, and Seymour has a room-filling, prize-winning plant that’s just hungry for more o’ dat sweet lifestuff…

Which probably sounds like an appropriate followup to a title like Bucket of Blood, Corman’s prior flick, but these are comedies through and through, and Horrors is almost pure slapstick, with Haze pratfalling over any piece of the set he can.

Regardless of its latter-half charms, though, that is still a former-half of the movie you’re waiting for it to do something beyond gags on single-attribute character types – the shop owner is cheap! Audrey is a ditz! The old woman who comes into the shop has a million family members, always dying! – and once it gets there, you’re left with that Is This So Bad It’s Good? or Is This Actually Good? conundrum, and yeah, I think it’s kinda both. But since it’s doesn’t achieve the pinnacle of either, we split the difference with an average rating.