Film I LOVE That Scene Special Features

I LOVE That Scene: The Smell of Despair in Little Shop of Horrors

What is I LOVE That Scene?  It is a regular feature on our website in which we detail one single film scene we adore.  Typically, the scenes we discuss are those that force us to involuntarily exclaim “I LOVE That Scene!” when they are brought up in conversation, thus the name.  It is our intention to turn readers onto films through exposure to single scenes.  Spoilers will be clearly indicated.

THE FILM: Little Shop of Horrors (1986)


THE PLOT: Based on a Roger Corman film most notable for an early Jack Nicholson performance, featuring music by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, and directed by muppeteer Frank Oz, Little Shop of Horrors may be the strangest musical ever adapted to celluloid. The musical, and the film adaptation, tells the story of Seymour, nebbish flower shop employee, who longs for the love of physically abused fellow employee, Audrey, and the giant, man-eating, alien fly-trap for whom he must find food. The plant offers Seymour a Faustian bargain: feed it human flesh and he will make Seymour’s dreams a reality. Along the way, songs are sung,  people are eaten, and it turns out the evil, killer plant may have ulterior motives for helping Seymour (isn’t that always the way?).

Who'd have guessed this guy wasn't going to be trustworthy, huh?
If you can’t trust an alien, mean-eating plant who can you trust?


THE CONTEXT OF THE SCENE: There are several scenes I could pull from this movie. Steve Martin’s wonderfully, gleefully, twisted “Dentist” number, the poignant, yet satirical ballad that is “Somewhere that’s Green,” or the sweet, charming duet, “Suddenly Seymour.” However, the scene I want to discuss happens near the beginning of the film, in which the main characters and the random background characters lament lives lived “Downtown.” We’ve met Seymour (played with endearing sweetness by Rick Moranis) and Audrey (played by the adorably ditzy Ellen Greene, reprising her stage role), and we’ve seen the dilapidated flower shop in which they work. From the beginning, there’s an inherent likability to these two leads (a likability that came back and bit the film’s creators in the ass, but more on that in a bit). That likabiliy is magnified by the fantastic song and scene that is “Downtown.” The scene starts small, with a lonely, poor woman, recounting a work life that just barely keeps her at the poverty line. It builds in scope as the entire city seems to join in her lament, discussing their tragic, poor lives.

You can smell the despair here.
You can smell the despair here.

Next, we’re presented with Audrey’s verse, in which she sings about the the cruel men she meets in her tragic life.

I know where you're wanting to look here. I beg you to curb that impulse.
I know where you’re wanting to look here. I beg you to curb that impulse.

Then, we hear Seymour’s bridge, in which he sings about his lack of purpose and hopeless state of existence.

Life here just doesn't have the zip I thought it would.
Life here just doesn’t have the zip I thought it would.

The song ends with both Audrey and Seymour, united in song, singing of their longing and desperate desire to escape the never ending cycle of poverty on display around them- a desire echoed and amplified by the rest of the cast.

I love this movie. I hate to tip my hand so early, but I’ve watched this movie multiple times, and it never fails to charm me.  It’s one of the best movie musicals of the last thirty years. It’s wonderfully acted and sung, Frank Oz’s direction is spot on, the look of the film is gorgeous, and the pupeteer-operated plant, named Audrey II, still is a technical marvel.


WHY I LOVE IT: When Little Shop was first test screened for audiences, they were ecstatic… until the ending. In the play, and the film’s original cut, Audrey and Seymour are devoured by the plant and plant (as well as the plants who have been mass produced from Seymour’s original) attack, take over the world, and emerge victorious. It was a darkly comic, cynical ending for a film that seems to have very little faith in humanity’s inner goodness. With the exception of Audrey and Seymour (who is pretty willing to go along with the plant’s plan until Audrey becomes a casualty), the movie’s world is populated with cruel, opportunistic individuals frequently filmed in close-ups at off-kilter angles. It’s an ending that is both perfect and completely wrong. Moranis and Greene brought too much sweetness and likability to their characters to find this ending acceptable, and Oz was forced to go back and shoot a “happy” ending for the film. The audience loved and cared for their characters and refused to see them devoured by a triumphant, alien entity.

"You crazy kids are so adorable, I've decided to let you live."
“You crazy kids are so adorable, I’ve decided to let you live.”

While Audrey’s and Seymour’s courtship is the core of their likability, this early scene lays the groundwork for a film that made them too likable to kill. Moranis’s lovable nerdishness, Audrey’s sweet-sad demeanor work in tandem to make a completely adorable romantic couple. When they both sing of their desire to escape their pathetic existences, full of poverty and abuse, one feels hope they will escape. We’re pulling for them before we’ve had a chance to do anything else. It’s a fantastic opening to a fantastic film, and two characters who deserve their happy ending together.

Little Shop of Horrors is widely available for purchase or rental (including a new edition with the digitally remastered original ending), with the most immediate option being Amazon streaming (free to Prime members).

Do you have a favorite scene from Little Shop of Horrors, similar or different than the one I highlighted?  Do you prefer the original ending, or are you glad that Seymour and Audrey do not end up in the digestive tract of an alien plant? Let us know in the comments!

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